Published February 19, 2023

3 minute read

Inside a Continent taking-off: Meet the Founders of top African Ventures

Within the first few months of the last year, four new unicorns emerged in Africa and, on average, it took them less than four years to reach a USD 1b valuation. Overall, the start-up scene of the continent is accelerating and particularly active in the (fin)tech sector. How are the founders and their ventures transforming financial services, online marketplaces and supply chains? What do investors need to know about this vibrant market?

Session Speakers: 

Ahmed Sobhy

Ahmed Sobhy

Chief Investment Officer, Banque Misr

H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi

H.E. Dr Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi

Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs, United Arab Emirates

Peter Njonjo

Peter Njonjo

Founder and CEO, Twiga

Tosin Eniolorunda

Tosin Eniolorunda

Co-founder and CEO, Team Apt

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Key Takeaways

  • 42% of startups operating in the UAE started outside the UAE and the first three unicorns in the region were from the UAE.
  • Banque Misr is the largest equity investor in Egypt, with successful ventures such as Maksab, Fawry, and E-Finance.
  • TeamApt is a square-like business providing business tech services to offline retailers in Nigeria, processing $5B a month worth of payments and being one of the biggest employers of indirect labor in Nigeria.
  • Twiga is a B2B e-commerce business in Kenya targeting informal retail, serving as the back-office for small retail shops.
  • The middle markets in Africa make up 60% of the GDP and present an immense opportunity.
  • The biggest challenge for scaling up for Twiga was articulating values and institutionalizing them while for TeamApt, it was access to engineering talent, regulation, and avoiding cyber-attacks.
  • The success of these ventures can be attributed to being in the right place at the right time, preparedness, having a better product, and obsession and dedication.

The African startup scene is rapidly growing, with a significant focus on the fintech sector. In the early months of 2020, the continent saw the emergence of four new unicorns, each reaching a USD 1 billion valuation in less than four years. This start-up landscape is attracting increasing attention from investors who are eager to learn more about the entrepreneurs and ventures transforming financial services, online marketplaces, and supply chains.

Recently, the Middle East and Africa Investment Banking Head of Citi, Miguel Azevedo, moderated a panel of four top African entrepreneurs to discuss the keys to their success. The speakers included the Minister of State for Entrepreneurship and SMEs in the United Arab Emirates, H.E Ahmad bin Belhoul Al Falasi, Peter Njonjo, Founder and CEO of Twiga, Ahmed Sobhy, Chief Investment Officer of Banque Misr, and Tosin Eniolorunda, Founder and CEO of TeamApt.

H.E Al Falasi opened the session by highlighting the UAE’s focus on entrepreneurship and its position as a hub for startups, attracting half of all venture capital (VC) funding in the region. The Minister emphasized the importance of skill-building, startup infrastructure, and scaling up high-potential startups and stated that the UAE has proven to be one of the best hubs for startups, with 90% of its population being foreign talent.

Tosin Eniolorunda described TeamApt as a square-like business that provides business tech services to offline retailers in Nigeria, processing USD 5 billion worth of payments each month and employing over 1 million people. Eniolorunda emphasized the immense opportunity in Africa, where the middle markets represent 60% of the GDP.

When asked about their success, Tosin Eniolorunda attributed it to being in the right place at the right time with the right product, being prepared, having a better product, and being obsessed and dedicated to the startup. Peter Njonjo cited his 20 years of experience working for Coca Cola and his deep understanding of retail and logistics as the keys to Twiga’s success.

Peter Njonjo discussed Twiga, a B2B e-commerce business in Kenya that targets informal retail and acts as the back-office for small shops. He emphasized Twiga’s focus on reducing food prices, as people in Kenya spend over 50% of their income on food. Njonjo attributed Twiga’s success to his 20 years of experience in retail and logistics and his deep understanding of the industry.

Ahmed Sobhy spoke about Banque Misr, which is the largest equity investor in Egypt, with a history dating back to the 1920s. Sobhy highlighted the success of Maksab, which solves the issue of getting goods from Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs) to small shops, and the two Egyptian unicorns, Fawry and E-Finance.

When asked about their success, the panelists cited being in the right place at the right time with the right product, being prepared and dedicated, and having a better product as key factors. They also discussed some of the biggest challenges they faced while scaling up, including articulating values and institutionalizing them, accessing engineering talent, navigating regulations, and avoiding cybersecurity threats.

In conclusion, the African startup scene is thriving, and the key to success is a combination of preparation, dedication, and having a better product. As the continent continues to grow, it is essential to focus on skill-building, infrastructure, and scaling up high-potential startups. The panelists’ insights provide valuable lessons for entrepreneurs and investors looking to tap into the opportunities in the African market.

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