Long neglected by investors, Africa is quickly catching up in the race for digital transformation. This expert panel discussion with Fatoumata Bâ (Janngo Capital), Stéphan-Éloïse Gras (Digital Africa) and Khaled Ben Jilani (AfricInvest) illustrates the enormous opportunities for startups, founders and their financial backers on the world’s second-largest continent.
“The acceleration of the African tech ecosystem has been massive over the last three to five years”, Stéphan-Éloïse Gras observes at the outset, pointing to the most recent Africa Tech Venture Capital report by Partech Partners, an investment platform.
In 2021, African tech startups received more than $5 billion in venture funding, the report shows – almost 10 times the amount invested in 2017. The number of equity rounds rose even faster, to 681 in 2021.
“So the ecosystem is really happening now”, Gras says. But major challenges remain: “Over 90% of African startup don’t find any financing at all”, she points out, and more than 70% of the investment go to just four countries: Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt.
To Fatoumata Bâ, “Africa is the best place in the world for entrepreneurs to seek opportunity in adversity”.
Given the projected population growth from currently 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050, Bâ emphasizes the importance of creating new jobs.
“We need at least 30 million new jobs per year to cope with that demographic increase and employ our youths”, she says.
The good news is: “Technology and capital are a very powerful way to help leapfrog development” – and successful solutions promise to benefit both society and entrepreneurs.
“You don’t have to choose between doing well and doing good”, Fatoumata Bâ emphasizes. “These challenges are actually opportunities.”
The success of mobile payment solutions like M-Pesa (now a unit of Vodafone) illustrate this. “Africa is perceived as a continent with huge inequalities and huge gaps in terms of inclusion”, Khaled Ben Jilani notes. “And probably the biggest one is the financial sector.”
But technology can bring progress, and the opportunities extend to many other sectors, such as education, Jilani says.