This week my Future Africa partner, Mia von Koschitzky-Kimani, and I announced that we are re-launching Accelerate Africa as a full-fledged accelerator programme that we hope will become the ‘YC for Africa’.
Prior to now we have mostly run successful pre-accelerator programs to help get founders into actual accelerator programs like YC and Techstars. Now we are getting into the accelerator arena ourselves. I thought that for posterity I should pen a few thoughts about why I believe this has become necessary.
As two of Africa’s most prominent operator VCs with a track record of building some of Africa’s most successful startups like Andela, Flutterwave, Moove BV, Daystar Power, and DukaConnect, we have walked this battle worn road and have the scars to show for it. Many of the companies we have founded, funded, and advised are now billion-dollar companies with hundreds of millions in revenue and some have been acquired by global businesses like Mastercard and Shell.
However, over the last decade, as we have experienced first-hand the significant and unique challenges faced by startups from Africa, we have had the intellectual humility to stick to helping clear the path for a lot of startups to transcend the limitations of a lack of local venture capital by supporting them to access global accelerator programs like YC and Techstars through our pre-accelerator programs which have evolved from FAVE-YC to Accelerate Africa I. The reality was getting into a global accelerator represented a sure path to global scale with well renowned global investors. This worked really well for a long time fueling a breathtaking rise in venture capital funding in Africa from barely tens of millions of dollars to billions of dollars within a decade.
Unfortunately, that only worked for as long as capital was cheap and the appetite for risk was plentiful. With rising interest rates the music’s over and another dance has begun. Global venture capital appetite for African innovation and entrepreneurship has drastically reduced and with it the interest of most global accelerators like YC in investing in African startups.
Given this reality, as African founders we have two options.
We can accept that what has happened over the last decade was a moment in time now lost to history. This will not be the first time the funding tide has gone out. From the days of Socketworks and Interswitch to the more recent past of IROKO and Konga, technology funding booms and busts have defined our ecosystem. Some of our colleagues have quickly reverted to the poverty of ambition that characterized venture pre-2019. After all, unicorns are alien to Africa and we should lower our sights to more attainable gazelles and donkeys. I can understand the sentiment. Icarus is real.
However, we can also choose a path that suggests this time is different. As I’ve said several times, the bull run of the last 10 years was simply the demo for what is possible should we choose to scale innovative technology solutions to solve our development challenges as a continent. Over the last decade we have built a few billion-dollar companies, impacted hundreds of thousands of lives, delivered hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue, and raised tens of billions of dollars.
I believe we have demonstrated as in the words of the late General Murtala Mohammed, “Africa has come of age”.
However, this coming of age requires that we divorce ourselves of Silicon Valley’s templates and forge our own unique path. It means building a different kind of technology business – not fintech but real tech, not unicorns worth billions of dollars but unicorns making billions of dollars, not imported founders building solutions for the tiny minority who look like them and live in Victoria Island but gritty founders who want to solve real world problems for the vast majority of Africans who require technology solutions that can make them more productive. This is why we are building Accelerate Africa – to accelerate bold and visionary founders building global businesses to solve Africa’s biggest challenges.
Despite the long faces and downcast emotions occasioned by the dark shadow the economy – local and global – has cast on our industry, I believe that there is no better time to invest in African innovation.
Our confidence comes from the fact that we’ve seen this movie before. All our billion-dollar businesses were built amidst deep downturns; Andela was founded in the throes of Ebola in 2014, Flutterwave was born in the midst of the banking and currency crisis of 2016 occasioned by the onset of Treasury Single Account, Moove launched in the middle of COVID19 in 2020. Rising inflation, a global capital crunch and slow economic growth only suggests to us that this is the time for the true entrepreneurs to come out and build.
Second, there is no better time to] take on this task. We have a wave of talent who have grown through the last decade of building and are ready to take on new challenges. We have amassed an army of angels and venture capitalists who will fund African innovation and our local stock markets are mature and primed to mint real unicorns (Nigeria’s $50 Billion stock exchange has minted 13 unicorns in the last year). More governments in Africa have passed or are in the process of passing startup acts. There is more dry powder seeking real returns in global VC than ever before. I couldn’t think of a better time to build the future in Africa.
Most importantly our continent demands this of us. As leadership in Africa wakes up to the realization that even though startups cannot innovate our way around the government, perhaps we can innovate hand in hand with them, true entrepreneurs have a role to play to rise to the occasion and match the scale of our continental challenges. This is why there is a flurry of talented leadership flowing from our technology ecosystems into government and doing their best to help our societies chart a sustainable path to technology driven progress and productivity.
We thank the global accelerators and global venture capital community for all their support all through the years. We have learned so much from them and we owe them so much of our success. Their sacrifice, belief and generosity to our ecosystem will never be forgotten.
Nevertheless, Africa has come of age and in the words of General Murtala Mohammed -“the fortunes of Africa are in our hands to make or mar.”
If you would like to partner with us on Accelerate Africa, please feel free to reach out to me and if you would like to find more details about the program, timelines, and FAQs at www.acceler8.africa.
Iyin Aboyeji is the Founding Partner, Future Africa.
(Article republished with permission)