In cutting-edge sectors, young African companies are gaining ground and being spotted by leading organizations such as the World Economic Forum. Seven African start-ups pioneering global tech:
Seven African start-ups pioneering global tech
Some weak signals do not deceive, like the one just delivered by the Israeli research center StartupBlink on Africa. Specialized in the study of the best innovative ecosystems in the world with an index published every year, its experts have just placed Lagos at 122nd in the ranking that surveys 1,000 metropolises across a hundred countries according to their ability to create the ideal conditions for the growth of digital companies.
This makes the Nigerian economic capital the best city to create a start-up in Africa. The metropolis of more than 17 million inhabitants thus dethroned Nairobi, relegated to 136th place in the world after falling 20 places in one year. In the Africa-Middle East region, the two capitals are positioned ahead of Cairo (180th), Abu Dhabi (169th) and Riyadh (192nd), all of which are known for their desire to become recognized hubs of global tech.
Another strong signal came from the canton of Geneva in Switzerland, where the World Economic Forum (WEF) is based. On June 16, 2021, seven start-ups from the continent were selected by the WEF as one of the 100 start-ups considered to be technology pioneers.
They are 54Gene, mPharma, Cambridge Industries, FlexFinTx, Kuda Technology, Moringa School and Sokowatch. This annual selection, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, has already rewarded companies such as Google, Airbnb, Twitter or Spotify in the past.
Seven African start-ups pioneering global tech:
At 35 years old, the Nigerian boss of 54Gene, Abasi Ene-Obong, is ranked 33rd in the Jeune Afrique ranking of the 50 personalities who are making the digital world on the continent.
His company, which specializes in the sequencing of African genomes, stood out in 2020 for the central role it played – to the detriment of its geographical development, which it put on hold during the period – in the management of mobile Covid-19 screening campaigns in Nigeria.
Armed with $15 million raised in April 2020, the startup from the geneticist who graduated from Imperial College London and Claremont College in the United States is sure to quickly return to its flagship project. This is the monetization of a gene bank in order to advance research as quickly as possible in favor of care better adapted to the physiologies of the continent.
It too has been valuable to the public sector in the current health context. The start-up mPharma, founded in 2013 by Gregory Rockson and operating in eight countries, has helped Ghana and Nigeria beef up their diagnostic testing equipment via the creation of a special $3 million fund. It has also enabled the Ghanaian government, through a private consortium, to provide a free vaccination campaign for medical staff.
With $53 million raised since its inception, the prescription drug inventory management company for pharmacies acquired Haltons, a pharmacy brand in Kenya, in 2019 for an unknown amount. It now hopes to expand that brand into Ethiopia.
Cambridge Industries (Addis Ababa)
Insect farms, energy production from waste, recycling… It goes without saying that in terms of technology, the company headed by Samuel Alemayehu is at the cutting edge of innovation. Allied with the China National Electric Engineering Company (CNEEC), the operator is also largely supported by the Ethiopian government, which has financed its entire waste recovery plant, installed next to the Koshe landfill near the capital. With its infrastructure, Cambridge Industries claims to be able to provide electricity to 25% of Addis Ababa’s residents while removing 80% of their waste.
Samuel Alemayehu, the eloquent CEO of Cambridge Industries who speaks at Harvard conferences, studied science management and engineering at Stanford University in the United States. He plans to install metal sorters to recycle this waste, filter toxic water from the waste, and create bricks from the ash.
Blockchain fascinates as much as it questions, but for Zimbabwean Victor Mapunga and his Indian partner Haardik – the latter says he doesn’t have a first name – this technology, which allows transactions to be certified in a decentralized way, is also a way to create a register of identity documents accessible without a connection for the 400 million Africans who lack one.
The process is simple: a WhatsApp account is all that is needed to register one’s identity in a chat managed by a chatbot (a software robot that can chat with a user). The chatbot retrieves the information from a blockchain called Algorand.
Called FlexID, the service offered by the Harare-based start-up is connected to financial institutions and government services partners, allowing users to open bank accounts, take out insurance or sign an employment contract.
A member of the Decentralized Identity Foundation since February 2020, the company founded in 2018 is contributing in parallel to the definition of digital standards for decentralized identity management alongside tech behemoths such as Microsoft or IBM.
A month ago, this online bank with assumed pan-African ambitions surpassed one million customers for the first time. Founded in 2016 by Babs Ogundeyi and Mustapha Musty, Kuda is the third name of a company that initially specialized in online loans and was then called Kuda Money. Over time, a banking license was obtained in Nigeria and $36.6 million was raised in four rounds of financing. The capital includes several renowned investors – including Ragnar Meitern, former head of the Dutch bancassurance group ING – and Valar Ventures, a New York fund that manages $1.2 billion in assets.
To stand out, this Nigerian online bank, which claims to have managed $2.2 billion in transactions in February, is inspired by successes such as Nubank in Brazil, N26 in Germany and Revolut in the UK. These “neo-banks” are unique in that they are all 100% digital, have strong customer service and charge almost zero fees on bank card transactions.
Moringa School (Nairobi)
Founded in 2014 by Taiwanese-American Audrey Cheng and Kenyan Frank Tamre – both now retired from executive management – Moringa School’s promise is reminiscent of the one formulated by American Andela: to tailor tech profiles to the needs of African or international businesses.
Present in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda and allied with 80 local or international structures such as Microsoft, the American consulting firm Dalberg and the Mastercard Foundation, the start-up specializing in the training of coders and data specialists claims so far to have enrolled 3,000 people for a job insertion rate of 85%.
In 2019, and then last May, the Dutch investment fund DOB Equity, which has been involved in the financing rounds of Twiga Foods, the logistics company Sendy and the electricity payment application M-Kopa, acquired a stake in the school for an unknown amount.
Now chaired by Meredith Karazin, the school charges tuition fees of around 1,500 euros per year with financial aid.
This start-up specialized in the supply of informal shops has been ranked by Fast Company magazine among the most innovative companies in the world. The company, founded by American Daniel Yu, has demonstrated that good inventory management avoids waste and optimizes the income of merchants, however small they may be.
Convinced by the model, which brings on board consumer goods stars such as Unilever and Procter & Gamble on the supplier side, the Moroccan venture capital fund Outlierz Ventures took part in the seed round back in 2018. It thus precedes other prestigious funds such as the investor dedicated to East Africa, Catalyst Fund (which counts among its investors Proparco and CDC Group) or the American 4DX Ventures, which participated in June in the $30 million fundraising of the Egyptian logistics company Trella.