business

The Vital Roles of Startup Accelerators in Africa

“Startup accelerators support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing…The accelerator experience is a process of intense, rapid, and immersive education aimed at accelerating the life cycle of young innovative companies, compressing years’ worth of learning-by-doing into just a few months.”

Harvard Business Review, “What Startup Accelerators Really Do”

In the simplest terms, an accelerator’s primary goal is to propel startups forward at a pace that exceeds what they would otherwise be able to achieve on their own. Traditionally, accelerators provide support via an immersive and practical education experience. In addition, accelerators can support startups through financial means.

According to the Harvard Business Review, accelerators are bringing measurable results to startups. These trends are also evident in Africa, where the startup economy continues to expand across the continent.

In addition, African tech startups have bucked the notion that foreign investment is slowing around the globe. One example of this is the increasing investments made by global accelerators in African startups. From San Francisco to Hong Kong, international accelerators are taking notice of the unique opportunities provided by African tech startups and making sizeable investments.

This article looks at four such global accelerators that are making an impact on Africa’s economy. These organizations are helping many innovative African startups take their operations to scale.

  1. 500 Startups

500startups logoBased in Silicon Valley with offices in Mexico City and San Francisco, 500 Startups has invested in over 1,500 companies from more than 50 different countries. In addition to its accelerator program, 500 Startups also provides seed capital and Series A funding to startups in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. The company holds nearly $200 million in assets.

Of course, the company’s accelerator program has also received recognition. Spanning a period of four months, the program provides $100,000 in funding in exchange for a 5% stake in the company. Many startups compete to participate in the accelerator program, which accepts around 2 percent of applicants. The program also includes mentoring, hands-on education, and designated office space for collaboration and work.

African startups accepted into the program have included Sweepsouth (South Africa), Kudobuzz (Ghana), Podozi (Nigeria), and other startups based in Kenya and Egypt. The company is also helping to support Ghana-based startups by hosting a $1 million entrepreneurial boot camp in the country.

  1. Nest

nest logoNest is a venture capital (VC) firm based in Hong Kong. More specifically, the company is an early stage VC firm that specializes in startups within the financial technology, health technology, and urban technology spheres. The company is relatively new to the African startup scene, and its accelerator model is a bit different: it runs accelerators on behalf of large corporations and other entities.

Accelerators are 12 weeks in length and are designed to “support the needs of high potential and fast-growth startups” with a focus on enabling entrepreneurs to quickly take their businesses to scale. Nest is supported by IBM to execute a variety of accelerators for startups.

African companies that have benefitted from Nest’s accelerator model include SuperFluid (Kenya) and Creditable (South Africa). The company is looking to include more Africa startups within its Asia-based programs.

  1. Startupbootcamp

startup bootcamp logoNamed “The Best Startup Accelerator of 2014,” Startupbootcamp comprises 15 different accelerator programs focusing on 15 different industries, such as fintech, energy and smart transport, e-commerce, digital health, the Internet of Things (IoT), and others. One of the best-known accelerators within the startup community, Startupbootcamp hosts accelerator programs from Mumbai to Miami.

It too has been impressed by the progress made by African startups.

As a result, the company has invested in the Tanzanian startup BimaAfya—a mobile “micro-health” insurance product. The company has ramped up operations on the continent and has held several mini boot camps in South Africa as well.

Startupbootcamp’s accelerator programs focus heavily on practical knowledge and education via mentorship. The company maintains a wide mentor network, offering entrepreneurs the opportunity to connect with more than 100 investors, mentors, and potential business partners during the three-month program.

  1. Techstars

techstars logoTechstars launched in the United States in 2006. Today, the organization is viewed by many as the standard for accelerators.

Techstars has invested in over 750 companies, of which 90 percent are still in business or have been sold. The company has poured more than $2 billion into startups and has a market capitalization that exceeds $5 billion.

Its accelerator program involves a three-month mentorship that offers “hands-on guidance and support throughout the entire program and beyond.” Techstars offers a mentor network that encompasses more than 3,500 business executives across numerous industries.

Less than one percent of applicants who apply for a Techstars accelerator are accepted, making it one of the most selective accelerator programs out there. The African startup that set the bar was Kenya’s Bamba Group—a company that provides SMS communications services as well as data collection and analysis for market research.

On the African continent, Techstars partnered with Barclays Bank, agreeing to run the banking behemoth’s accelerator program in Cape Town, South Africa.

african children

This is How E-Learning Education Startups are Making a Difference

Africa’s young people are our future leaders and will be the driving force behind sustainable growth across the continent. Investment in education and training is essential in building an educated and skilled workforce and to encourage innovation. – The Africa-America Institute

Many African nations are on the brink of becoming something incredibly special. Of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies, seven are located in Africa. As a result, the middle class is expanding at a rapid pace, making it even more exciting to watch what develops within Africa in the next five, 10, 20 years and beyond.

Education, of course, plays an important role in economic development. Better-educated citizens translates to a more productive workforce, and a more productive workforce translates to the surfacing of bright, innovative entrepreneurs and companies. This means more job creation, better-paying job, increased cash circulation, expanded opportunities, and a rise in living standards.

Education has made some recent strides in Africa. This is particularly true for secondary education (i.e. “high school) and post-secondary education (i.e. “college” or “university”), where enrollment has increased – in some cases dramatically.

For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, enrollments for secondary education had the greatest gains in the world between 1999 and 2012, with approximately 49 million students as of 2012. Still, far too many students are out of school. In a study conducted by the Africa Learning Barometer, nearly one out of every 10 school-aged children never attend.

As African nations continue to make their presence felt in the global economy, expanding and improving education will be critical. The continent is currently the world’s youngest, with 50 percent of the population under 15 years of age, making it all the more crucial to emphasize and insist on a quality education for all.

Fortunately, many African “e-learning” (i.e. online learning) education startups are making a positive impact on the scene. As we’ll see here, some of these companies have achieved success through belief in purpose, innovation, continued improvement, and dedication.

Here are five such startups:

  1. Ubongo – Tanzania

ubongo“Increasing access to smartphones presents a great opportunity for delivering information learning content to learners of all ages,” says Nisha Ligon, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Ubongo.

Ubongo’s primary focus is to teach mathematics and science via interactive games that are heavy on animated content. Children access the content through cell phones, answer multiple choice questions via text, and even receive feedback from their favorite cartoon characters.

Ubongo introduced Ubongo Kids to widespread acclaim. Its chief product, Ubongo Kids is a daily occurrence on televisions throughout Tanzania. In keeping with its “cartoony” feel, the broadcast implements songs and animation to teach math and science.

  1. Samaskull – Senegal

samaskull logoSamaskull is a welcome addition to this list. The Senegalese startup designs interactive, open and free courses called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), similar to the hugely-popular Coursera in the United States. MOOCs are poised to be a significant part of the African learning experience, as the platform directly caters to low-income students who are eager to learn.

In addition to various MOOCs, Samaskull also offers Small Private Online Courses, called SPOCs, for learners wish to engage one-on-one with educators.

  1. Sterio.me – Nigeria

steriome logoSterio.me, a Nigerian-based e-learning company, relies heavily on SMS texting for just about everything. Students can access materials, lectures and lessons anywhere, anytime.

Instructors can pre-record lectures, send materials, grade assignments, and give more feedback all through mobile phone. It’s a win-win scenario for teacher and pupil alike. Even better: the platform does not require internet access or a smartphone.

Sterio.me recently announced a partnership with Tutor.ng – another popular Nigerian startup – that complements the learning models of each. The strategic partnership is expected to make a significant impact that further benefits students.

  1. MEST – Ghana

mest logoThe Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) is a seemingly-perfect manifestation of Africa’s budding startup scene. MEST focuses exclusively on the “training, investment and mentoring for aspiring technology entrepreneurs,” with a mission of “creating globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa.”

MEST implements a 12-month program, fully-sponsored, to achieve the ambitious goal of cultivating Africa’s future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurs-In-Training” (EITs) are comprised of the top graduates from Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Subjects taught are broad in nature, and include: computer programming, product management, and software development along with business-oriented processes such as finance, marketing, and sales.

  1. BRCK Education – Kenya

BRCK EducationPerhaps the most unique addition to the list, BRCK wasn’t initially designed to be an e-learning company, either in whole or in part. Current products and services span from cloud software to medical device programming, and of course, e-learning services. Because of its great success, and opportunities in the market, BRCK launched a subsidiary unit appropriately-named BRCK Education.

Unlike other startups on this list, BRCK implements an array of products to expand educational access and improve quality. Its most popular product used in classrooms, the “kio kit,” includes 40 tablets, a BRCK (a wi-fi and battery extender unit), and a lockable case that is both water and damage-resistant. Such products are critical for expanding education to rural areas, in particular.

tech coding

3 of the Most Promising Cities for Tech Startups in Africa

In various African nations, a number of demographic and economic shifts have occurred in recent years, resulting in a burgeoning business landscape. Startups have and will continue to play a prominent role in this process, according to market analysts.

VC4Africa published a report showing that the majority of startups have had success in generating revenue, and another large percentage have secured external investments in their products and services. More specifically, those businesses that have gained the most ground are in the technology field.

The young population in Africa—almost three-quarters of which are younger than 30—has influenced this trend, at least in part. Entrepreneurs have demonstrated an increasing ability to identify and fill gaps in the market based on consumer demand. Business owners in South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya raised a combined $150 million in investment funding in 2015 alone.

Entrepreneurs in South Africa led the way in securing $54 million in investments by building investor confidence. Nigeria and Kenya, which raised $49 million and $47 million, respectively, stand out for their advancements as leading nations for technology. In fact, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya have been compared to some of the most thriving markets in the world. Following is an overview of each city.

  1. Cape Town, South Africa – The Silicon Cape

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Image courtesy David Stanley | Flickr

Securing venture capital support and angel funding has proven difficult for many nations on the African continent. Thus, the track record for obtaining funding is one of the greatest strengths of entrepreneurs and startup owners in Cape Town. Local business executives point out that funding numbers could increase even further with the introduction of strategic tax breaks.

Alongside the funding prowess of startups in South Africa, the availability of resources—particularly with regard to IT infrastructure—has greatly contributed to the high standing of Cape Town. In 2011, the city boosted its bandwidth by roughly 1,000 times. Combined with other cost-saving innovations, this move encouraged exponential business growth in the area.

The local university system also attracts its share of investors to the area. For example, Samsung backs a tech laboratory at the University of Cape Town, where staff, students, and researchers develop mobile applications. Another example is Naspers funding a full-scale media service development lab at Stellenbosch University.

Finally, one of the biggest elements in the success of Cape Town, and the push for referring to it as the “Silicon Cape,” stems from community support. Local nonprofits, such as the Silicon Cape Initiative, have formed to promote the economic growth of the city by developing an international business network and attracting new talent to the region.

  1. Lagos, Nigeria – The Silicon Lagoon

Lagos, which is situated right on the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, is a large urban city that has grown significantly in the last few decades. Estimates place the population at somewhere around 21 million, up from 1.4 million in 1970. Some believe that Lagos is contending with Cairo for the honor of the most populous city in Africa.

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Image courtesy satanold | Flickr

The size of Lagos and the opportunity that it represents for scaling a business model is one of the most appealing factors for entrepreneurs in Nigeria and internationally. In addition, the size of Lagos’ GDP—which is larger than the entire economy of Ghana—has attracted some of the best minds in business.

Close proximity to two local universities has also generated interest in launching new business ventures in Lagos. Yaba College of Technology, the University of Lagos, and The Federal Science and Technical College each produce a lot of talent, and the local environment encourages many of these individuals to remain and start their careers.

Within the growing business scene, the Yaba district has evolved into what some have referred to as “Yabacon Valley,” and Lagos has more broadly received the title “Silicon Lagoon.” Such comparisons with Silicon Valley have drawn a lot of attention from venture capitalists to the Nigerian coast.

  1. Nairobi, Kenya – The Silicon Savannah

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Image courtesy Ruth Hartnup | Flickr

Much of the tech development that has surfaced in Africa over the course of the last 10 years has come out of Kenya. The introduction of mobile money and a model for tech incubation, coupled with global crowdsourcing and government support, have strengthened the industry in Kenya. A growing population and consistently improving GDP have also been contributing factors.

Information and communication technology (ICT) is projected to constitute as much as 8 percent of Kenya’s GDP by 2017. Within that economy, Nairobi, the nation’s capital, is a leading player, attracting startups and international tech giants (such as Google, Microsoft, and IBM) alike.

Part of what is driving this exploding market is the prospect of improving the nation’s economy. Some entrepreneurs are currently focused on developing technology that is capable of reducing cyber security concerns, while others hope to develop a new mobile voting platform to help with future elections. In addition, the highly anticipated 5G technology is expected to revolutionize communication and business in Kenya and throughout Africa.