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.


Improve Business Success with Backing from these Organizations

For more than a decade, the continent of Africa has experienced robust economic growth. One of the reasons driving this positive change is the greater availability of support for the African startup community. Both public and private businesses have benefited from venture capitalists, who have invested time and money into new ideas, thus helping to sustain more local businesses, boost economic activity, and create jobs. Businesses in the agribusiness and ecommerce industries have gained considerable traction, as have those in the financial services and computer software sectors. Likewise, enterprises in the media, Internet, and professional services industries are attracting interest from African entrepreneurs and their backers as well. If you are looking for funding and business support for your venture, consider the following organizations.

Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme

tony elumelu foundation logoNamed after its founder, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme supports businesses across the continent through training and mentorship. The $100 million fund, which has a goal of working with 1,000 entrepreneurs annually for the next decade, also offers crucial grants to help business owners see their concept through fruition. These funds do not need to be repaid. In order to be considered for funding, participants must complete a 12-week program and a two-day boot camp. Additionally, successful completion of the three-day conference, the Elumelu Entrepreneurship Forum, is necessary to receive funding. An additional $5,000 in second-stage seed capital is also available for qualifying companies that demonstrate progress beyond the program.

Investment AB Kinnevik

investment ab kinnevik logoSweden-based Investment AB Kinnevik commits approximately eight percent of its $7 billion in assets to African ventures. The company takes primary interest in entertainment, financial services, ecommerce, and communications businesses and has been a crucial supporter of Jumia, Konga, and other African companies. Recently, the investment firm made a statement regarding its performance in 2015. Many of the companies in its portfolio delivered strong performances over the past fiscal year, which helped increase Kinnevik’s dividend per share and share price by three percent. Additionally, the company sold its interest in Avito, which provided exponential returns against its initial investment. To continue its success, Kinnevik looks to add to its existing portfolio by identifying companies that provide innovative solutions for consumer needs and demonstrate the ability to create repeat customers. Prospective investment targets must also have a strong leadership team and a sustainable business model, and they must demonstrate flexibility in managing risk to optimize returns.


88mph logoLaunched in 2011, 88mph is a business accelerator that provides seed funding. It operates in three countries in Africa, and technology ventures are its sole focus. Predominantly, the organization backs entrepreneurs with viable web and mobile solutions. As of 2016, the accelerator has allocated seed cash in excess of $1.5 million to a variety of companies, ranging from Baby Group, which offers products for new parents and their babies; to Byte Money, a startup focused on serving the insurance industry through a mobile payment platform. In 2015, 88mph took a break from funding new ventures. Having already invested in 36 companies, the accelerator transitioned its focus to helping its portfolio companies grow and further develop. The company will continue to monitor promising ventures in emerging markets.

African Development Foundation

USADF logoAlso known as the USADF, the African Development Foundation operates in the United States as an independent federal agency. The organization offers seed funding and technical support to African entrepreneurs who are helping their communities alleviate food insecurity, improve human development needs, increase income levels, and create sustainable employment opportunities. USADF has touched the lives of millions of Africans through an active portfolio of more than 320 grants exceeding $50 million in total.

The organization is currently accepting grant applications from ventures that focus on agriculture and assist low-income communities. Additionally, it is looking for entrepreneurs who are working to provide greater access to sustainable electricity, as well as those who are striving to advance democratic governance and peace in their nations. To these respective groups of entrepreneurs USADF offers the Power Africa and Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) grants. To be eligible for a grant, companies must be completely African-owned and managed. Applicants must also show documentation that states their company operates as a legal entity in the country in which they are based. Other criteria include demonstrating an ability to efficiently use funds and having a clear process to use and manage USADF grant monies.

African Women’s Development Fund

AWDF logoSupporting African women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) has awarded grants to organizations in 42 countries since its inception in 2001. The fund has extended grants of up to $50,000, totaling $26 million, to more than 1,200 organizations to date. The grant program is made possible through partnerships with prominent global organizations, including Match International, Carnegie Corporation, and the Ford Foundation. Private and public foundations as well as bilateral and multilateral organizations, such as UN Women and the UK Department for International Development (DFID), also provide support. AWDF awards grants to organizations operating in six thematic areas, ranging from women’s human rights to economic empowerment.




3 of the Best Ventures at the Maiden African StartUp Cup

On April 28, 2016, winners from local StartUp Cup events across Africa gathered in Ghana to pitch their ideas over the course of three days at the first African StartUp Cup competition. The prizes, which were valued at $229,000, consisted of support and technological services, funding, and mentorship. These items will all be crucial to the success of the following three winning companies that will advance to compete in the finals in Silicon Valley:

1. GoMobile

gomobile logoCo-founded by Othmane Bekkari and Abdoullah Tahri Jouti, GoMobile is a Morocco-based company that helps unconnected communities (roughly half of the world’s population) access the Internet. The company targets demographics that do not have Internet-enabled devices and those with data coverage limitations, as well as those who cannot utilize the technology because they cannot read.

OSIX is the company’s vocal communication solution. Enabling users to make phone calls and carry on conversations, the product opens up lines of communication for business professionals to reach shareholders and critical personnel. The tool works well for hosting employee training sessions and making promotional announcements. To enhance the experience, users can press buttons on their phones to interact with content.

GoMobile’s Ziggi is a free, vocal social network that only requires a mobile phone to deliver inbound and outbound calls. Users can customize the calls with to deliver relevant content. Further, Ziggi gives people the option to interact with and share content. People can also suggest particular content.

2. Airsave

air save logoHeadquartered in Uganda, financial technology company Airsave serves the “unbanked” community—individuals who don’t take advantage of services offered by financial institutions. As of the company’s incorporation in 2013, 90 percent of Africans reported not using a bank. This number directly correlates to the high percentage of people failing to meet their savings goals.

In a study published by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers examined the financial behavior of 1,500 people in underserved areas of Uganda. All subjects used an informal savings method. At the end of the study, only 1 percent of the subjects achieved their savings goals. The vast majority either lost their money or had their money stolen. In addition, many gave into temptation and spent their excess funds.

In response to Uganda’s weak savings culture, the founders of Airsave developed a secure mobile savings platform, dubbed “my phone my wallet,” in partnership with LipaMobile, EFC Bank, Airtel, Plaid Technologies, and MTN. Users can set up an Airsave Digital savings account by dialing *270*30# on an Airtel network or an MTN network regardless of whether the phone has Internet capability. Users can then select a savings period from one month to a year, during which time accountholders cannot access the deposited funds.

3. Kawa Moka

Kawa Moka is a social enterprise coffee shop in Ghana. Its coffee, cocoa products, and bistro foods can also be enjoyed at various popup events. The company is named after the “wine of beans,” which is kawa, also known as coffee, and the chocolate aftertaste of Arabian mocha or moka. Moka also reflects a part of the company’s history that started in Yemen. A seaport city, Moka was where its founder, Emi-Beth Aku Oyemam Quantson, began distributing coffee across Europe.

kawa moka logoQuantson, a chartered accountant and tax consultant, discovered her passion for coffee shops while pursuing a degree at Ashesi. During her final year at the university, she launched a canteen that operated for two years. Soon after, she was inspired to launch a chain of Kawa Moka shops across West Africa, with hopes of turning her venture into a commodity.

Her transition from a consulting background to one involving much operational experience was met with many challenges related to infrastructural support, market pricing, product development, and financing. Determined to be successful at launching Kawa Moka, she attended numerous conferences and networked with industry experts to gain valuable information. Likewise, she dedicated much of her time to reading publications about business modeling and sales and marketing strategies.

When she is not working on developing new products, Emi-Beth Aku Oyemam Quantson aims to empower women and young girls. Her company serves as an example of how females from all backgrounds can excel in their family lives and still be contributing members of society. She intends to use her coffee shops to provide training and employment to those wishing to build a successful future.

5 of the Leading Fintech Startups Supported by Techstars

Financial technology, commonly referred to as fintech, has the power to boost African economies. The continent, as of 2015, still runs predominantly on a cash system. However, the growing use of mobile devices, which far surpasses the number of existing bank accounts, opens up opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop a payment service. Such a service could address challenges, like sending money to relatives, and also make it convenient to do so from any location and at any time of day.

In support of the fintech movement, Techstars launched its partnership with Barclays Accelerator in Cape Town in 2016. Unlike other opportunities that focus a great deal on South African startups, the 13-week program welcomed applicants from all over Africa. The following are among those that made the first cohort:

1. Social Lender

social lender logoAn extension of Sterling Bank and serving members only within the financial institution’s social media communities, Nigeria-based Social Lender evaluates a person’s social reputation score to determine eligibility for lending quick cash. Scores, determined by social credit officers, represent the length of time a person has been actively involved in the bank’s social network and the quantity of information he or she shares on social media platforms, among other factors. Members can request funds through the Social Lender Platform, which is supported by Facebook and Twitter. Depending on the person, requests upwards of 10,000 Naira are obtainable, though transaction fees do apply. If approved, he or she will receive funds through their existing banking channels. Repayments are equally as easy: the amount must be returned within 30 days. Social Lender eases the process by accepting multiple types of payment options, including mobile money transfers and transactions made at a brick-and-mortar financial institution.

2. iNuka Pap

Headquartered in Kenya, iNuka Pap was named a Spark* Changemaker in 2015 and a Sinapis Fast Track Fellow in 2014. The organization, led by chief executive officer and insurance sales veteran Waweru Kuria, offers financial support to savings and credit cooperative (SACCO) members and microfinance institutions. The company serves those in need of funds to cover hardships. The microloans, available as cash advances, are accessible through the company’s mobile app, but require a daily minimum contribution of $0.02 by its users. In addition to iNuka Pap cash advances, the startup helps people gain access to emergency power and airtime advances as well as micro-insurance services. All are available instantly.

3. bimaAFYA

bimAFYA logoCatering to the underserved population, Tanzanian company bimaAFYA leverages its relationship with EdgePoint to help people obtain micro-health insurance. Its company operates solely over mobile devices and uses automated systems to walk people through steps, such as registering for services, paying insurance premiums, adding dependents, and selecting coverage options. The self-serve approach begins with a call to the company at *150*57#. After successfully registering, the insured will receive a bimaAFYA number through short message service (SMS), also known as text messaging. From there, the number must be presented at health care facilities accepting bimaAFYA insurance, along with a formal identification card bearing the person’s name and photo, to receive service. The health care provider is responsible for verifying insurance, providing care, and sending billing information to the company to obtain payment.

4. WizzPass

Easing entry and exit to parking garages throughout South Africa, WizzPass is a mobile app that eliminates the need for tickets, access cards, and biometrics. Instead, tenant parking management companies use the app to give people codes that must be entered each time they access or leave a facility. The app does not require an Internet connection and instead uses Bluetooth technology. The result is a more secure and user-friendly system that saves management companies money while delivering real-time visitor and tenant data. WizzPass also expects its service, which is a form of cashless payment that charges fees directly to a credit card rather than requiring a person to input money, to alleviate parking pains for tenants and business professionals as well as consumers heading to a shopping mall to buy goods. Its CEO, Bradley Hornby, aims to expand the cashless service into other areas, like gas stations and vending machines, in the future.

5. SimbaPay

simbapay logoOperating on a mobile app, SimbaPay is available through the Apple and Android app stores. The DigiCert-secure app is a registered party in the European Union, and the company is considered a payment institution by the Financial Conduct Authority and maintains membership with the Association of UK Payment Institutions. It has been recognized by notable media organizations, including Forbes, the BBC, Daily Nation, and Business Day.

SimbaPay enables people to make instant deposits into mobile money and bank accounts in Kenya and Nigeria. Mobile money transactions require M-PESA, a mobile money transfer service that serves millions of people. Money transfers are available between 10 to 5,000 pounds at no cost, and identification processes are completed entirely through the app. Users do not have to worry about their information being stored, as SimbaPay’s policy is never to keep credit or debit card data on its servers.

Cape Town

7 of the Best Angel Investors Funding African Startups

Offering a supportive community for startups, Africa has become a hub for entrepreneurs to launch their businesses. In fact, the number of startups created in the past five years has exceeded the quantity just five years prior. Individuals looking to start their business here should mull over the following list of angel investors, who are eager to fund enterprises.

Angel Investment Network

angel investment networkLocated in South Africa, the Angel Investment Network is comprised of domestic and international investors. More than 114,000 investors have joined the network since its inception and nearly 498,000 entrepreneurs have benefitted from their support. The organization, which has in excess of 612,000 registered members, has raised 4 billion rand, which equates to over $263 million in US currency. Offering more value to entrepreneurs, the Angel Investment Network launched AIN Labs. A startup accelerator, the program provides an environment that helps new businesses excel. Those accepted into the program become a part of an entrepreneurial community that receives mentorship and office space, as well as access to investors to fund their ideas.

Adlevo Capital

adlevo logoA Mauritius private equity firm investing in technology ventures, Adlevo Capital works with portfolio companies to support sub-Saharan African businesses. The firm evaluates investments on market opportunity, solid management, and business growth based on consumerism. Additionally, Adlevo Capital considers social impact. Startups demonstrating care of community health, integration into the global economy, poverty reduction, environmentalism, and special skills development improve their chance in receiving financial backing. In recent years, the firm has made second round investment in Rancard, a mobile content discovery software provider, and led investments in SOLO, a Nigerian venture targeting emerging markets with digital content and smartphone devices.

Invenfin Venture Capital

invenfinlogoInvenfin Venture Capital, a subsidiary of Remgro (Pty) Ltd, supports the commercialization of intellectual property. The firm offers startup capital that helps business owners scale their products and services internationally. Investment periods range from one to three years. For a minority stake of up to 49 percent in a company, a venture gains access to the capital as well as marketing, branding, product development, global distribution, and legal services. This is made possible by its collaboration with Remgro. Presently, the venture capitalist focuses its efforts in the technology and food and beverage industries. The firm has made technology investments in Ad Dynamo, HealthQ, Le Bonbon, and Orso by PressureRite. Its food and beverage division, InvenfinFoods, considers early stage and established businesses for financial backing. An ideal company has an interesting story to go along with a flavorful product.

East Africa Capital Partners

eacp logoOverseeing ATMT Fund 1, LLC, which is made up of $100 million used to back information and communications technology (ICT) investments, East Africa Capital Partners supports ventures that offer a solution for infrastructure blockages. The firm’s portfolio includes East African media and technology companies as well as telecommunications ventures. Among the companies are Zuku, the Wananchi Group, and SimbaNET, a fiber and data service provider catering to corporate customers in Tanzania and Kenya. Lion Cable Television Network and Kenya’s Trucking Systems also receive support from East Africa Capital Partners.

Africa Media Ventures Fund

Africa Media Ventures Fund is supported by veteran entrepreneurs. Primarily funding startups in Kenya and Ghana, the organization and its investors extend financial support and services to ventures throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Africa Media Ventures Fund offers up to $200,000 in backing and has contributed to the success of Paygate Ltd, Shimba Technologies, and Explainer DC. It looks for promising businesses in the media and information sectors that heavily utilize online and mobile applications to reach consumers. Companies, both early- and late-stage startups, must demonstrate the ability to earn revenue and add value in a specific area as well as replicate its model in other countries. Further, the firm requires ventures to have a clear exit strategy. This information must be outlined in a comprehensive business plan.

eVentures Africa Fund

eva fundAlso known as the eVA Fund, eVentures Africa Fund concentrates on small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) that tackle digital media. A thriving sector, digital media consists of broadband and mobile Internet access for the purpose of content delivery, communication, and business transactions. The fund, founded in 2010 by Brian Hirman and Vincent Kouwenhoven, leverages experience and investments from Europe and the Netherlands to help African ventures solidify business models, thus creating job and income opportunities in the sub-Saharan. The success of the enterprises also increases financial returns for investors. Eligible applicants must seek up to $1 million in funding and have been in business for a minimum of two years, but no more than five. E-commerce businesses, solution providers, and companies promoting an Internet or mobile application are considered.

TBL Mirror Fund

tbllogoAlso focused on SMEs is the TBL Mirror Fund. Partnering with international investors with backgrounds leading large multinational organizations, the fund supports businesses in growth markets. It upholds “the mirror principle,” which involves a hands-on approach by investors to help entrepreneurs establish and reach business goals as well as integrate best practices in corporate governance. Additionally, the fund holds sustainability in high regard, ensuring all investments maintain environmental, social, and governance integrity. The TBL Mirror Fund does not focus on a specific industry, but history has indicated success in consumer goods, ICT, and health care. Presently, it supports enterprises such as Cellulant Limited and Highlands Mineral Water Limited.