Africa’s Famous Music Celebs & Sports Stars Have Become Startup Funders

By  |  June 27, 2023

About a year ago, in the midst of relative calm that now seems to be in the distant past following an outbreak of war that has devastated the country for more than two months now, Sudan saw an unlikely flurry of investments in its tech startup scene; one that had been largely dormant for at least the last three decades.

The biggest deal during that period—a USD 6.5 M seed round—was announced by Bloom, a fledgling fintech startup offering high-yield savings accounts and adjacent digital banking services, which was not only backed by the prominent accelerator Y Combinator but also drew in some peculiar investors in the shape of ex-football stars of African descent Blaise Matuidi and Kieran Gibbs. It was the latest in an emerging trend that has seen African celebrities—from sports to music—take an interest in the burgeoning local tech scene.

There has been some noticeable activity on this front in recent years, perhaps best epitomised in the extensively documented efforts of the Nigerian Afrobeats star cum venture builder Oluwatosin Ajibade (better known as Mr Eazi) whose antecedents in tech and venture chops have drawn plaudits.

In early 2021, Mr Eazi’s talent incubator and music services company emPawa, secured an undisclosed seed round and was revealed to be raising a seed extension of around USD 5 M to support more musicians and record labels.

But beyond his music business plays which also include launching the USD 20 M Africa Music Fund to back upcoming acts, Mr Eazi has made a number of tech investments through his investment syndicate Zagadat Capital. Some of his notable bets in African tech include Talent City, a charter city project led by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji of Andela and Flutterwave fame (both unicorns); and Eden Life, a Nigerian food delivery and lifestyle management startup. Other investment recipients of Zagadat Capital include tech talent hub Decagon; online betting platform BetPawa; mobile payments firm PawaPay; and music-tech company Vydia, which it recently exited.

Tech meets celebrity

While tech has not been a favourite, historically, among Africa’s successful, high-earning global superstars who have traditionally tilted towards investments in the real economy, recent milestones in the form of successful products addressing vital needs, soaring funding activity, and rising M&A interests (with notable examples in the Paystack, InstaDeep, and Appruve deals) have conferred increased validation upon the local tech startup scene and heightened interest.

Hence, star celebs are increasingly channelling some of their amassed wealth into this hitherto neglected asset class, and in the process, unlocking an additional funding source to an expanding tech ecosystem eager for more local capital, which can be especially crucial for early-stage ventures.

African sports personalities and music celebrities now appear to be recognising the potential of local startups as vehicles for economic growth, innovation, and job creation across the continent. By leveraging their fame, influence, and financial resources, these individuals are making significant investments in African startups, fostering entrepreneurship, and driving change.

In 2021, erstwhile goalkeeper for English Premier League giant Chelsea and Senegalese national team footballer Édouard Mendy invested in the USD 2 M pre-Series A round of Julaya, an Ivorian fintech startup that claims to process more than USD 7.5 million in monthly transactions as it looks to digitise business payments in Francophone Africa.

It takes a village

Other sports stars have made similar bets on startups, including Asisat Oshoala (LifeBank), Odion Ighalo (PropertyPro), Rudzani Ramudzuli (RRR Rams Holdings), Wilfred Ndidi (Fanbants), Victor Wanyama (M-KOPA and Sendy), Sadio Mane (Wave and Basita), and Samuel Eto’o (L’Appartement 17), among others. Notable sports personalities of African ancestry, such as Serena Williams, Raheem Sterling, and Adebayo Akinfenwa are also known to have funded a number of African startups.

The music stars are not left out in the scramble for a piece of the pie. Ajebutter22, a Nigerian-based music artiste and rapper, has invested in the talent-matching platform TalentQL and the web3 startup Nestcoin, while the popular rapper and social activist Falz is also known to have furnished TalentQL with capital.

Similarly, Davido, a global Afrobeats superstar, has invested in Bitsika, a cryptocurrency exchange. Also, Black Coffee (pictured left in featured image), a South African DJ and record producer, is known to have backed the tech talent incubator Andela and the fintech startup Chipper Cash, having set up a venture capital firm known as Flightmode Digital.

Industry insiders suggest there are more unpublicised collaborations between pop stars and startups that result in the exchange of equity even though these may be in the form of advertising or marketing arrangements, resulting in the acquisition of minority stakes. Other prominent names in the buzzing African music industry, such as Don Jazzy and Tiwa Savage among others, are also linked to tech investments, as is the divisive Senegalese-born musician Akon.

Selling stardust

One of the key advantages that famous African music and sports personalities bring to local startups is their vast networks and fan base. Their recognition and popularity allow them to attract attention to promising startups, generating exposure and creating valuable connections. For instance, Bitsika’s alignment with Davido famously caused a surge in sign-ups that crashed its servers in October 2020, according to the startup’s Founder/CEO Atsu Davoh.

These celebrities are actively engaging in direct investments more than ever. With a growing interest in technology and innovation, they are funding startups across various sectors, including fintech, e-commerce, agriculture, and renewable energy. South African rugby player Bryan Habana, for instance, is behind Retroactive, a mobile app development company that has successfully launched several innovative apps. His investment not only provided financial backing but also brought expertise and guidance to the startup, contributing to its growth and success.

What do they bring to the table?

Owing to their own exploits and acclaim, these famous personalities are well-placed as mentors and role models for young entrepreneurs. By sharing their own journeys, experiences, and challenges, they inspire and motivate aspiring startup founders to pursue their dreams. They offer guidance on business strategies, marketing, branding, and personal development, nurturing a new generation of African entrepreneurs. Cameroonian football legend Samuel Eto’o is known to have been actively involved in supporting African startups through mentoring programs, sharing his insights, and providing crucial guidance to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Beyond financial investments and mentorship, Africa’s sports and music celebrities have the opportunity to leverage their platforms to raise awareness about social and environmental issues. Many social impact startups in Africa are driven by a desire to address pressing challenges such as poverty, healthcare accessibility, and environmental sustainability. By supporting these startups, celebrities are aligning themselves with meaningful causes and using their influence to amplify the impact of these initiatives.

The rising efforts of famous African music stars and successful sports personalities in startup investment activity represent a significant shift in the continent’s entrepreneurial landscape. Their involvement brings much-needed capital, expertise, and exposure to budding businesses.

By supporting African startups, these individuals are contributing to economic development, job creation, and technological advancement. As more sports personalities and celebrities recognise the potential of local startups, this trend is likely to continue, further accelerating Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and fostering a culture of innovation and investment.

Featured Image Credits: Andy Vuyo

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