For decades, there has been widespread media stories of unfolding African digital revolutions, especially with the wonders of the Silicon Savannah. Yet, Francophone Africa has been a significantly under-tapped market for tech startup investors for decades. However, Partech Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital (VC) firm recently launched Partech Africa, an Africa-focused fund to provide early-stage funding to promising startups and founders in the continent.
The fund has raised $70 million of its $100 million target, making it one of the largest Africa-focused funds.
Partech Ventures announced today the launch of its Partech Africa fund, which has secured above €57M (US$70M) making it the first tech fund to be dedicated to the fast-growing #tech #ecosystem in #Africa.https://t.co/njQgzPXSEV via @AfricWomenPower
— AWP Network! (@AfricWomenPower) January 18, 2018
Recent initiatives in the nascent tech hubs in Africa’s francophone countries now suggest that times may be changing.
This new fund promises to spread its operations beyond Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ghana – the continent’s leading startup ecosystems. “We think the impact of a local VC should also be to widen the scope and look at other markets that people know less of,” says Tidjane Dème, general partner at Partech Africa.
In effect, this will encompass Francophone African countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Cameroon. This region which has over 120 million people, includes some of the world’s fastest-growing economies led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Yet, it’s a different story for its tech ecosystem.
Between 2010 and 2016, Anglophone East Africa struck 167 private equity deals in (Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda). During the same period, however, Francophone West Africa recorded just a third of that. More than 30% of that number went to Côte d’Ivoire while investment for tech startups has become even more scarce.
However, Partech Ventures aims to fill one of the region’s biggest gap — the lack of early-stage funding. Over the years, this void has been filled by local hubs on the continent. As such, Partech Africa will provide funding between $600,000 and $6 million to these startups.
As a means of fostering its support for these “choking” startup ecosystems, Partech Africa has headquartered itself in Dakar, Senegal. The firm also anticipates building its presence in other African economies with the aim of understanding the local markets.
“We’re making sure our investment team is based in Africa and lives and works in the same context as these startups and can really understand where they’re coming from and the product they’re building,” Dème says.
The #1 reason why you don’t attract investors
There is no single reason that accounts for the relatively low level of tech entrepreneurship in Francophone Africa. However, it is clear that francophone entrepreneurs are even more constraint by the lack of funding than their anglophone cousins. Most tech investors are English-speaking who are more reluctant to invest in francophone African startups due to language barriers.
Indeed, francophone Africa is virtually devoid of venture capital and angel investors required to truly kickstart their startups. This is a treasure anglophone countries have relatively greater access to.
These notwithstanding, venture capital funding raised by African startups reached $367 million in 2016, representing a 33% year-over-year growth. In fact, fundraising by African startups has grown by an explosive 8 times over the past four years.
The Pan-African VC firm is, however, not going solo on this mission to reanimate francophone Sub-Saharan Africa’s dormant tech scene. Many African VC initiatives have emerged and are raising significant funds to support local African tech startups. Most noticeable is CRE Venture Capital, an African VC firm that led the $40 million Series C round of Andela last October.
Meanwhile, Partech’s research revealed that African startups raised $366 million in 2016 – a $90 million increase from the previous year.
With the right timing, skill, and luck, a francophone African “unicorn” may yet emerge, triggering a virtuous cycle of private investment and entrepreneurship into this region’s technovation sectors. And while tech entrepreneurship might not, as a sector, contribute significantly to francophone Africa’s economic development, it still has the potential to yield indigenous innovations that could improve the quality of life of many on the subcontinent, and beyond.