Unpacking Venture Capital Activity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015: Lessons for the Future of Startup Ecosystems

Venture Capital Activity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015 was interesting to say the least. We have seen over the past few years that both start-ups and growth firms across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) was already attracting significant interest from venture capital (VC) firms as a destination for investment. Despite challenges such as infrastructure gaps and political instability, the region presented opportunities for investors in various sectors, from fintech to agriculture. In this blog post, we will explore what we learnt from VC activity in SSA in 2015 and how it has impacted subsequent years.

Venture Capital Activity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015

First, it is worth noting that SSA remains a relatively nascent market for VC investment. According to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCA), the region accounted for just 3% of global VC investment in 2015. However, this figure was expected to grow as more investors recognized the potential of the region’s growing population, rising middle class, and improving economic prospects.

One of the standout sectors for VC investment in SSA in 2015 was fintech. Startups in this space were leveraging mobile technology to offer financial services to underserved populations, such as mobile money transfer and microfinance. This was particularly relevant in countries such as Kenya, where the success of M-Pesa had demonstrated the potential of mobile money. VC investment in African fintech startups reached a record high of $195 million in 2015, according to a report by Disrupt Africa.

One of the biggest deals in this space in 2015 was the $24 million investment in South African mobile payment provider, Poynting Group, by Actis. The investment was aimed at supporting Poynting Group’s expansion into new markets in Africa and beyond. Meanwhile, Nigerian payments company, Flutterwave, raised $10 million in a Series A funding round led by Greycroft Partners and Green Visor Capital.

Another sector that attracted VC investment in SSA in 2015 was e-commerce. This was partly driven by the rapid growth of the region’s middle class, which was expected to reach 1.1 billion by 2060, according to the African Development Bank. Startups such as Jumia and Konga in Nigeria, and Takealot in South Africa, were leading the charge in the e-commerce space. However, investors were also interested in startups that were addressing the challenges of e-commerce in SSA, such as logistics and last-mile delivery.

One notable e-commerce deal in 2015 was the $75 million investment in Jumia by Goldman Sachs, MTN, Rocket Internet, and Millicom. Jumia was the largest e-commerce company in Africa at the time, operating in 11 countries across the continent. The investment was aimed at supporting Jumia’s growth and expansion, as well as developing its logistics and delivery infrastructure.

Beyond fintech and e-commerce, VC investors in SSA in 2015 were also interested in startups operating in sectors such as healthcare, education, and agriculture. Healthcare was particularly relevant, given the region’s high disease burden and limited healthcare infrastructure. Startups such as ConnectMed and LifeBank were leveraging technology to improve access to healthcare services and medicines in SSA. Meanwhile, agriculture startups such as Twiga Foods in Kenya were focused on improving the supply chain and distribution of fresh produce.

Unpacking Venture Capital Activity in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015

So, what can we learn from VC activity in SSA in 2015? One key takeaway is the importance of investing in startups that are addressing the unique challenges of the region. This was evident in the fintech and e-commerce sectors, where startups were leveraging mobile technology to offer financial services and overcome the logistical challenges of e-commerce. However, it was also evident in sectors such as healthcare and agriculture, where startups were focused on improving access to essential services and addressing supply chain inefficiencies.

VC 4 Africa Published the below summary

africa VS activity

Another lesson from VC activity in SSA in 2015 is the importance of collaboration and partnerships. Many of the largest deals in the region in 2015 involved multiple investors, often from different parts of the world. For example, the $75 million investment in Jumia involved investors from the US, Europe, and Africa. Similarly, the $10 million investment in Flutterwave was led by US-based Greycroft Partners and included participation from investors in Africa and Europe.

These partnerships allowed startups to access expertise and resources from different parts of the world, while also increasing the likelihood of success. They also helped to build a more vibrant startup ecosystem in SSA, as investors and entrepreneurs shared knowledge and best practices.

Another important trend in VC activity in SSA in 2015 was the emergence of local investors and funds. This was particularly evident in countries such as Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, where local investors were leading deals and supporting early-stage startups. For example, the $8 million investment in Nigerian e-commerce startup, Konga, was led by local investors Naspers and Kinnevik.

This trend reflected the growing maturity of the startup ecosystem in SSA, as well as the increasing interest of local investors in supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. It also helped to address some of the challenges that foreign investors faced in the region, such as regulatory hurdles and currency fluctuations.

However, despite the positive trends in VC activity in SSA in 2015, there were also challenges and risks that investors had to navigate. One of the main challenges was the lack of infrastructure and connectivity in many parts of the region. This made it difficult for startups to scale and expand beyond their home markets, and also increased the cost of doing business.

Another challenge was political instability and uncertainty in some parts of the region. This could impact investor confidence and lead to delays or disruptions in deal-making. For example, the political crisis in Burundi in 2015 led to a slowdown in investment activity in the country.

Finally, there was also the risk of competition and saturation in some sectors. This was particularly relevant in the e-commerce space, where multiple startups were vying for market share and facing challenges such as payment infrastructure and logistics. The collapse of Nigerian e-commerce startup, DealDey, in 2016, highlighted the risks of over-investment in a crowded market.

In conclusion, VC activity in SSA in 2015 demonstrated the potential of the region as a destination for investment, particularly in sectors such as fintech, e-commerce, healthcare, education, and agriculture. It also highlighted the importance of addressing the unique challenges of the region and building partnerships and collaborations to support entrepreneurship and innovation.

However, there were also challenges and risks that investors had to navigate, such as infrastructure gaps, political instability, and competition. As we move forward, it will be important to continue building a more vibrant startup ecosystem in SSA, while also addressing these challenges and risks to ensure sustainable growth and development.

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