Africa’s entrepreneurs are harnessing technology to solve local and international problems.
Whether it’s creating a text-based ordering system for small stores, easing a global shortage of computer scientists or enabling African merchants to better trade across borders, the continent’s tech-savvy startups are achieving real social change.
"These young companies are putting Africa on the startup map and will inspire others to emulate them," said Kenza Lahlou, Managing Partner at Outlierz Ventures, an Africa-focused VC fund based in Morocco.
Below are three short stories to showcase how a trio of startups contributed to the African entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Daniel Yu, founder and CEO - Sokowatch
"I was living in Egypt as part of a college exchange when I noticed that small shops didn’t have a service for ordering their stock. After finishing the college program, I returned to University of Chicago and came up with the idea of enabling retailers to order goods via text message. I entered a startup competition and won a prize and some funding, enabling me to begin working on the business.
We spoke with Wrigley and visited its office in Kenya. The company really liked our idea and said it would use our technology if we launched operations in the country.
Three weeks later, we set up our base in Kenya.
We’ve faced many challenges, the biggest of which was deciding on our business model. We began as a software company, a pure tech firm. Our software system enabled shops to make orders and for distributors to receive orders and then make the necessary deliveries. Distributors would pay us for using the platform.
But that business model failed, and it took us a while to figure out why. Eventually, we realized it was because distributors weren’t willing to keep paying for using the software and weren’t interested in making deliveries to small shops.
We learned from this and instead built our own delivery network, combining this with our technology. Now, we receive shop orders through text and an app, but instead of relying on distributors to deliver the goods, we use our own network of drivers. The new model is a success.
The shops we work with are the basic stores, the kiosk in the street. Today, 3,000 shops in Kenya and Tanzania use our platform, and we work with 12 distributors. The most popular items ordered are rice, flour, soap, cooking oil and cleaning supplies. Our competitors are traditional wholesale stores.
We make a profit on every delivery, and are in the process of expanding to other cities in East Africa.
We’re in the process of fundraising and expect to close this round within the next month. We previously received about $1.3 million from angel investors in the United States, while we also have a few investors from Kenya and Europe.
We’ve seven people in our team. Finding talent has been quite difficult, especially when you’re a tech startup and looking for people with very specific skills. Not many have the experience we require.
But we do have a good staff retention rate and I’m very proud of our team – it’s entirely local. Many started off as delivery drivers and proved themselves to be reliable and great performers, so we gave them the opportunity to become part of our operations and customer teams. We continue to work with new manufacturers to offer our clients new products and offerings."
Seni Sulyman, Vice President, Global Operations - Andela
"There’s a global shortage of software engineering talent. In the United States alone, up to 1 million computer science-related jobs have gone unfilled each year since 2015. Companies struggle to find the quality staff they need.
Andela is helping solve that problem by hiring the best software developers in Africa and matching them with companies looking for new recruits. Andela’s founding team consists of six technology experts (Christina Sass, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Nadayar Enegesi, Ian Carnevale, Jeremy Johnson, and Brice Nkengsa) and has a diverse mix of nationalities and professional experience.
The company launched in 2014. In four years, we’ve matched over 1,100 employees, having scrutinized over 70,000 applicants via a six-week vetting process. Successful applicants, of which 26% are female (the global average for such jobs is 7%), then undergo six months of in-house training with us. The average age of these employees is about 25 and 80% have degrees in computer science.
We have offices in Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala, Uganda, San Francisco and New York. We’ve raised $80 million in funding from investors including GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Spark Capital. The latest funding round was for $40 million in 2017 and came from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative.
Andela’s mission, succinctly put, is to advance human potential by powering today’s teams and investing in tomorrow’s leaders. Our purpose is to make the world more equitable and prosperous by developing the next generation of tech leaders who will build the future.
We are proving that brilliance is evenly distributed, and that software development can be mastered at scale by Africa’s smartest and most driven citizens. As we catalyze the careers of hundreds of thousands of developers across Africa, we hope to initiate an unprecedented global wave of investment in people, equipping a greater number of our 7 billion peers to contribute meaningfully to our collective future."
Nic Pantucci, Head of Platform and cofounder - WaystoCap
"WaystoCap, an African focused B2B marketplace, is taking on long-established international traders that rely on opaque pricing and insider knowledge. Ours is a trading platform 2.0 to help African small businesses buy and sell internationally.
Founded in 2015, the Casablanca-based startup’s CEO is Niama El Bassunie. It’s the first Moroccan startup to be backed by Y Combinator and a number of other well-known Silicon Valley investors. More recently, the World Economic Forum recognized as WaystoCap as a Tech Pioneer, making it the first startup in North Africa to receive this accolade.
We want to bring transparency, efficiency, and sustainability to trade in Africa. We do this by creating a trusted environment in which our users can buy and sell goods. Working with partners such as Coface, Ecobank and Bureau Veritas, we offer small and large companies a suite of tools to achieve their goals.
We operate in 11 African countries, with offices in Casablanca, Cotonou, and Ouagadougou, and others to open soon. Our platform facilitates millions of dollars of trade."