Toplines: There were significant locally-led acquisitions and venture funding that signalled a growing ecosystem. However, African innovators still had to contend with crippling regulations, including internet bans and other restrictions on FinTech and cryptocurrency.
A rundown of significant milestones:
January: Africa’s female-first venture capital fund FirstCheck launched in January. The fund aims to invest “ridiculously early” in women-led and women-focused funds in Africa.
February: Nigeria’s central bank “banned” cryptocurrency. The banking regulator instructed financial institutions to cease the facilitation of crypto-related transactions and immediately close accounts found dealing with crypto.
March: Flutterwave was first to attain unicorn status in 2021, with a valuation of $1bn in its $170m Series C round.
April: Ghana became home to Twitter’s headquarters in Africa. Nigerians felt entitled, but according to the company’s team’s statement, Ghana stood out for its support for “free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet”. Good call, Jack.
May: It was an Egyptian spring for the startup capital scene. Sawari Ventures closed its $71 million fund, and accelerator Flat6Labs closed its early-stage startup fund at $13.2 million (four times its original target). Another VC, Algebra Ventures, launched a second fund with a $90 million mark.
June: The Nigerian government “indefinitely suspended” Twitter. Hello VPN.
July: Egyptian transport startup Swvl announced its merger with US Special Purpose Acquisition Company, Queen’s Gambit Growth Capital, to list Nasdaq. The transaction valued the company at $1.5bn.
August: Pleasant August surprise as SoftBank made its first bet in an African startup – leading OPay’s $400m funding round at a valuation of $2billion. Remarkably, this fundraising raised the big question; what makes a startup African?
September: It was a September to remember. Two African unicorns were born. French-speaking Africa got its first unicorn through Wave’s $200M Series A investment led by Founders Fund, Stripe, Ribbit, and Sequoia Heritage. Second, west African tech talent accelerator Andela raised $200m in its Series E funding round at a valuation of $1.5bn.
October: Google announced plans to invest $1bn in Africa’s digital transformation over the next five years. The commitment includes an Africa Investment Fund that will provide equity-free capital investments and assistance to startups on the continent.
Side note: The Nigerian government launched “eNaira”, a mobile money transfer App built on blockchain technology.
November: We witnessed the announcement of Africa’s fifth unicorn in 2021. The Jeff Bezos backed cross-border payments company Chipper Cash raised $150 million at a $2 billion valuation (its second raise within the year). Cryptocurrency exchange FTX led the round.
In other crypto-related news, Nigerian-American pop star Davido teamed up with Bitsika to announce the launch of $Echoke, a social crypto token.
December: A woman-founded company and West Africa’s first privately-owned submarine communications cable, MainOne, was acquired by Equinix, a California-based telecommunications company, for $320 million.
Funke Opeke owns it. Remember her name.
Bonus: Nigerian VC firm Ventures Platform raised a $40m startup fund this December, but that’s not the news. All of you are getting accustomed to triple-digit raises. The word is that Nigeria’s Sovereign Investment Authority (a government-managed sovereign wealth fund) led the funding round.
Knowing how risk-averse these institutions are, it is safe to say that the move is a significant vote of confidence on the continent’s startup scene. Long may this continue.
Fatu’s Big Prediction: I am betting that a Nigerian tech startup will go public in 2022.