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Tech startup site Disrupt Africa mum on how it collects data for $150 reports [Updated] via Flickr

With the release of its sixth research publication last week, the founder of startup news site Disrupt Africa has again chosen to remain mum on how exactly his team sources data on the number and deal value of startups on the continent.

This comes after Disrupt Africa released its latest report “Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018” last Friday.

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In a summary of the report contained on its website (see here) Disrupt Africa claims that $19-million has been invested in agritech startups in Africa over the past two years. The report, which was carried in a Forbes article on 9 May, claims the continent has 82 agritech startups.

The report itself is not publically available as the company is selling it for $150 (or $600 if you want a full list of agritech startups).

Ventureburn attempted to get hold of Disrupt Africa founder Tom Jackson to obtain a copy or to get more insight into the methodology he used to compile the data (see the below list of questions sent to him), but Jackson did not respond to repeated emails, while his phone went to voicemail.

By time of publication messages left by Ventureburn had not been returned.

In an email sent to Jackson, Ventureburn asked him:

  • If a copy of Disrupt Africa’s Agri-tech report is available to be viewed.
  • What methodology he and his team employed in obtaining the data for this report (as well as for the five others his team has authored).
  • How Disrupt Africa arrived at certain figures, namely: that there were 82 agri-tech startups in operation across Africa by the start of 2018; that Kenya and Nigeria are the top two agri-tech markets on the continent; that over $19 million has been invested into African agri-tech startups in 2017.
  • What sales have been like on the previous two reports that Disrupt Africa has released and which kind of customers mainly purchase these reports (whether these are corporates, startup founders, investors, researchers).

‘Policy not to send out copies’

In an email in June last year on a request to see a fintech report that Disrupt Africa had authored, Jackson said it “is not our policy to send out copies of the reports as they are for sale, but I am happy to send some more info if you let me know what the focus of your story would be” (read the Q&A Ventureburn had with Jackson at the time on that report, here).

In October last year, when Disrupt Africa released a report on e-health startups active in Africa, Ventureburn asked Disrupt Africa how it arrived at the figure of 115 e-health startups currently operating in 20 countries across Africa and figure that these startups had raised $19-million in investment over between 2015 and 2017.

‘We have other priorities at this stage’

Disrupt Africa co-founder Gabriella Mulligan responded at the time by saying she could not provide the full report. Ventureburn then sent a detailed list of questions to Mulligan.

These questions included things such as how the data had been gathered, what the sample size was, what kinds of tools the publication is using to track the number of e-health startups and whether these figures were merely using press releases and media releases to gather data or whether they had gathered the figures via interviews with these companies or via other methods.

After three weeks and several more attempts by Ventureburn to get comment, Mulligan responded in an email saying: “Unfortunately we have other priorities at this stage”.

Editor’s note (21 May 2018): Subsequent to the publication of this article, in a statement on its Facebook page on 16 May Disrupt Africa published a picture of the “methodology” page from its latest report, along with a statement responding to Ventureburn’s original article (see here). In the statement Disrupt Africa says the basic methodology it employs is the same for each of its reports.

The excerpt reads: “The information contained herein is an accurate work of journalism — the compilation of our list of 82 startups active across Africa’s agri-tech sector, as well as all analysis within the report, has been conducted in-house.” 

While there is a lack of details on how exactly the data was gathered, Disrupt Africa appears to suggest that the data was collected via interviews its team had with sources and from reports or press statements. Disrupt Africa however does not list any names of reports or experts the publication consulted.

Furthermore, there is no mention of a third-party such as a university, data analysis company or auditing body that might have been able to verify the methodology employed by Disrupt Africa in gathering the data. 

Above all, there is no mention by Disrupt Africa in its methodology section of any possible limitations to the data collection (as is common in academic reports). It is common knowledge that not all equity deals in the tech startup sector are announced. In addition, it is common for financiers such as venture capital firms or angel investors to withhold figures such as the value of deals, when announcing a deal. 

This then puts into question Disrupt Africa’s figures on both the number and value of agri-tech deals (as well as those of other deals that its various reports on other sub-sectors of Africa’s tech ecosystem cover). Both the number of deals and value of such deals could therefore be an underestimation of their true number and value.

Featured image: hobvias sudoneighm via Flickr

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