Africa’s startup ecosystem has been actively growing in recent years and attracting the attention of large institutions and bright entrepreneurs as a highly potent market. In addition to banks and talented workforce, there are also dedicated accelerator programs easing the way for innovation into one of the largest unserved markets that dropped out of sight of the financial system. Let’s look at some of them.
ActivSpaces is a tech hub that runs centers aimed at providing resources to technology startups. ActivSpaces runs two programs, an incubation program and an acceleration program. The incubator supports startups by providing them with an office space, internet connection, business coaching, and a community of like-minded individuals and experts. The accelerator program helps startups to secure investments by aligning them with mentors, assisting them in incorporation, assisting them in driving growth, and providing seed funding for their operations. Startups will also be introduced to a network of investors.
Africa Startup Ecosystem is the digital accelerator flagship program for Africa under its global subsidiary – Global Startup Ecosystem (GSE). The network hosts the largest online three-day digital accelerator program for entrepreneurs residing in or affiliated with Africa. The network also provides regional tech summits, ecosystem programs, boot camps, ecosystem tours, and initiatives to accelerate innovation and ecosystem development under GSE’s sponsorship.
AlphaCode is a collaborative club for entrepreneurs in next-generation financial services based in Sandton, South Africa. Fully funded by the RMI, AlphaCode doesn’t charge entrepreneurs for membership. However, there are four membership models for startups of various sizes and stages of development. The memberships range from green entry level up to diamond. The hub provides a platform for members to engage and work alongside experienced entrepreneurs, technology investors and industry experts, resulting in accelerated growth and access to markets. It offers office space and a clubhouse for entrepreneurs, an active online community and regular networking opportunities. The AlphaCode concept is modeled on Level39, London’s Canary Wharf FinTech development hub, which is one of the world’s leading FinTech hubs.
The Barclays Accelerator Program is a 13-week program in partnership with Techstars. Barclays provides tools, equipment and facilities for startups. In conjunction with Techstars, they provide dedicated mentorship for select startups and entrepreneurs. The accelerator program was initially launched in London and is now being run also in New York, Cape Town and Tel Aviv.
BongoHive is Zambia’s first technology and innovation hub. Established in May 2011 and based in Lusaka, the co-founders, all enthusiastic programmers, sought to address the gaps they experienced working within the local technology industry leading to a lack of coordination, skills exposure and productivity. BongoHive has evolved to assist scalable startups of any background by enhancing skills, accelerating growth, strengthening networks, increasing collaboration, providing a forum for ideas exchange and reducing the barriers to entrepreneurship.
CcHUB is Nigeria’s first open living lab and pre-incubation space designed to be a multifunctional, multipurpose space where work to catalyze creative social tech ventures take place. The HUB is a place for technologists, social entrepreneurs, government, tech companies, impact investors and hackers in and around Lagos to co-create new solutions to the many social problems in Nigeria.
The Grindstone Accelerator is a structured entrepreneurship development program that assists high-growth innovation-driven companies to become sustainable and fundable. Grindstone supplies 10 companies annually with knowledge, networks and funding readiness through growth measurement, gap analysis and deep interventions designed to build a foundation for growth, transfer skills, create relevant business networks and enable these companies to take advantage of market access opportunities. Business support resources and services will include elements of training, corporate advisory, coaching, mentorship and funding. Specific interventions for each company include doing a due diligence assessment, building a partner universe, developing pitch decks and teaser documents, financial modeling, intellectual property assessment, strategic and financial valuation as well as populating a data room.
The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund provides selected startups in Africa and Asia Pacific with equity-free funding, technical assistance, and the opportunity to partner with mobile operators in their markets to help scale their products and services into sustainable businesses with a positive socio-economic impact.
The iHub catalyzes the growth of the Kenyan tech community by connecting people, supporting startups, and surfacing information. iHub is part open community space, part vector for investors and VCs, and part incubator. “We include all parties in the ecosystem, supporting startups throughout their innovation journey and connecting them with opportunities through our initiatives. We want to be at the forefront of igniting the growth of successful company after successful company.”
The Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab is a startup incubator, and its goal is to build a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs in Africa. Its focus is on the entrepreneurs themselves and helps them build a viable business through coaching and mentorship programs. LaunchLab is in the process of partnering with universities across Africa to help their talent, expertise and infrastructure work to support new businesses and foster a culture of entrepreneurship. The organization provides office space, facilities, and incubation programs, along with expert advice, mentorship and access to funding across a network of university campuses in Africa.
The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) and the MEST Incubator program provide training, investment and mentoring for aspiring technology entrepreneurs with the goal of creating globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa. Established in Ghana in 2008, MEST offers aspiring African entrepreneurs a fully sponsored 12-month, intensive full-time program. Sourced from top graduates in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya & South Africa, these Entrepreneurs-In-Training (EITs) are selected each year and receive comprehensive training across the spectrum of skills required to build successful tech businesses, including computer programming, software development, product management, finance, marketing, sales and leadership best practices. After completion of the program, the EITs have the opportunity to pitch a concept. Winning teams receive a seed round from the MEST incubator to pursue their idea.
The BizSpark South Africa program offers startups software, support and hosting over a three-year cycle, at no cost to members. The program is designed to help startups through various stages of the product development – from the initial idea right through to an established successful product. Not only do South African startups get all the benefits of the global program, including software and hosting, but also a myriad of enhanced benefits such as business advice, mentoring and technical guidance and more.
Hatched in 2010, Nest is a full-service, early-stage venture capital firm focused on helping startups and talented founders from around the world build businesses that apply and commercialize innovation. Nest partners with leading corporations to run a series of mentor-driven accelerators. Designed to support the needs of high-potential and fast-growth startups, these programs include a unique mix of resources that enable entrepreneurs to build and scale their businesses rapidly. Nest was founded in Hong Kong and has a presence in Singapore, Nairobi, London, Paris and New York.
Passion Incubator provides innovative entrepreneurs with the most critical resources to launch lean startups that can grow fast and where success can be quickly institutionalized. Passion Incubator is open to a wide array of entrepreneurs. Anyone with a clear business idea that solves a large-scale problem will be considered. Passion Incubator, and its core product development team, will build the initial versions (Minimum Viable Product) for each founder team; enabling the founder teams to focus on business development early so their startups can quickly gain traction.
Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund specializing in US $25,000–US $500,000 investments in early-stage high-growth technology (web and mobile) startups in sub-Saharan Africa. A key piece of the fund’s overall strategy is to address the skills and experience gap of entrepreneurs in the region through the Accelerator Program. An accelerator program is designed to help emerging entrepreneurs build a company and launch a product. Early-stage companies participate in ‘cohorts’ and are exposed to a program to learn from experienced local, high-value and reputable mentors that have built global technology brands that are also very hands on as would be expected by angel investors.
Springlab is a technology incubator and Joint Venture partner headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa. The lab supplies a seed capital and resources to qualifying startups, supports core functions (marketing, software development, and administrative functions) so entrepreneurs can focus on executing their idea and offers state-of-the-art office space in Cape Town among other benefits.
STARTUP 90 manages sector-based accelerator programs. The Startup Accelerator Program is a three-month accelerator program that assists companies to bring technological innovations to market, validate products and gain traction. The Startup Accelerator Program’s primary focus is on startups and early-stage businesses. As the company states on the official website, “We are looking for exceptional businesses that are using technological innovations to solve challenges in their communities and countries. We manage sector-focused accelerator programs in the Finance, Healthcare, Agriculture & Energy sectors.” The accelerator’s core services to high-growth businesses include the following: growth strategy, mentorship, business development support and business linkages.
Sw7 (Start with Seven) is the largest mentor-led tech innovation accelerator in Africa with over 85 tech founder CEOs mentoring, creating access to market & to funders. The accelerator provides regular meetups in addition to group and individual mentoring sessions. Sw7 has partnered with Microsoft BizSpark & Standard Bank Incubator to offer Sw7 Accelerate for Technology & high growth Innovation markets at Workshop17, The V&A, Waterfront, Cape Town.
XL Africa is supported by the World Bank Group, with financial assistance from the Governments of Finland, Norway & Sweden, and managed by implementing partners IMC Worldwide, VC4Africa, and Koltai & Co. LLC. The accelerator helps entrepreneurs with access to funding, networks, mentoring and a community of like-minded entrepreneurs in the form of the following: structured access to investors throughout the program and at a Venture Showcase Day in South Africa; mentoring from at least two successful entrepreneurs or investors (global and local) to develop accurate company valuations, financial forecasts, risk management and customer acquisition strategies. Access to other expertise is provided based on specific needs; an opportunity to meet with investors, potential customers and partners as well as peers at an all-expenses paid residency in Cape Town, South Africa; support in developing investment packages so that participants are ready for investment following the program; knowledge through curated content designed to teach everything an entrepreneur needs to know about marketing, financing, and market expansion.
Other contributors to Africa’s entrepreneurial tech talent
AfriLabs is a pan-African network of over 50 technology innovation hubs in 24 countries. It was founded in 2011 to build a community around rapidly emerging tech hubs―spaces that serve as physical nexus points for developers, entrepreneurs, and investors. AfriLabs is working through these spaces to build an innovation infrastructure that will encourage the growth of Africa’s knowledge economy by supporting the development of startups, technology, and innovation.
Launched in 2015, The Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program is the largest African philanthropic initiative devoted to entrepreneurship and represents our 10-year, $100 million commitment, to identify and empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs, create a million jobs, and add $10 billion in revenues to Africa’s economy. There are 1,000 places available annually for the applications that are selected by the Selection Committee for a placement in the program. A 12-week program aims to equip startups with basic skills required to launch and run their businesses at early-growth stage. It covers several topics including starting and scaling a business, business development, marketing strategy, effective management, product design, etc.
The list is certainly not exhaustive and there are much more entities working to grow and develop Africa’s startup ecosystem and help talented entrepreneurs to bring their innovative ideas to market.