Everything you need to know about West African startup landscape [2019 Update]

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Update: Are you a venture capitalist or an angel investor looking to invest in a company? Are you an entrepreneur looking for capital or other opportunities? Are you an aspiring startup owner looking for assistance? Well, you have come to the right place. Ventureburn presents an updated* guide to West Africa’s startup scene.

This article serves as a guide for anyone who wants to get involved with, or have a better understanding of, the region’s fast-growing startup space. It’s the second of our inaugural series, with others focusing on South Africa and East Africa.

We have scoured West Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape and hand-picked some of the top players to get you started, looking at all sectors from education, investment (angel, venture capital, private equity), government, accelerators and incubators to media players.

As comprehensive this article is, with your comments and suggestions, we hope to create a clear overview of the people and organisations that influence and shape West Africa’s tech venture space. Please feel free to comment or tweet us any suggestions you may have.

Venture Capitalists

Venture capital (VC) is all about early-stage, high-potential, high-risk, growth startups. West Africa’s VC scene mostly consists of a mixture between a couple of local firms and international non-profit impact funds.

The US-based Accion Venture Lab is a non-profit investment vehicle with a scope that includes 32 countries on four continents. Founded in 1961, the organisation is on a mission to alleviate poverty by offering financial products such as micro-enterprise loans and business training.

Some of its Accion’s partners in Africa include: EB-Accion MicrofinanceUGAFODE Microfinance LimitedAccion Microfinance BankGO Finance, Kopo KopoPan-African Savings and LoansUmati Capital, First Access and Akiba Commercial Bank.

In 2017 Accion launched a company builder initiaitive to build fintech in Nigeria.

Adlevo Capital is a private equity fund manager. Prominent investments made in West Africa include Rancard, Paga and Interswitch.

The Acumen Fund invests in companies that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. Targeting West and East Africa, Latin America, Pakistan and India, some prominent investments in West Africa include Paga from Nigeria, Ghana’s Medeem and Esoko Networks Limited.

The Omidyar Network is active across the African continent, as it is around the world. Founded by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, the initiative has not only established itself as a leader in intelligence and advocacy in the region’s startup ecosystem, but has been funding a range of ventures from Lagos to Cape Town and Nairobi. Besides providing venture capital, the Omidyar offers human capital capabilities, from serving on boards to consulting on strategy, coaching executives to recruiting new talent.

The investment arm of global tech giant, Intel Capital, launched in 1991 and backs innovative technology startups and companies worldwide. It invests in a broad range of hardware, software, and services.

Based in Kenya, the Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund, specialising in $25 000 to $500 000 investments in early-stage, high-growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa.

US-based Tiger Global has been investing heavily in Africa in recent years. The firm deploys capital in two businesses: private equity partnerships and public equity funds. The company favours technology or internet related business. It is one of the investors in Nigeria’s iROKO Partners.

EchoVC Partners is a seed and early stage venture capital firm focused on financing and cross-pollinating leading technologies, teams, business models and knowledge across North America, Africa and South East Asia. The average investment sizes range from $25 000 to several million dollars depending on the stage of opportunity and capital needs of the business. Some of its investments include Hotels.ng and digital printing startup Printivo.

US-based VestedWorld is a venture capital fund focused on investing companies that are poised for growth in emerging markets. Its portfolio includes TomatoJos and Beacon Power Services.

Seedstars World is a global startup competition in emerging markets. Startups from a growing number of emerging markets — including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Benin — are invited to pitch and take part in the international competition where they’ll stand a chance to win up to $1-million in equity funding.

infoDev is a World Bank programme that supports entrepreneurs in developing countries through research and innovation hubs for climate tech, agribusiness and digital. infoDev’s Early Stage Financing Programme connects promising entrepreneurs with the early-stage capital and networks they need to launch and grow competitive businesses. The program also publishes research on innovative forms of financing for entrepreneurs in developing economies, including crowdfunding and angel investors.

Village Capital has since 2009  supported more than 1000 entrepreneurs through its programmes, and partnered with affiliated investment funds, including VilCap Investments, that have invested seed capital in more than 90 programme graduates.

1776 is a Washington-based incubator which connects startups to capital through its investor network. 1776 has in the past invested in Kenya’s Twiga Foods.

US-based impact investor Gray Matters Capital last year (2018) invested $250 000 in Nigerian healthtech startup SonoCare through GMC coLabs, its investment portfolio which aims to improve the lives of women.

GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund last year (2018) invested in six African startups including ones from Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Rising Tide Africa, is a Lagos-based women-oriented investment group.

Earlier this year, philanthropic investment firm Omidyar Network spun out its financial inclusion initiative unit to launch Flourish, an evergreen venture fund that will back impact fintech startups.

Ingressive Capital, a $5-million venture fund focused on early-stage African startups, this year announced it is looking to invest tickets sizes of up to $100 000 in tech startups from Sub-Saharan Africa, with a possibility of $250 000 in follow-on investments.

French impact investment group Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P) I&P’s Afrique Entrepreneurs 2 (IPAE 2) Fund was launched in 2017 and aims to invest equity and quasi-equity in between 30 to 40 startups and small businesses in West and Central Africa, East Africa and Madagascar by 202.

The fund  is managed by a 10-member team based in Paris, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Madagascar and Senegal.

Lagos-based early-stage investment platform Microtraction ordinarily invests $65 000 in two stages. The first investment is usually about $15 000 in exchange for a 7.5% equity stake. This is followed by an additional $50 000 convertible note at a $1-million valuation cap for companies that Microtraction says have shown “significant progress” after the platform’s initial investment.

Berlin-based company builder Ampion Ventures is looking to provide African tech startups with “up to six-digit” funding (in dollars) its founder and CEO Fabian-Carlos Guhl revealed in March (2019).

Frankfurt based VC firm GreenTec Capital Partners earlier this year launched the GreenTec Capital Africa Foundation, a non-profit organisation that will promote investment in African entrepreneurship.

Morocco-based VC fund Outlierz Ventures targets early stage investments.

Dakar Network Angels (DNA), which launched in March 2019, aims to make four investments each year in francophone Africa, with investment tickets of between $20 000 and $100 000.

Some VC firms active in West Africa include PartechOrange Digital Ventures  and Teranga Capitalwhich invests in Senegal.

The Senegalese government , through the Délégation à l’Entrepreneuriat Rapide (DER) programme invests a combination of zero-interest loans and equity into startups

The recently launched Cathay Africinvest Innovation Fund will invest ticket sizes of between €3-million and €15-million or the equivalent in local currency. Using AfricInvest’s strong networks and offices in Tunis, Lagos, Abidjan, Nairobi, Casablanca, Algiers, Cairo, Port Louis, Dubai, and soon Johannesburg — the fund will be able to invest in any country on the continent.

Emerging markets startup competition Seedstars in May (2019) announced it would launch a $100-million fund to invest in African startups in collaboration with Paris based First Growth Ventures. The fund will look at countries where other investors may not be as present, both in Eastern and Western Africa.

EtriLabs evergreen impact investment fund Noru Capital will invest between $25 000 and $500 000 for between 5% and 15% equity in Beninese startups.

Incubators

With many incubators in West Africa hosting accelerator as well as incubation programmes, the two terms often overlap.

Founded in Ghana, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) provides training and mentoring for aspiring African software entrepreneurs with the goal of creating wealth and jobs locally in Africa. MEST opened a new centre in Lagos in 2017.

CcHUB is a social innovation centre dedicated to accelerating the application of social capital and technology for economic prosperity. The technology hub is the first in Nigeria to serve as an Open Living Lab in which user-driven innovation is fully integrated in the co-creative process of new services, products and societal infrastructures.

Last year CcHub partnered with Facebook on the six-month long FbStart Accelerator programme.

Based in Buea, Cameroon, ActivSpaces is an open collaboration space, innovation hub and startup incubator for African techies.

CTIC Dakar is one of the leading business incubators in Senegal and Francophone West Africa for IT and mobile service entrepreneurs.

Situated in Cotonou, Benin, TEKXL forms teams to transform ideas into products, and products into startups. TEKXL combines concepts of incubation, acceleration and venture investment. Over a period of 3 to 6 months, team members are provided with comprehensive technology, training, workspace, and funding to help you get started with scalable business models

Accelerators

An accelerator does exactly what its name suggests — helps businesses accelerate growth. For the most part, an accelerator differs from an incubator in that programmes usually run for shorter periods, often ranging between three and six months.

Passion Incubator is an early-stage technology incubator and accelerator with expertise in innovation program design and tech investments. It collaborates with corporate organisations, government agencies, embassies and universities to design, manage and implement startup programmes.

Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu launched a pan-African $100-million entrepreneurship programme in early 2015. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme included a 12-week training programme, mentorship, access to crucial networks and resources as well as possible funding.

Last year (2018) Nigerian corporate Honeywell Group  launched Itanna, a new Lagos-based accelerator and investment vehicle.

Wennovation Hub is a startup incubator, accelerator and entrepreneur training and network centre that works to build high-impact entrepreneurs.

Leadpath Nigeria is a seed capital fund that specialises in providing short, medium and long term funding to small and medium sized start-up businesses in high growth technology areas such as software, web and mobile technologies.

Angel Investors

West Africa has its fair share of wealthy individuals with investment sense. With the rise of more and more role models in the Nigeria’s tech space, there seems to be a strong sense of paying it forward among the angel investors.

Benin Business Angels Network (BBAN) invests between $15 000 and $100 000 in seed funding for between 5% and 15% equity to help startups in the country grow quickly.

The Lagos Angel Network organises seed funders to invest in startups. The organisation organises pitch events where pre-screened business ideas are presented to the network by entrepreneurs. The initiative was founded by local investor Tomi Davies.

The Mali Business Angel Network (MABAN) was launched by Suguba and le Réseau de l’Entreprise en Afrique de l’Ouest – Mali (REAO – Mali) in May 2019.

Founder of ecommerce giant Konga, Sim Shagaya followed up on the pay-it-forward route by investing in ride-sharing startup GoMyWay in 2015 as well as Printivo.

Founder of L5Lab, Chika Nwobi has invested in the likes of online retailer Jay Osbie, job portal Jobberman, classifieds site One Africa Media and QwikGist, which is an entertainment news site.

Jason Njoku is a British-born Nigerian entrepreneur most well known for co-founding iROKO Partners and Spark — an early-investment firm that invested in the likes of Timehop, Coin and Hotels.ng.

The Togo Business Angels Network (TBAN) was launched in 2018.

The founder of mobile money transfer firm Paga, Tayo Oviosu, has backed gaming company ChopUp as well as non-tech companies like luxury tea outfit YsWara and Reelfruit.

African Business Angel Network (ABAN) is pan-African non-profit association founded to support the development of early-stage investor networks across the continent and to get many more (early-stage) investors excited about the opportunities in Africa.

Private equity

Private equity firms differ from their venture capital counterparts in a fundamental way. Private equity is about taking a company at a later stage in its development and restructuring it to optimise its financial performance.

Synergy Capital is a Lagos-based private equity firm that invests in technology startups as well as traditional. Its most recent public investments include power solution company Viathan Engineering.

Operating out of London, Helios Investment Partners is an Africa-focused private investment firm. Established in 2004 and led by co-founding partners Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye, it’s touted as operating a total of $3-billion.

Jacana Partners is a pan-African private equity company that invests in entrepreneurs, builds successful small companies and delivers sustainable financial and social returns.

Investment AB Kinnevik is an entrepreneurial investment group focused on building digital consumer brands in four sectors: communication, ecommerce and marketplaces, entertainment, and financial services. Some of the firms most recent public investments in Nigeria’s tech sector include $25-million for ecommerce site Konga and $5-million into deals site DealDey.

GroFin describes itself as a development financier specialising in financing and supporting small and growing businesses in Africa and the Middle East. It recently launched a renewed $100-million fund, which follows an existing fully invested $170-million budget.

Emerging Capital Partners (ECP Investments) is a pan-African private equity firm that has raised over $2-billion for investment across the continent. Its most recent investments include Maarifa Education Holdings and Algerian company Atlas Bottling Corporation.

Networks, Events and Conferences

Similar to networking bodies and hubs, conferences are seen as key players in celebrating the startup space. These initiatives are often accompanied by pitching competitions, keynotes and networking.

Regarded by many as the wealthiest man on the continent, owner of the Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote, earlier this year announced the launch of the African Entrepreneurship Programme. The aim of this programme is to allow businesses the opportunity to present and connect with potential investors.

Ghana’s iSpace provides entrepreneurs with space for them to work, meet, collaborate, learn and have fun. The co-working space also have initiatives such as the Hack4Good hackathon and the iSpace Women Entrepreneurship training programme.

Impact Hub Accra is part of the global Impact Hub Network and seeks to empower innovators of all kinds to address the most sobering challenges of the 21st century. Besides the co-working space, Hub Accra is also said to provide business training, exposure to new ideas, pitch and leadership workshops, inspiring events, networking functions, and the opportunity to design and prototype.

DEMO Africa was hosted in Johannesburg this day. The pan-African startup pitching competition launched in 2012 on a mission to showcase the continent’s talent while providing opportunities for both investors and tech entrepreneurs.

A news source, networking hub and investment platform, VC4Africa boasts that it’s the largest online community of entrepreneurs and investors dedicated to building game-changing companies in Africa.

Hosted by CcHub, the Social Change Summit brings together stakeholders from government, business, civil societies, donors, academia and international organisations. The event aims to accelerate the application of social capital and innovation to make Nigeria a better society.

With hubs in Senegal, Mali, the Ivory Coast, France and Burkina Faso, Jokkolabs is an open-innovation and virtual cluster for social change based on an organic community of entrepreneurs and a network of co-working space. It’s mission is to inspire and develop a community of collaboratives entrepreneurs to invent the future for a shared prosperity.

Media

Without media, there’s no story. Along with the “African rising” narrative and more international interest in the continent as a region for investment opportunity, an increasingly large number of publications from abroad are interested in telling the country’s stories, amplifying their reach.

Ventureburn features written and video-based technology startup profiles, as well as news, analysis and opinion pieces on entrepreneurship from an emerging market perspective. If you want to get your business featured, you can fill out our startup questionnaire.

Disrupt Africa aims to be the go-to source for all things startups, investments and innovation in North, East, West and Southern Africa. Alongside news articles, the site also focuses on interviews and stories on important stakeholders of the industry.

Alongside its annual Battlefield startup competition, TechCabal feature valuable insights into the African startup scene with general tech stories, opinion pieces and exclusive interviews with some of the startup scene’s most prominent players.

TechPoint is described as a new generation, people-centric technology blog that aims to bring technology closer to the average Nigerian. The website covers startups, gadgets and general news about technology.

If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Featured image: Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra, Ghana.

*This piece was updated by Ventureburn writer Daniel Mpala on 24 November 2017. If you’d like to add your organisation to this framework or suggest an additional category, please comment below or contact us.

Jacques Coetzee: Staff Reporter
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