These Ten Ugandan Startups Have Been Selected To Pitch At This Year’s Seedstars Kampala

Raising Capital: How These Five Successful African Entrepreneurs Did It

Andrew Christian October 4

No cash to kick off with, no one wants to give you capital, and the banks have turned you down several times. It seems the odds are no longer in your favor – but are they for anyone? Many people call it quits on their entrepreneurial forays on the backs of not having the required money to grow that idea into the next big thing in the market. Unarguably, access to funds has to be the biggest threat to entrepreneurs around the world, especially in Africa. In a continent where people have to sleep in cars before having their thundering breakthroughs, lack of capital is largely a convenient excuse to say “That’s it.”

In the past decade, more capital has been flowing into Africa like never before. In 2015 alone, the continent received up to USD 276.5 Mn in startup funding – a figure which rose to USD 366.8 Mn in 2016. According to a report by Weetracker, African startups raised an eclipsing USD 168.6 Mn funding in H1 2018. These figures go to say that Africa in the next big thing in business, also buttressing that fact that the ecosystem is attracting a lot of money.

In an effort to dispel the myth of “no capital,” here are 5 African entrepreneurs who successfully raised funding to begin, grow and globalize their businesses.

Kenya’s Lorna Rutto

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In 2010, this young female entrepreneur quit her job at a bank to start a waste recycling business. From custom-made ergonomic chairs to the dumps, she established EcoPost – a company that collects and recycles waste into aesthetic, durable and environ-friendly fencing posts that serve as alternative material to timber. But this successful business today would have been anything but if financial support didn’t emerge from the stables of international and local investors, as well as NGOs. Lorna applied for and won a USD 6 K seed award which served as startup capital for her recycling business. In the same year, she bagged USD 12.7 K in a business plan competition organized by the Cartier Women’s Initiative.

As of recent, EcoPost has attracted an equity investment from the Blue Haven Initiative and the Opus Foundation, which totaled to USD 495 K. The funding was used in the expansion of the business and for the purchase of state-of-the-art recycling equipment. What most African entrepreneurs are unaware of is that hundreds of organizations support businesses that tackle environmental educational and sociological businesses – any idea that helps better the society. They usually provide donations, grants, loans and equity funding to startups from Africa.

South Africa’s Anna Phosa

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Because she is one of the most successful pig farmers in Africa, Anna Phosa is often fondly called the ‘celebrity pig farmer’. Even with her monster-large farm and a lot of ripples in the ecosystem, her business journey wasn’t all candy and lollipop, because she had her nose to the grindstone to raise capital and grow the business. In 2004, Anna began what was her first pig farm in Soweto with the sum of USD 100 which she squeezed from her personal savings – which at the point could only afford and cater for four small pigs. A quad of years on, she was ringed by Pick ‘N Pay, a South African supermarket chain, with a contract to supply its affiliating stored with 10 pigs per week. Marking the first of Anna’s breakthroughs, the request quickly grew to 20. By 2010, a major contract had been signed and undertaken between the two businesses to supply 100 pigs per week over the next five years, under a USD 1.9 Mn deal (as at then). With this contract in hand, the female entrepreneur had raised capital from ASBS Bank and USAID to acquire a farm of 350 hectares. Today, her farm houses 4,000 pigs at a time and employs no less than 20 staff.

A significant number of entrepreneurs looking to start businesses often turn to banks and end up down in the dumps – that’s because this category financial institution tends to focus on growing and/or matured ventures that have what could be considered to be healthy cash flows and collaterals that can be used to secure loans. In the absence of any of these criteria, you would be misemploying and trifling away.

Ghana’s OMG Digital

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The trio of Dominic Mensah, Prince Boakye Boampong and Jesse Arhin Ghansah began OMG Digital in Ghana back in 2012 when they were still in the halls of the ivy trying to get a degree. Smartphones were becoming very popular as at the time, but these three friends found it hard to find interesting things to read online – and that was the forerunner of their media company which now provides content for young internet-savvy Africans. As of now, OMG Digital has spread from Ghana into Nigeria and Kenya, set to launch sites for South African, Ugandan, Zambian and Tanzanian users. These entrepreneurs were accepted into Y Combinator – one of the world’s most prestigious accelerator programs. In June, they were able to raise USD 1.1 Mn from a group of venture capital firms and angel investors.

Angel investors, who are usually independently rich people investing in early-stage investors, are really proving to have the halo atop their head as it concerns how they fund African startups.  Without them, successful businesses such as Microsoft, Google and Facebook who seem to be the key drivers of the world economy today perhaps would have never existed. There are as well accelerator programs and venture capitalists many African startups are not aware of, and as a result, don’t tap into.

Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote

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He certainly needs no introduction – Africa’s most affluent until someone else tries to battle for the title. With a net worth of billions of dollars and a modest flair to go with, he is no doubt the role model to entrepreneurs within and without the continent. Yes, his business interests currently spread across Africa, but Dangote’s impressive fortune began on a humble note. He started his business in 1978 with NGN 500 K, which is about USD 1.4 K in today’s terms – a sum he borrowed from his grandfather. It has been found that there common mistake most African entrepreneurs make is overlooking and take for granted the sources of capital that are in the closet proximity to us and within our very reach. Family, friends and even colleagues – virtually everyone within our social sphere can be of immense help when it comes to getting capital. Ask Jason Njoku and his multimillion-dollar Iroko TV to be sure. In the early stage of business, help can come from anywhere; we just have to be open to it.

In the early years, Dangote concentrated on importing soft commodities such as rice, sugar, frozen fish and baby food in Nigeria. As of today, his business interests have spread its unrelenting tentacles into local cement production, salt, sugar, flour, noodles, as well as the refining of petroleum. Funny enough, there are a lot of banks and local and international investors literally groveling to invest in Dangote’s business because of his awesome success track record over the years. But it would have been no piece of cake – or no cake at all – for him to raise any capital from these soliciting sources. That goes to say only people who know, like and trust in your and your business will help – well, sometimes.

Zambia’s Zoona

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Zoona, a financial service company, was the contrivance of two brother entrepreneurs – Brad and Brett McGrath in 2009. The former is an ex-JP Morgan banker, and the latter is a former commercial director of a telecom operator in Zambia. The startup is into the provision of both in-country and cross-border money transfer services in a several of African countries, including Zambia Malawi and Mozambique. According to a report in 2017, the business had as at then, processed more than USD 1 Bn in money transfers, bill payments, and other financial services. In 2016, Zoona raised USD 15 Mn of capital from a group of investors under the leadership of the International Finance Corporation. The funds are being used to vamp up the startup’s operations as it zeros in on reaching ten markets and 30 million active consumers by 2020.

The International Finance Corporation or IFC is a stark example of an international development institution, and there are several more like it in existence to support and invest in budding businesses, especially in developing regions of the world like Africa. A substantial number of development institutions are funded by foreign governments or global institutions such as the World Bank, United Nations, European Union and so on.


South African Supply-Chain App Khula! Wins Grand Prize Worth USD 14 K As MTN Business App Of The Year

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Khula!; a South African app that serves to link up farmers in emerging markets with the formal marketplace, has clinched top honors at this year’s edition of the MTN Business App Of The Year Awards.

In addition to being named the Business App of the Year, the platform has also received recognition in a special category dubbed; Best Agricultural Solution, as it has also emerged the winner in that category. As part of the perks that come with clinching the award, the developers of the app are now entitled to a trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S., worth up to USD 14 K in cash.

The app, Khula!, is known to facilitate delivery on bulk orders from supermarkets, restaurant chains, and even homes. This it does by effectively creating “one big virtual farm” which is basically comprised of multiple emerging farms for the purpose of crowd-sourcing produce to meet demands.

The platform’s complete software suite also incorporates an eCommerce web platform which makes it possible for clients to place orders from farmers. It also comes with an on-demand logistics solution which allows for the completion of deliveries by independent contractors.

According to Wanda Matandela, CEO of MTN Business, the awards afforded the telecommunications company the chance to place innovative solutions on the front burner and render support to these innovations with a view to helping them scale and go fully commercial, as well as help foster job creation in South Africa.

Industry experts, app developers, and past recipients of the award were amongst the panel of judges who selected and scrutinized the offerings of the shortlisted candidates of this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards.

Amongst other winners in the latest edition of the award were Pineapple (Best Consumer Solution),  Cowa Bunga (Best Enterprise Solution), Digemy Knowledge Partner and Besmarter (Best Incubated Solution), and Bestee App (Most Innovative Solution/Best Breakthrough Developer).

Other award recipients included such names as Stokfella (Best South African Solution), Difela Hymns (Women in STEM Solution), The African Cyber Gaming League App (Best Gaming Solution), dbTrack (Best Health Solution), Ctrl (Best Financial Solution), and Xander English 1-20 which took home the award in the Best Education Solution category.



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South African Tech Teams Scoop Cash Rewards In The SAB Foundation Awards

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Around a total of USD 875 K in cash rewards have been doled out by the SAB Foundation to a number of South African startups and tech teams who have distinguished themselves to merit recognition in this year’s edition of the Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards.

Hustlenomics; an affordable housing provider, as well as Clothes to Good clinched cash prizes worth USD 90 K and USD 84 K respectively for their offerings. While the former was recognized in the Social Innovation Award category, the former took home the accolades in Disability Empowerment Award category.

The SAB Foundation Awards are targeted at innovators, entrepreneurs, and institutions that have developed prototypes of products that are designed to tackle social problems or early-stage businesses that have set their sights on addressing social concerns.

The organization is known to offer assistance in the form of financing and mentorship to social innovations that are identified as possessing a recognizably viable business model while serving up veritable solutions to critical social problems. The SAB Foundation also claims to have disbursed more than USD 5.2 Mn since its inception in an effort to promote social innovation. More so, a total of 163 social enterprises are believed to have benefitted from the offerings of the Foundation.

The winners in the Social Innovation category, Hustlenomics, is a platform which makes it possible for underprivileged families who are holed up in the squalid conditions of informal backyard shacks to build lasting structures in their place. The startup does this by employing alternative building technology which incorporates the use of interlocking bricks made out of recycled materials. The new structures cost the homeowners virtually nothing as the housing projects are financed by means of a shared-home financing model. This model allows for the rental home income raked in by the completed structures to be used in offsetting development costs before full ownership of the property is ultimately transferred to the landowner.

Following Hustlenomics closely as second and third-place winners in the Social Innovation category are smart farming tech solution, Famru, and a microfinance solution created by InvoiceWorx for retailers in the informal sector; Spaza Credit. Both teams took home USD 63 K and USD 49 K respectively.

It appears there was enough to go around for everyone as shortlisted finalists in the Developmental Award category also got in on the act with such names as Fix Forward, Solar Lab in a Bag and ejoobi, taking home between USD 28 K to USD 34 K in cash rewards respectively. Bursary Network and Impulse Biomed were also rewarded with seed grants worth USD 14 K each.

Clothes to Good; the winner of the Disability Empowerment Award, was rewarded for helping to provide sustainable jobs and micro-business opportunities for people with disabilities by means of its clothing recycling program. Steps Clubfoot Care and Coral Tech’s VoQal took home USD 56 K and USD 42 K respectively for finishing in second and third place respectively. In what could be described as a good day at the office for Steps Clubfoot Care, the first runner-up in the Disability Empowerment Award category also scooped the Audience Award which came with a cash reward of USD 10 K. Three other shortlisted finalists in the said category also went home with USD 21 K as recipients of a special Developmental Award.



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Meet Silas Adekunle: The Nigerian Prodigy Who Is Fast-Becoming The King Of Robotics

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Africans are known to be making waves and holding their own amongst their peers on the global tech scene, and one Nigerian robotics engineer cum gaming guru is taking this to a whole new level. 26-year-old Silas Adekunle is a Nigerian robotics engineer who is considered one of the highest paid and smartest in the field. And as you will soon find out, these are anything but purported or bogus claims.

At a time when the Nigerian tech scene appears to be playing catch up with their counterparts in the developed world, the young robotics engineer seems to be pulling off remarkable feats in the world of robotics and giving ingenuity and innovation a whole new meaning,

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

Adekunle, who recently got snapped up by global technology and software giants, Apple Inc., to become one of the world ’s highest paid engineers on the robotics scene, was born and raised to his teens in Nigeria. Having had some of his education in Nigeria, he relocated to the United Kingdom where he completed his secondary school education before enrolling into the University of the West of England to pursue a career in robotics. This was going to pay off as the Nigerian engineer graduated Summa Cum Laude having bagged first class honors from the institution.

Silas Adekunle created Reach Robotics in 2013. The company is known to channel efforts towards incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into gaming for the purpose of performing functions. Fast forward four years down the line and the youngster already carries invaluable robotics experience under his belt. This feat is believed to have earned him the position of team leader in the Robotics In Schools program.

The Robotics In Schools program is targeted at honing the skills of students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. His role in the program is believed to have triggered his ingenuity and inspired the idea which led him to another project which involved developing robotics to make education more engaging and entertaining for students in the STEM disciplines.

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

But the young Nigerian genius was far from done as he again caused ripples on the tech scene when he got robotics circles buzzing after the launch of Mekamon in 2017. In Mekamon, Adekunle is said to have built what is believed to be the world’s first gaming robot. The robot is considered unique in that it possesses the inherent ability to customize its features for the purpose of performing personalized functions. Mekamon may have become an instant hit post-launch but putting the gaming bot together was anything but a cake walk. The young Nigerian’s chances of success were hampered initially when he encountered difficulties in securing funds for the project. But sheer persistence, resourcefulness, and resilience got him over the line, and Mekamon reportedly generated USD 7.5 Mn after its initial launch, having had 500 units sold.

The remarkable success enjoyed by Mekamon can be considered to have opened the floodgates as support began to stream in aplenty soon after the initial sell-out of the bot. London Venture Partners weighed in with USD 10 Mn and Adekunle’s company, Reach Robotics, wrapped up a deal with Apple in the same year — a deal which means the company now has exclusive sales in Apple stores.

The quality and design of Adekunle’s creations are deemed impressive owing to their ability to show emotion with movements that are subtly-calibrated. His four-legged “battle bots” are priced at around USD 300 by Apple, and they are featured in almost all Apple stores in the US and UK. As he told Forbes in an interview earlier this year, while techies and geeks may have accounted for most of the initial scramble for the product, the robot is now beginning to draw patronage from a growing number of parents presumably due to their STEM application which can serve to get children interested in those lines of study.

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“Balance, shared ideas, time management, and being oneself”, are the words and phrases fondly associated with the young robotics engineer as the tonic for the successes he has so far enjoyed. As his works have gained traction, so too has he gained recognition. Adekunle was listed in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe: Technology. According to TheBossNewspapers, he was also named “Someone to Watch in 2018” by the Black Hedge Fund Group.

Having taken the world by storm with his genius, Adekunle can be thought to be gearing up for even more feats. He currently puts in work at the Bristol Robotics Lab, which can be considered the cream of the crop of research centers in the U.K. Now, here’s to Africans all over the world who are doing the continent proud!



Image Credits: QED, Face2AFaceAfrica, JejeGuysEmpire, Naij.NG

Internet Ventures: 5 Africans Founders Who Have Railed In Massive Online Cash

Andrew Christian October 16

In the course of the past two decades, a significant number of digital ventures have been springing up from different parts of the world, due to the increasing embrace of knowledge technologies, information and social media. Several African entrepreneurs have also carved out online niches to birth economic benefits, employment and in the same way, enable globalization. Pivotal people such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim (YouTube partners), as well as Lawrence Page have been scintillating the internet scene and cashing in big on the international front. So what about Africa? The continent is definitely not missing out, as innovative minds in the motherland are citing and exploiting internet opportunities, making them worthy of celebration and emulation. Here are five of them who have built successful online ventures.

Elon Musk – Co-founder PayPal, South Africa

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The legendary Elon Musk from South Africa is the co-founder PayPal. The entrepreneur, who has an African father and a Canadian mother, is one of the brains behind what has to be the most internationally recognized and used payments system. But that isn’t the only of his accomplishment, as he also co-founded in March 2002 – a financial service and email payment company. In a matter of one year, the venture acquired Confinity – a company originally formed to beam money between Palm Pilots. The combined entity then capitalized on email payment through the PayPal domain. In February of 2001, was officially renamed to PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for USD 1.5 Bn in 2002 via a stock deal. Before its sale, PayPal’s 11.7 percent shares formed the coffers of Elon Musk, making him the largest shareholder in the company.

Kamal Budhabatti – Founder Craft Silicon, Kenya

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Kamal, who is nicknamed Kenya’s Bill Gate, is the fuel to the engine and the man behind the wheels of Craft Silicon. He founded it to be a Kenyan software company that provides core banking, Microsoft, mobile, switch solutions software and electronic payments services for more than 200 institutional clients in over 40 countries spread throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Craft Silicon boasts of an office in the all-time Silicon Valley in San Francisco, which makes it one of the quite few Kenyan companies ever to bask in such affiliation. With its more than USD 50 Mn market value, the company is causing ripples in the African business ecosystem, driving tech in the East African region and putting Kenya on the world map of entrepreneurship. Kamal Budhabatti’s idea of a venture now rakes in annual revenue of USD 6 Mn.

Jason Njoku – Founder Iroko TV, Nigeria

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Jason, who happens to be one of the few Nigerian entrepreneurs that beat the odds of raising capital even in impossible situations, is the founder and CEO of Iroko TV in Nigeria. The internet company is now reported to be the largest distributor of African movies in the world. While that may come as a shock to you, this may be an absorber – Iroko TV is labeled as the Netflix of Africa according to a Forbes publication. In 2013, Jason’s business was able to raise USD 8 Mn in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, which is a New York-based private equity and hedge fund being managed by billionaire Chase Coleman. Iroko TV is an online streaming website that makes enormous profits from lucrative content distribution deals with companies such as Daily Motion, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo. According to analysts, Iroko TV could be worth an estimated amount of USD 30 Mn, with Jason Njoku being the company’s largest individual shareholder.

Njeri Rionge – Co-founder Wananchi Online, Kenya

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Rionge is the co-founder of Wananchi Online, one of the leading internet services providers in East Africa’s cable, broadband, and Internet-based IP phone companies. This woman is regarded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya, and her turning point was when she succeeded in turning a USD 500 K startup into the echelon internet form in the whole East African region. Wananchi Online now has a net valuation of no less than USD 175 Mn. She was one of the few people who went tooth and nail to put it out there that internet is not cut out alone for the elite, as just about anybody can found, build and make a fortune out of it. Her ISP company became massively successful so much that it rose to nearly USD 60 Mn in growth capital from a consortium private equity firm.

Mark Shuttleworth – Founder Knife Capital, South Africa

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Mark Shuttleworth is the founder of Thawte and Ubuntu/Knife Capital, South Africa. He founded Thawte when he was 22 to be a digital certificate and internet security company, which he later sold to VeriSign for USD 575 Mn in an all-stock deal. The company today is the second in the world when it comes to the provision of digital certification. When Shuttleworth was 26, he used a fraction of the proceeds from the Thawte sale to start a venture capital firm HBD Capital, which is today popularly known as Knife Capital, based on Cape Town. The firm invests in innovation-driven fintechs with proof of traction. Knife Capital was one of the participating investors in the Weetracker UberPitch series. Another of Shuttleworth’s founding was that of Ubuntu, a computer operation system that is distributed as free open-source software. The entrepreneur’s net worth is reported to be USD 500 Mn.

NEIP Disburses USD 10 Mn To Ghanaian SMEs

Andrew Christian October 16

The government of Ghana, through its flagship National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan Initiative (NEIP) has successfully funded 1,350 owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, with a total of USD 10 Mn in seed capital.

The disbursement is meant to aid these SMEs successfully set up their own business or vamp up the existing ones to gain some traction.
Each beneficiary of the scheme received an amount ranging between USD 2 K to GHC 20 K as financial support.

Owusu Karikari, the Director of Business Support at NEIP, told the press that the support is a loan expected to be refunded with a 10 percent interest, repayable within three years to enable more SMEs to expand and create more jobs.

According to him, NEIP identified the lack of knowledge about product development, limited market, insufficient management skills, lack of funding and little or no technical support a few of the many challenges facing SMEs in the region. He said that the support would shore up indigenous enterprises, so they have a competing chance with their international counterparts.

As part of the government’s support for small businesses, 7,000 more entrepreneurs have been taken through intensive training to build and handle their enterprises. This is quickly followed by the announcement of tax holidays for young entrepreneurs under 35 years of age, as is a respite for their businesses.

NEIP Business Support Program essentially concentrates on the provision of business development services, startup incubators and funding for early-stage businesses, seeking to enable them to grow and become successful.

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