What will these lists look like 5 years from now? This infographic was produced by Ivan Colic. Located in South Africa, he started a great series devoted to the visualization of African data called Afrographique.
On April 7th Mfonobong Nsehe published ‘Why Africa May Never Produce a Facebook, Groupon, Zynga or Google’ in Forbes. Rightly, he calls for a need for investors to step forward and support promising African startups. I share this call to action, but also recognize the progress that is already being made. We have plenty of African startup success stories and there are more on the rise every day. Investors need to get involved now or we will simply pass them up.
Just last week TxtEagle raised $8.5 million from a consortium of investors including Spark Capital and RBC Venture Partners. This is big news when you consider most of the ground work and prototyping was done in Kenya. TxtEagle leverages USSD protocol that averts many of the costs that restrain SMS use in emerging markets. Their innovative approach has the potential to engage billions of people who till now have been hard for many organizations to reach. They already build on partnerships with 220 mobile operators in almost 100 countries who between them cover 2.1 billion subscribers. That’s 28.5% of the global population and is clearly another African designed platform with global potential. Is this not an example of a global product like Facebook, Groupon, Zynga or Google?
And there is no shortage of capacity and I agree with Mfonobong that Africa has some extremely intelligent techpreneurs. I think its a remarkable accomplishment when someone like John Waibochi, the founder of VirtualCity, walks away with USD 1 million from Nokia and beats out software developers from the U.S, Canada and India! And great African techpreneurs don’t just come from Nairobi :) NandiMobile, a start-up from the MEST Incubator won “Best Business” award at the LAUNCH conference in San Francisco. They were in competition with almost 100 Silicon Valley start-ups!
And let’s remember that Nigeria is about to get seriously connected. We are talking about 5.12 Tbit/s in capacity that will come to shore with the West Africa Cable System. This is four times the celebrated SEACOM cable behind a lot of the tech startup energy and buzz we share in Nairobi. The speed of the WACS cable is such that one could theoretically download about eight million MP3 files or over eight thousand DVDs per minute! And investors aren’t waiting around to see what happens. Already Pagatech announced that they have received investment from Tim Draper, a renowned Venture Capitalist based in the United States from Draper Fisher Jurvetson.
Speaking about his investment in Paga, Draper said “My decision to make this personal investment is premised on the simple fact that I believe in the bold vision of the Paga team and I trust in their ability to execute. Paga is a great innovation which will simplify life for millions of people in Nigeria and beyond. I look forward to the company being a major African success story that serves as an example for many more to come.”
There are exits too. South African Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Thawte, a web security and certificate authority company, sold his business for nearly a half billion USD. So let’s be clear. Investors need to get involved today or they risk missing out on a unique opportunity at a unique point in time.