Compared with last year, when mosques around the world were closed because of the coronavirus, this Holy Month has limits, but friends and family, too.
The venture capital scene in the North African tech ecosystem will be absolutely buzzing right now with the announcement of two large VC funds in the space of two days. Today, Algebra Ventures, an Egyptian VC firm, announced that it has launched its $90 million second fund.
Four years ago, Algebra Ventures closed its first fund of $54 million, and with this announcement, the firm hopes to have raised a total of $144 million when the second fund closes (with first close by Q3 2021). If achieved, Algebra will most likely have the largest indigenous fund from North Africa and arguably in Africa.
According to the managing partners — Tarek Assaad and Karim Hussein, the first fund was an Egyptian-focused fund. Still, the firm made some selective investments in a few companies outside the country. The second fund will be similar — Egypt first, Egypt focused, but allocating investments in East and West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East.
Assaad and Hussein launched the firm in 2016 as one of Egypt’s first independent venture capital funds. It wasn’t easy to start one at the time, and it took the partners two years to close the first fund.
“Raising a venture capital fund in Egypt in 2016, in all honesty, was a pain. There was no venture capital to speak of back then,” Assaad told TechCrunch. “The high-flying startups back then were raising between $1 million and $2 million. We decided to take the bull by the horn and raise from very established LPs.”
These LPs include Cisco, the European Commission, Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund (EAEF), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and private family offices. From the first fund, Algebra backed 21 startups in Egypt and MENA, and according to the firm, six of its most established companies are valued at over $350 million and collectively generate more than $150 million in annual revenue. It hopes to back 31 startups from the second fund.
Algebra says it’s sector-agnostic but has a focus on fintech, logistics, health tech and agritech. Although the firm has invested in startups in seed and Series B stages, Algebra is known to be an investor in startups looking to raise Series A investments.
Another appealing proposition from Algebra lies in the fact that it owns an in-house team focused on talent acquisition — in operations, marketing, finance, engineering, etc., for portfolio companies.
The firm’s ticket size remains unchanged from the first fund and will continue to cut checks ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. However, some aspects as to how the firm handles operations might change according to the partners.
“One of the lessons learned in our first fund is that we see that there are more interesting opportunities and great entrepreneurs in the seed stage. And given that we’re more on the ground in Egypt, sometimes we wait for them to mature to Series A. But going forward, we might need to build relationships with those we find exceptional at the seed level and also expand our participation on the Series B level, too,” Hussein said on how the firm will act going forward.
Hussein adds that the company will also be doubling down on its talent acquisition network. Typically, Algebra helps portfolio companies hire C-level executives, and while it plans to continue doing so, the firm might adopt a startup studio model — pairing some professionals to start a company that eventually gets Algebra’s backing and support.
The reason behind this stems from the next set of companies Algebra will be looking to invest in. According to Hussein, the partners at Algebra have studied successful businesses in other emerging markets for some time and want to identify parallels in North Africa where the firm can invest.
“In cases where the firm can’t find those opportunities, we may spur some of those in the network to start building those businesses and capture those opportunities,” he remarked.
Before Algebra, Hussein has been involved with building some successful tech companies in the U.S. Primarily an engineer after bagging both bachelors and doctorate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and MIT, respectively, he ventured into the world of startup investing and crazy valuations after working for a consulting company in the dot-com era.
He would go on to start Riskclick, a software company known for its commercial insurance applications. The founders sold the company to Skywire before Oracle acquired the company to become part of its suite of insurance services. After some time at WebMD, Hussein returned to Egypt and began mentoring startups as an angel investor. Alongside other angel investors, he started Cairo Angels, an angel investor network in Egypt, in 2013.
“There was a massive gap in the market. We were putting in a bit of small angel money to these businesses but there were no VCs to take them to the next level. So I met up with Tarek and the rest is Algebra,” he said.
Assaad is also an engineer. He obtained his bachelors in Egypt before switching careers by going to Stanford Graduate School of Business. He continued on that path working for some Bay Area companies before his return to Egypt. On his return, he became a managing partner at Ideavelopers, a VC firm operating a $50 million fund since 2009. The firm has had a couple of good success stories, the most notable being fintech startup Fawry. Fawry is now a publicly traded billion-dollar company and Assaad was responsible for the investment which realized a $100 million exit for Ideavelopers in 2015.
With Algebra, both partners are pioneering local investments in the region. Some of its portfolio companies are the most well-known companies on the continent — health tech startup Vezeeta; social commerce platform Brimore; logistics startup Trella; ride-hailing and super app Halan; food discovery and ordering platform Elmenus; fintech startup, Khazna; and others.
The firm’s latest raise and $144 million capital amount is one of the largest funds dedicated to African startups. Other large Africa-focused funds include the $71 million fund recently closed by another Egyptian firm, Sawari Ventures; Partech’s $143 million fund; Novastar Ventures’ $200 million fund; and the $71 million Tide Africa Fund by TLcom Capital.
These funds have been very pivotal to the growth of the African tech ecosystem in terms of funding. Last year, African startups raised almost $1.5 billion from both local and international investors, according to varying reports. This number was just half a billion dollars six years ago.
However, regardless of the period — 2015 or 2021 — African VC investments have always been largely dominated by foreign investors. But VC firms like Algebra Ventures are showing that local investors can cumulatively raise nine-figure funds or attempt to do so. Obviously, this will provide more startups with more funds and pave the way for indigenous and local VCs to at least increase their participation to nearly equal levels when compared to international investors.
Egyptian-based VC firm Sawari Ventures has closed its $71 million fund for North Africa’s rapidly growing startup ecosystem.
The firm first announced its fund in 2018, when it closed an initial $35 million (which subsequently increased to $41 million) in hopes to close at $70 million, per Menabytes. The investors in the first tranche included CDC (which forked over $12 million), European Investment Bank, Proparco and the Dutch Good Growth Fund.
Having closed an additional $30 million, Sawari Ventures’ total raise is $1 million more than its original target. And it has added a range of new backers that includes Banque Misr, Banque du Caire, Ekuity, Misr Insurance Group, National Bank of Egypt and Suez Canal Bank.
Ahmed El Alfi, Hany Al-Sonbaty and Wael Amin launched Sawari Ventures in 2010. Before venturing into the world of venture capital, El Alfi and Al-Sonbaty were investment professionals in the Egyptian tech space for more than two decades. Amin, meanwhile, was a founder of a tech company called ITWorx that made notable acquisitions in the Egyptian tech ecosystem.
In addition to Egypt, Sawari Ventures focuses on Morocco and Tunisia. For the firm, these three countries represent one of the best investment opportunities around given the mismatch between the capital available (amounts and variation at every stage) and the market opportunity. They also share common traits such as language, culture, business, governance norms and market dynamics, making it easier for cross-border cooperation.
Since launching the firm over 10 years ago, Sawari claims to have invested in more than 30 companies, mostly in Egypt. Some of these companies include ride-hailing service SWVL, software startup Instabug, and AI chat-based personal assistant Elves, but its sweet spots are the hardware, education, healthcare, cleantech and fintech sectors.
“We try to cast a wide net given that, in essence, this is a transformative moment in emerging markets tech with the rapid digitization of the underlying economy,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch. “So as expected, we’re seeing a great deal flow in the digitization of financial services, health care and education technologies. Also, given the engineering talent, there are unique opportunities in SaaS products, semiconductors and IoT.”
Sawari Ventures invests in growth-stage companies, in particular. But it also operates Flat6Labs, a seed VC firm akin to an accelerator that has been used to perform its seed investments since establishing both Cairo and Tunis offices in 2011 and 2016.
Sawari says 10% of the now-closed investments will be earmarked for seed-stage companies as investments through Flat6Labs Cairo and Tunis. Flat6Labs Cairo will seed between 80 to 100 companies and offer follow-on investments to between 30 and 40. Flat6Labs Tunisia will seed 60 to 70 companies and offer follow-on investments for 30 to 40. The remaining 90% will be used to invest in 20 to 25 growth-stage companies across Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, with a median investment range of $2 million to $3 million.
The investment range is a continuation of how Sawari typically cut checks for portfolio startups since closing the first tranche three years ago. The firm said it has invested between $1 million and $4 million in Elves, Brantu, and ExpandCart, Almentor, SWVL and MoneyFellows, among others.
“The Egypt-based fund is a privately held fund regulated by the Financial Regulatory Authority of Egypt (FRA), which allowed us to attract capital from top-tier local financial institutions to co-invest with foreign capital from international development financial institutions, doubling our allocation to invest in Egyptian high-growth companies to $68 million,” El Alfi said in a statement.
“Our aim is to create exceptional returns through investing in knowledge-driven companies, which have the potential of bringing transformational changes to the Egyptian economy. The fund will support local companies with dedicated capital, in addition to quality expertise from our seasoned and specialized team, and the value-add of our investors.”
But the made-for-TV spectacle also underlined the jarring divide between Egypt’s celebrated past and its uncertain present.
A single stuck ship stymied global trade for nearly a week. That raises fundamental questions about risks in the supply chain industry.
A tiny Egyptian village has a front-row seat to the unfolding effort to dislodge the container ship that ran aground in the canal, holding up $10 billion in global trade every day.
The national rail authority said “unknown actors” had engaged brakes on one train, which was hit by another behind it. The country’s railways have been plagued by poor maintenance and mismanagement.
It took 10 years and 1.5 million laborers to build in the 19th century, and one day and one giant ship to clog it in 2021. The shudders are being felt throughout the world’s maritime commerce.
Tugboats and dredgers were toiling to release the wedged container vessel, which is obstructing the crucial artery of global trade like “a very heavy beached whale,” one expert said.
By Wednesday morning, more than 100 ships were stuck at each end of the canal, which carries roughly 10 percent of worldwide shipping traffic.
In Africa, Y Combinator is known to be a major backer of most of the continent’s well-known startups.
Two of the most talked-about in the last two quarters — Flutterwave and Paystack — are YC-backed. Their successes (Flutterwave’s billion-dollar valuation and Paystack’s rare exit to Stripe) have greatly increased YC’s appeal in the eyes of founders on the continent with local investors clamoring to get their portfolio into the accelerator.
Unlike last year where Y Combinator held its Demo Day, both winter and summer in two days, it’s a single day for this Winter 2021 batch.
This is the accelerator’s third online demo day, its second all-virtual class and remote pitch session following its decision to go fully remote from the previous batch (Summer 2020).
A total of 319 companies pitched today from 41 countries drawing attention from more than 2,400 investors. However, only ten African startups pitched and similar to other batches; most of them are fintechs.
Other startups offer e-commerce fulfillment, edtech and B2B food marketplace services. Five startups represent Nigeria; three are from Egypt, and one from the Ivory Coast and Kenya. Here they are building.
Most of the gig workers in Egypt are unbanked, and it’s difficult for digital platforms to pay them for their services. The traditional method would be to use cash or third-party institutions.
Founded by Omar Ekram, Dayra is trying to solve this via an API. With its platform, Egyptian businesses can offer financial services including loans to unbanked workers and customers in the country.
Djamo (Ivory Coast)
While there has been a huge profusion of financial services that have emerged in recent years in Africa, there’s still a huge underserved gap in Francophone Africa. In fact, less than 25% of the population is banked.
Djamo acts as a challenger bank and offers banking solutions to break into this huge untapped market and help with financial inclusion in the region. Hassan Bourgi and Regis Bamba founded the Ivorian startup.
In African public schools, the student-teacher ratio can be as high as 50:1. This doesn’t aid effective learning. Other options like private schools can be costly.
Kidato, an edtech startup founded by Sam Gichuru, have classes with student-teacher ratios at 5:1. They also offer the same international curriculum as private schools in the country but collect much lower fees.
It takes days and sometimes weeks to send money from the U.S. to Nigeria and most African countries. There’s also the problem with expensive fees.
Flux, a Nigerian remittance startup, is using crypto to tackle this. Via an application and from a wallet, people can convert fiat into crypto and send it to the wallets of people in other countries who convert back to fiat if they choose. The startup was founded by Ben Eluan, Osezele Orukpe, and Israel Akintunde.
Financial stress plays a major role as a top distraction for employees. NowPay, a startup founded by Sabry Abuelenien and Mostafa Ashour, bridges that gap and provides several benefits for employers that choose to address this area of employee wellness proactively.
The company enables corporates to offer salary advances to employees. It also improves savings, spending, budgeting, and borrowing for employees by building products that tackle every vertical.
Due to the proliferation of financial services in Africa, it has become extremely difficult for banks and fintechs to combine users’ data from multiple points and make sense of it.
By streamlining various data in a single API, Mono helps companies and third-party developers retrieve vital information like account statements, real-time balance, historical transactions, income, expense, and account owner identification. Abdul Hassan and Prakhar Singh founded the company.
In the U.S. or the U.K, you can set up a business account in minutes but it can take hours and days in Nigeria. And most of this is still executed offline and on paper.
Prospa is a neobank for microbusinesses in Nigeria founded by Frederik Obasi and Rodney Jackson-Cole. It helps these businesses make international payments to more than 10 countries including China, Kenya, the U.K., and the U.S.
When merchants launch their e-commerce businesses, they can easily manage the end-to-end operations in the early stages. But as they begin to grow, managing their own operations can become difficult.
This is a burden for most businesses in Egypt and Flextock, a startup founded by Mohamed Mossaad and Enas Siam, solves it by providing an end to end fulfilment service. They manage a business inventory, pick, pack and ship orders while providing real-time visibility and insights into their products.
For some individuals and merchants, shipping can be a painstaking process. To operate efficiently, they partner with one or more service providers or build their delivery operations themselves.
Sendbox describes itself as a “fulfillment by Amazon for African merchants.” The company provides shipping, escrow payments, among other services, to social commerce merchants in Nigeria. Emotu Balogun and Olusegun Afolahan founded the company.
For small and mid-sized restaurants in Nigeria and most of Africa, food procurement can be a complex process to manage.
Founded by Tunde Kara, Olumide Fayankin, Gatumi Aliyu, and Wale Oyepeju, Vendease solves this problem by building a marketplace that allows restaurants to buy directly from farms and food manufacturers.
An author, physician and champion of equal rights, she was jailed by Anwar Sadat for her activism against the Egyptian government.
For decades, many Egyptians have been straightening their hair to fit a conservative, Western-influenced beauty standard. Many younger Egyptians are rejecting all that.
As the restaurant industry across different cities was massively hit by the pandemic-induced lockdowns last year, food aggregator platforms helped by driving online customers to them.
Koinz is one such startup in Egypt. Its value for food and beverages brands before, during and after the lockdowns has bagged the startup a $4.8 million seed round.
The offline and online food and restaurant experience in the country are totally separate. Most food aggregators who deal with delivery tend to focus on the online customer, and there’s no sophisticated experience for the offline customer.
Next, the unit economics of the food aggregation industry is quite challenging. According to Momtaz, the startup’s CEO, the food aggregation industry usually takes about 25%-30% average commission from F&B players for business to start to make sense.
“This is not because they want to squeeze money from the hands of restaurants or brands,” Momtaz said to TechCrunch. “But the cost of acquiring customers and retaining them for the food aggregator itself is very high; that’s why they need very high commissions from the brands or restaurants.”
This is where Koinz comes in. The company developed a mobile app for takeout and delivery orders that manages offline customer experiences while delivering an engagement platform to manage loyalty programs, customer feedback and analytics about the online and offline customer base.
Online food experience for Koinz customers is like a treasure hunt, and Momtaz claims the company’s business model has cracked the industry’s unit economics. This, alongside providing brands with insights, differentiates the platform from other aggregators and makes its customer acquisition cost and retention cost 60% less than most of them.
Here’s how the platform works. When customers visit a brand using for the first time, they collect their phone numbers and store them in the application. The customers, on the other hand, get points for making orders via text message. After various restaurant visits and making orders, they accumulate enough points. They’ll need to download the Koinz mobile application to redeem them, thereby converting these offline customers to online ones.
Furthermore, these offline customers can now discover new places to eat, read and leave reviews, and order delivery or takeout.
“None of the small or big brands in the region had something like this before. The offline customer is like a ghost. He walks into the brands, takes his orders, and leaves without the brands knowing anything about him. Koinz is changing that,” the CEO remarked.
Building its platform this way, Koinz tries to be different from other online aggregators that erode restaurant owners’ profit margins while delivering limited customer access and interaction. How? By collecting real-time data and leveraging a digital rewarding system designed to drive customers to deepen their relationship with restaurants.
Brands can configure their gifts lists and determine what customers can redeem their points for. For instance, customers in an Egyptian restaurant called Buffalo Burger can exchange 68 points for a Diablo Fries Medium; or wait till they get to 160 points to get a Mozzarella Sticks Medium; or 236 points for a Double Diggler.
Similarly, every brand has its own configuration. A customer cannot get points in Buffalo Burger and redeem them at Burger King. Koinz charges subscriptions to the brands for its engagement and feedback platform and collects commission whenever an order is made via its platform, which varies across its markets.
Because of its original business model, Koinz had to iterate several times. Before using phone numbers to collect customers’ information, the company used QR codes and NFC tags. Momtaz says this was highly ineffective, and the move to phone numbers helped skyrocket its growth and value.
The six-man team back in 2018 is now 80, and the platform, which is basically powering the growth of restaurants in the Middle East, claims to have had up to 4 million consumers earn points on its platform. These consumers have redeemed almost 300,000 rewards, while almost 800,000 customers have left reviews.
Since launching in Egypt, Koinz has expanded to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Like Egypt, these markets have similar dynamics and demographics. They have also witnessed one of the highest rates of new or increased users in online deliveries — restaurant products and groceries — during the pandemic.
Besides, consumers in the Middle East are outpacing the global appetite in food delivery, with 64% ordering in at least once a week compared to 40% made by global consumers. And with the fast-food industry in MENA was estimated at nearly $31 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach nearly $60 billion by 2025, there’s so much room for Koinz to grow in the region. Momtaz says the company is also considering a move to Sub-Saharan Africa in the nearest future despite them having distinct demographics.
Entrepreneur and investor Justin Mateen led this seed round. Since leaving Tinder in 2014, Mateen has been an active investor in early-stage companies. Koinz is his first investment in the MENA region. According to him, Koinz’s ability to allow food and beverages brands to understand their customers’ needs and simultaneously increase their profit margins was one of the reasons he invested in the Egyptian-based startup.
“The company’s unique business model will continue to scale as the food delivery space evolves. Hussein’s drive and excitement for what the team is building are what convinced me to lead a round in the Middle East for the first time,” Mateen added.
African-focused VC 4DX Ventures and strategic angel investors from Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia participated as well.
Peter Orth, co-founder and managing director of the firm, said of the investment that with restaurants in the region suffering under the traditional aggregator model, especially during the pandemic, Koinz has quickly become a win-win for both consumers and restaurant owners across the Middle East.
As the three-year-old company plans to use the capital to hire more talent and fuel its expansion across the Middle East, Matten and Orth will join its board of directors.
Early Stage is the premier ‘how-to’ event for startup entrepreneurs and investors. You’ll hear first-hand how some of the most successful founders and VCs build their businesses, raise money and manage their portfolios. We’ll cover every aspect of company-building: Fundraising, recruiting, sales, product market fit, PR, marketing and brand building. Each session also has audience participation built-in – there’s ample time included for audience questions and discussion.
When merchants launch their e-commerce businesses, they can easily manage the end-to-end operations in the early stages. But as they begin to grow, managing their own operations, from warehousing and logistics to delivery and cash collection, can become difficult. This can prevent them from scaling effectively despite having a steady inflow of demand.
Now, there’s a need to offload some of this workload. This is where e-commerce fulfillment services come in handy.
Today, Flextock, one such company providing this service to businesses and consumers in Egypt, is announcing that it is part of Y Combinator’s Winter 2021 batch. Founded by Mohamed Mossaad and Enas Siam in September 2020, the Egyptian company launched in stealth this January.
According to COO Siam, the founders noticed that as e-commerce activities in the Middle East and North African regions accelerated due to the pandemic, merchants were left overwhelmed with the volume of orders they received.
“We saw it as an opportunity to build a tech-enabled platform to be able to help anyone that wanted to grow their own independent brand or store,” she told TechCrunch. “We wanted them to focus on their products and marketing while leaving the supply chain and logistics bit to us, which we do through our end-to-end proprietary software.”
Mossaad, the company’s CEO, describes Flextock as a tech-enabled fulfillment provider. When merchants sign up to the platform, they send their products to one of the company’s fulfillment centers. Flextock takes the whole catalog and tags the products for tracking purposes. Then, integration is made between Flextock and any online store they use, be it Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix and Odoo, among others.
As orders are made, Flextock packages and ships the products from the fulfillment center to the customers. Flextock doesn’t own any delivery vehicles, so to achieve this, the company partners with existing logistics companies in Egypt. This model has helped the startup to create a marketplace for different last-mile delivery companies in the country.
There’s also a dashboard for these merchants to track each order, get more visibility into their shipping process and know how well their products sell.
Flextock makes money on a per-order basis. That means the merchants on the platform pay a flat fee that changes with respect to the volume of products moved.
Mossaad says that since the company beta launched in January with more than 20 businesses, it has been growing 50% week on week. It has also completed over 300,000 orders across 28 cities in the country.
According to the CEO, Flextock is the first end-to-end fulfillment service in Egypt. And in a market that will likely see more competition in the next couple of years, Mossaad thinks Flextock has the opportunity to become the market leader.
Behind this rationale is that the six-month-old startup is backed by Y Combinator and has also raised $850,000 which is just the first part of its million-dollar pre-seed round that will close sometime this year.
“We were able to very quickly get the acceptance of YC given the size of the opportunity we are focused on. We believe that commerce is expected to change in the Middle East and Africa, and Flextock is going to be at the forefront of powering this next generation of commerce,” he said.
The founders combine a wealth of corporate experience and a strong track record of scaling tech startups in the MENA region.
Siam started her career managing supply operations at Nestle across the Middle East and North Africa. Later, she became the General Manager of Careem Bus, a mass-transit service and Uber subsidiary, where she helped build the product from scratch and grew it to 150,000 monthly rides in a year.
Mossaad, on the other hand, has worked on multiple turnarounds across different African countries during his time at Bain & Company. He joined Egyptian online food delivery platform, Elmenus, as Chief Strategy Officer. He helped scale the company’s revenues 5x in less than a year and was instrumental to its $8 million Series B round.
The CEO says Flextock has its sights on other African and Middle Eastern markets — specifically Saudi Arabia — and the plan is to provide its services to over 1 million businesses in these regions over the next decade.
“We are on a mission to enable more than 1 million merchants in Africa and the Middle East to sell online without carrying out the hassle of running their own operations. We are well-positioned to do that, and hopefully, we will be able to achieve that in a record time.”
After 50 years of fieldwork in the Negev and Sinai deserts, an Israeli researcher donated his rare archive to the National Library of Israel.
I’m inspired by two sisters who stood up to goons with clubs and razors in Egypt.
CT scans of a mummified Egyptian pharaoh, once suspected to be the victim of a palace assassination, suggest that he was actually executed after being captured in battle in the mid-16th century BCE.
Pharaoh Seqenenre led his army from Upper Egypt in the 1550s BCE to face the Hyksos, a group of warriors from the Levant who occupied Lower Egypt and demanded tribute from Upper Egypt during what historians call the Second Intermediate Period. It’s known that Seqenenre died during this conflict, but it’s been unclear whether he was assassinated in his bed in the palace at Thebes or died on the battlefield.
A computed tomography (CT) scan offered a look at his wounds, along with the details of his mummification. Radiologist Sahar Saleem of Cairo University and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass concluded that he most likely died near the front lines and was brought back to Thebes for mummification and burial.
Regimes that muzzle their people’s voices eventually push people into venting their frustrations from muzzles of a different sort.
The venture capital scene in Africa has consistently grown, with an influx of capital from local and international investors reaching unprecedented heights in recent years. To understand how much growth has occurred, African startups raised a meagre $400 million in 2015 compared to the $2 billion that came into the continent in 2019, according to Africa-focused fund Partech Africa.
However, that figure isn’t the only yardstick. With other outlets like media publications WeeTracker and Disrupt Africa disclosing different results for the African venture capital market, we compared and contrasted their results last year. The result of that investigation detailed differences in methodology, as well as similarities.
In comparison to Partech’s $2 billion figure for 2019, WeeTracker estimated that African startups raised $1.3 billion while Disrupt Africa, $496 million for the same year.
It was expected that these figures would increase in 2020. But with the pandemic bringing in utter confusion and panic, companies downsized as investors re-strategized, and due diligence slowed during the first few months of the year. Also, new predictions came into light in May with some pegging expected deals to close between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion by the end of the year.
Investments did pick up, and from July, VC funding on the continent had a bullish run until December. Although 2020 didn’t witness the series of mammoth deals in 2019 and didn’t reach the $2 billion mark, it proved to be a good year for acquisitions. Sendwave’s $500 million purchase by WorldRemit; Network International buying DPO Group for $288 million; and Stripe’s larger than $200 million acquisition of Paystack were high-profile examples.
To better understand how VCs invested in Africa during 2020, we’ll look into data from Partech Africa, Briter Bridges and Disrupt Africa.
Behind the numbers
In 2019, Partech Africa reported that a total of $2 billion went into African startups. For 2020, the number dropped to $1.43 billion. Briter Bridges pegged total 2020 VC for African startups at $1.31 billion (for disclosed and undisclosed amounts), up from $1.27 billion in 2019. Disrupt Africa noted an increase in its figures moving from $496 million in 2019 to $700 million in 2020.
Just as last year, contrasting methodologies from the type of deals reviewed, to the definition of an African startup contributed to the numbers’ disparity.
Cyril Collon, general partner at Partech says the firm’s numbers are based on equity deals greater than $200,000. Also, it defines African startups “as companies with their primary market, in terms of operations or revenues, in Africa not based on HQ or incorporation,” he said. “When these companies evolve to go global, we still count them as African companies.”
Briter Bridges has a similar methodology. According to Dario Giuliani, the firm’s director, the research organisation avoided using geography to define an African startup due to factors contributing to business identities like taxation, customers, IP, and management team.
For Disrupt Africa, the startups featured in its report are seven years or less in operation, still scaling, and a potential to achieve profitability. It excluded “companies that are spin-offs of corporates or any other large entity, or that have developed past the point of being a startup, by our definition of one.”
The continued dominance of fintech and the Big Four
Despite the drop in total funding, Partech says African startups closed more total deals in 2020 than previous years. According to the firm, 347 startups completed 359 deals compared in 2020 compared to 250 deals in 2019. This can be attributed to an increase in seed rounds (up 88% from 2019) and bridge rounds due to shortage of cash amidst a pandemic-induced lockdown.
A common theme in the three reports shows fintech, healthtech, and cleantech in the top five sectors. But, as expected, fintech retained the lion’s share of African VC funding.
According to Partech, fintech represented 25% of total African funding raised last year, with agritech, logistics & mobility, off-grid tech, and healthtech sectors following behind.
Briter Bridges reported that fintech companies accounted for 31% of the total VC funding over the same time period. Cleantech came second; healthtech, third; agritech and data analytics, in fourth and fifth.
Fintech startups raised 24.9% of the total African VC funding counted by Disrupt Africa. E-commerce, healthtech, logistics, and energy startups followed respectively.
2020 also showed the Big Four countries’ preponderance in terms of investment destination, at least in two out of the three reports.
The countries remained unchanged on Partech’s top five as Nigeria remained the VC’s top destination with $307 million. At a close second was Kenya accounting for $304 million of the total investments in the continent. Egypt came third with its startups raising $269 million, while $259 million flowed into South African startups. Rounding up the top five was Ghana with $111 million, displacing Rwanda which was fifth in Partech’s 2019 list.
The sequence remained unchanged from Disrupt Africa’s 2019 list as well. Funding raised by Kenyan startups reached $191.4 million; Nigeria followed with $150.4 million; South Africa, third at $142.5 million; Egypt came a close fourth with $141.4 million; while Ghanaian startups raised $19.9 million.
Briter Bridges took a different approach. Whereas Partech and Disrupt Africa highlighted funding activities per country of origin and operations, Briter Bridges chose to attribute funding to the startups’ place of incorporation or headquarters. This premise slightly altered the Big Four’s positions. Startups headquartered in the US received $471.8 million of the total funding, according to Briter Bridges. Those in South Africa claimed $119.7 million. Mauritius-headquartered companies received $110 million while African startups headquartered in the U.K. and Kenya raised $107.6 million and $77.1 million respectively.
On why Briter Bridges went with this narrative, Giuliani said the company wants its data to be an impartial conversation starter which can be used to investigate more complex dynamics such as the need for better policies, regulation, or financial availability.
This speaks particularly to the absence of Nigeria as a primary location for incorporation. Due to unfriendly regulations, business and tax conditions, Nigerian startups are increasingly incorporating their startups abroad and other African countries like Seychelles and Mauritius. It’s a trend that may well continue as most foreign VCs prefer African startups to be incorporated in countries with business-friendly investment laws.
Regional and gender diversity check
With an increase in startup activity in Francophone Africa, one would’ve expected an uptick in VC funding in the region. Well, that’s not exactly the case. Senegal, the region’s top destination for VC funding dropped from $16 million in 2019 to $8.8 million in 2020 according to Partech. The country was 9th on the list while Ivory Coast, placed 10th, raised a meagre sum of $6.5 million.
However, the good news is that 22 other countries received investments outside this Big Four this year, according to Partech data. Will we see this continue? And if yes, which countries will likely join the nine-figure club?
Tidjane Deme, a general partner of Partech Africa, believes Ghana might be next. He references how it previously used to be a Big 3 of Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa before Egypt became a dominant force, and says a similar event might happen with the West African country.
“We see a clear diversification happening as investors are going into more markets. Ghana, for instance, is already attracting above $100 million. Of course, we all wish it would happen faster, but we also recognize that this is a learning process for both investors entering new markets and for founders learning about this game.”
Ghana also emerged in Giuliani’s forecast. He adds the likes of Tunisia, Morocco, Rwanda as second-tier countries quickly entering global investors’ radar and building more sophisticated ecosystems.
Tom Jackson, co-founder of Disrupt Africa, doesn’t mention any names. But he thinks that while there are some positives from other markets, the Big Four dominance will continue.
“Funding will filter down to other markets more and more, and there are already positive signs in that regard. But the space is still relatively early-stage and those four big markets have a big head start and will remain far ahead for years to come,” he said.
Another diversity check that cannot be overlooked is that of gender. Despite all the talk of inclusion, Briter Bridges reported that 15% of the funded startups in 2020 had women as founders, co-founders, or C-level executives. Partech, on the other hand, places this number at 14%. There’s still a lot of work to be done to increase this figure, and we might see more early-stage firms looking to plug that gap.
Archaeologists in Egypt are preparing to open a 3,000-year-old burial shaft at the Saqqara necropolis, south of Cairo, in the coming week.
The unexplored tomb is one of 52 burial shafts clustered near the much older pyramid of the Pharaoh Teti. Workers at the site found the entrance to the latest shaft earlier this week as they were preparing to announce a slew of other finds at the site, including the tombs of military leaders and high-ranking courtiers, a copy of the Book of the Dead, and ancient board games. Also among the discoveries is the name of the owner of an elaborate mortuary temple near Teti’s pyramid: Narat or Naert, the pharaoh’s queen.
“I’d never heard of this queen before. Therefore we add an important piece of Egyptian history about this queen,” archaeologist and former Egyptian Minister of Antiquities Zahi Hawass told CBS News. Archaeologists first unearthed the stone temple in 2010, but it wasn’t clear who the grand structure had been built for. At mortuary temples like this one, priests and supplicants could make offerings to the dead queen to keep her comfortable in the afterlife—and ask her to help them out in this world.
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