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Francophone Africa tech hubs grow their investor appeal, footballers join the fray

Startups in Francophone Africa are recording more deal value and volume as rising investor participation diversifies to include even overseas football players.

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By Conrad Onyango

While Africa’s ‘big four’ tech hubs of Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt maintained their top spots in a difficult funding year, their 2023 rankings were increasingly challenged by Francophone countries according to recent reports.

Partech’s 2023 Africa Tech Venture Capital Report shows that Francophone Africa recorded a 3% rise in funding, against a wider 50% drop among the ‘big four”.

Similarly, the number of French-speaking tech hubs among Africa’s “top ten’ also rose, with five slots now filled by Francophone countries.

“In 2023, Francophone Africa distinguished itself as a dynamic and growing force in the tech sector, defying broader market trends, and being the only region to demonstrate year-over-year growth both in the number of deals and investor participation,” said Partech analysts in the report.

Nigeria was the hardest-hit tech ecosystem with a 59% annual drop in equity funding for the year, compared to 2022. Kenya (-56%) followed. Egypt and South Africa also saw declines of 45% and 34%, respectively according to the report.

French-speaking tech startups in Morocco (which attracted US$93 million), the Democratic Republic of Congo (with US$42 million), Rwanda (US$38 million), Tunisia (US$33 million) and Senegal (US$27 million) stepped up, highlighting the growing appeal of these markets to investors.

Francophone Africa’s continental share of equity funding rose from 11% in 2022 to 15% in 2023, while the number of deals grew substantially.

“The number of deals in the region keeps showing resilience, totalling 93 deals for a 16% YoY increase, while the continent saw a drastic 32% YoY drop. This now represents 20% of the continent’s total deals, up from 12% in 2022” according to the report.

To further show the rising influence of the ecosystem, the report shows that 61% of all deals outside the ‘big four’ are happening in Francophone countries, surpassing 49% in 2022, with the share of countries in the 27-country ecosystem that recorded a transaction in 2023 rising by eight percentage points, to 52%.

Senegal, Morocco, and Rwanda were listed among the countries that experienced an increase in investor participation, while slight declines were recorded in countries like Tunisia and Cote d’Ivoire.

This may reflect pressure for regional investors to find new opportunities in a dry market, the report suggested. The region has seen considerable growth in venture capital funds in recent years.

Saviu Ventures, for example, a prominent venture capital firm in Francophone Africa, reached an initial close of US$13 million for its second fund, Saviu II, in November 2023.

The firm, which is one of the few independent and fully regulated Venture Capital Fund management companies in the Francophone West African region, plans to extend its investment primarily in fintechs, health-techs, and climate-techs.

“In line with Saviu I, Saviu Ventures’ second fund will invest from Seed to Series A in African early-stage startups, with a strong focus on Francophone Africa,” the company said in a statement.

Mstudio, which describes itself as the first “mobile” startup studio in French-speaking West Africa, aims to transform the informal sector of French-speaking West African countries, with a special focus on women and youth, and produce more unicorns from the ecosystem.

“Our ambition is to set the ground for these startups to become the next unicorns of Africa,” says the Studio on LinkedIn.

Apart from venture capitalists, French footballers have also joined the growing roster of investors keen to bolster funding to Francophone startups.

In November 2023, Cameroon-based mobile video network StarNews Mobile announced a US$3 million pre-Series A raise that included not only Janngo Capital, an Africa-focused venture capital firm, but also French national footballers, including Aurélien Tchouaméni of Real Madrid, Jules Koundé of Barcelona, and AC Milan’s Mike Maignan.

Distributed by bird story agency

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