If you’re looking to keep tabs on the movers and shakers that will define this year then join us as we look at the 10 startups that you should consider paying attention to in 2020 (in no particular order).
The race is on for the first
locally-built African super app — that is, one that offers users seamless
access to a number of services, often across several verticals. A lot of
contenders are pursuing different strategies to reach that goal.
Cape Town based Carry1st, which was founded by Sierra Leonean Cordel Robbin-Coker (pictured
above) and American Lucy Parry, is betting on gaming.
“Our bet from observing similar
global markets as well as our own across Africa, is that entertainment and
communication are the most effective services to bringing people online en
masse, drive digital literacy and act as a conduit to the broader global connected
economy,” Robbin-Coker told Ventureburn last month (see this story).
He believes that at their most basic
level, free-to-play games are digital economies which provide users with the
ability to earn and purchase currency which can then be used to acquire various
in-app goods and services.
By November last year, the startup’s
first game, Carry1st Trivia, raked up close to one million downloads in
Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, with about 250 000 monthly active users.
Carry1st Trivia won won the Best News
and Entertainment Solution at the 2019 AppsAfrica Innovation Awards (see
The startup is aiming for 1.2 million
active users by the end of the year and has raised $2-million in funding from
angel investors in the US and Africa.
In November, Robbin-Coker said the
startup was in the middle of raising a seed round which he hoped to close by
the end of 2019 (as Ventureburn staff took off on their annual break news
had yet to drop — Ed). So keep an eye on this.
Another company that’s thrown its hat
in the ring for the quest of Africa’s first super app is Gozem.
The startup’s co-founder Emeka Ajene
(pictured above) — who in 2016 led operations and business development
for Uber in Nigeria — told Ventureburn in August last year that he and his team
plans to launch a digital wallet product as well as a food and parcel delivery
service in 2020 (see this story).
The Singapore-registered startup
operates a ride-hailing service that relies on motorcycle-taxis, auto-rickshaws
and air-conditioned taxis. Ajene launched Gozem in Togo together with
co-founder and serial entrepreneur Raphael Dana — who has been a managing partner
of Africa-focused venture holding company Reengine Ventures since
The startup, which currently operates
in Benin and Togo, plans to expand to 10 countries in West and Central Africa
over the next two years. These include Cameroon, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Senegal,
Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, Nigeria and
Ajene told Ventureburn at the time
that Gozem was in the middle of closing a $3-million round in preparation of
its Series-A round. He disclosed that at the time the startup had raised
$3-million in funding.
At the time the startup had 800
registered drivers on its platform and was aiming to drive that number up to
3000 by the end of last year — and to 300 000 in the next four years.
Last month, Cairo-based trucking
marketplace Trella announced
it had acquired Egyptian competitor Trukto in a move that created what could
arguably be Egypt’s largest technology-enabled trucking and logistics platform
with more than 10 000 truckers.
Trella was founded in 2018 by former
Uber executive Omar Hagrass (pictured above, centre) and Pierre Saad (pictured
At the time the Egyptian startup said
the acquisition will help it to leverage Trukto’s established infrastructure,
human capital and network of truckers and shippers to accelerate Trella’s
growth strategy in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.
Also last year, Trella was selected
to participate in the S19 batch of Silicon Valley-based accelerator Y
Combinator (see this story).
Earlier in 2019, Trella raised $600
000 in a pre-seed round led by Egyptian venture capital firm Algebra Ventures. The startup’s backers also include NextBillion Ventures and angel
investors Esther Dyson and Jambu Palaniappan.
Staying in the logistics space,
Nigerian platform Kobo360 is
definitely one to look out for this year.
At the time Kobo360 said the funding
(which also included a further $10-million in debt from local banks) would help
the startup add 25 000 more drivers and help bankroll the development of its
tech platform — particularly its Global Logistics Operating System (G-LOS).
The Lagos-based startup was founded
in 2017 by CEO Obi Ozor and CTO Ife Oyedele (pictured above, from left
Kobo360 describes itself as “the
marketplace for shippers and transporters”. Its platform aggregates a fleet of
over 17 000 drivers and trucks, that operate in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Togo.
Now the startup is looking to expand
to 10 new countries this year, though it did not disclose their names, it
hinted that it wants to boost its presence in Southern and Central Africa.
Kobo360’s clients include the Dangote
Group, DHL, Unilever, Olam, African Industries, Flour Mills of Nigeria, and
Lafarge. In all, it claims to service over 600 small businesses and 80 large
Last month, Ozor was named Young
Business Leader of the Year and Innovator of the Year at the 2019 All Africa Business Leaders
Awards [AABLA] in partnership with CNBC Africa.
Another Nigerian startup that is sure
to make big waves this year is Lagos-based mobility platform Max.ng.
Founded in 2015 by CEO Adetayo
Bamiduro and chief growth officer Chinedu Azodoh, Max.ng began as a delivery
service, and now also operates an on-demand motorcycle-taxi hailing platform.
Last year in May, the startup closed
a closed a $7-million Series-A round which it said it will use to help it to
expand across 10 West African cities, scale its technology infrastructure,
deploy mobile payments in partnership with Mastercard, introduce an electric
fleet and deploy new vehicle categories, including three-wheel tuk-tuks (see
That round bought Max.ng’s total
funding it had raised, and disclosed, at the time to $8.5-million.
The startup’s investors include Novastar Ventures, motorcycle and marine
hardware manufacturer Yamaha, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Zrosk Investment Management, Goodwell
Investments, Techstars, Olive Tree Capital, Venture Garden Group,
RightSide Capital Management, the Shell Foundation and angel investors Greg
Schroy and Michael Lazerow.
It’s not clear which 10 cities in
West Africa Max.ng is looking to enter, but the startup told Ventureburn at the
time that it wants to add customers in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
The mobility or transportation space
is big business in Africa, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the deep
pockets that Egyptian startup Swvl has.
The startup — which was founded in
2017 by CEO Mostafa Kandil, Ahmed Sabbah and Mahmoud Nouh — allows users to
book fixed rate affordable rides on its network of vans and buses through its
Last year the startup raised
$42-million round from investors that included BECO Capital, Endeavor
Catalyst, MSA and Vostok New
Ventures in a deal that saw it valued at over $156.8-million
(see this story).
One of its investors, Vostok New
Ventures, reckons that the startup will turn a revenue of $1-billion by 2023
(see this story).
Swvl, which has operations in
Pakistan, Egypt and Kenya and has plans to expand to Nigeria (see this
Menabytes story and this Bloomberg piece) could likely launch in Johannesburg
if the following hint by Vostok New Ventures is anything to go by.
“We believe the overall target of
$1-billion in GMV (gross merchandise value) by 2023 is achievable and that
Egypt alone could become worth at least $500-million and, if successful in
Lahore, Karachi, Nairobi, Lagos and Johannesburg, this upside obviously
multiplies,” the investor wrote in a financial report last year.
Last month the startup launched a new
long-distance service called Swvl Travel in Nairobi, this after it stopped
operating its ride hailing-service in the city in November in compliance with
an order from Kenyan transport regulator NTSA.
According to US business intelligence
platform Crunchbase, Swvl has to date raised $80.5-million across its disclosed deals. It’s likely that this funding will be
used to expand to more markets and launch new products.
In November last year fintech
startup JUMO — which was founded by SA
entrepreneur Andrew Watkins-Ball in 2014 — celebrated a new milestone, having
helped connect over 15 million people to credit and savings in their six
markets in Africa and Asia to date.
The startup, which is registered in
Mauritius, helps facilitate digital financial services such as credit and
savings in emerging markets. In 2018 it raised a whopping $64.5-million (see
Up to the end of October last year
the startup claims it has helped disburse over $1.6-billion in funding to small
and micro enterprises and is growing its base of savings products.
The startup was also last year
recognised by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the SME Finance
Forum with an award for innovation in
small business lending, during the Global SME Finance
Forum Awards (see this story). And took part in the second
session of Google’s Launchpad Studio (see this story).
The award was made shortly after the
startup announced that it had appointed Buhle Goslar and Ashish Desai as Africa
CEO and India CEO respectively (see this story).
The startup said the appointments
were made as part of a new organisational structure to support JUMO’s expansion
into new markets in Africa and Asia.
JUMO currently partners with
financial service providers and mobile network operators to provide credit and
savings solutions in Pakistan, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia.
The company plans to enter new
markets in Asia and Africa in the coming months.
The startup’s cloud-based software
enables public safety officials to reduce emergency response times and improve
In February the pair announced that
their startup had landed a $12-million (over R175-million at current rates)
investment in a Series-A round from US venture capital fund GreatPoint Ventures and
innovation fund Samsung Next (see this story).
It’s one of the largest — if not the
largest — deals scored by an SA startup in 2019.
And in November last year, Microsoft
CEO Satya Nadella, described at the Microsoft Ignite conference in Orlando, Florida (see this video clip) how RapidDeploy protects
public safety and prevents ransomware attacks.
It comes after the startup was in
June named Microsoft US Partner of the Year for Government Industry 2019.
In October the startup was awarded
the Innovator of the Year Award by
Any African startup with a solution
for free or subsidised internet is definitely one to watch — simply because of
the high cost of data in most countries around the continent.
Last month, Wasla, a Cairo-based
startup that has developed an incentivised mobile browser that rewards users
with free mobile internet raised $1-million in seed funding.
The startup founded in 2018 by
Mahmoud El Said (pictured above, far right, with members of the Wasla team)
and former Rocket Internet entrepreneurs Serag Meneassy and Taymour Sabry.
El Said told Ventureburn last month
that Wasla is looking to expand to other Africa countries and to the Middle
East. (see this story).
“The timeline is still not defined
but within the next one to two years we should be opening up new markets,” he
said at the time.
The startup — which in early December
claimed to have over 100 000 users — plans to build a super app that will offer
social networking, shopping, entertainment and payments.
Wasla intends to introduce these new
verticals this year.
Last October when Cape Town based
on-demand domestic cleaning service SweepSouth announced that it raised more than
R50-million, its co-founder Aisha Pandor (pictured above) said it would
use the investment to expand on the continent (see this story).
Pandor, who founded the startup in
2014 with her husband Alen Ribic, said the funding will be instrumental in
achieving the startup’s strategic goals going forward.
These include the launch of a new
platform SweepSouth Connect — which will offer services like handymen,
plumbers, electricians, locksmiths, carpet cleaners and nannies — as well as an
online shop where SweepSouth plans to sell a range of home products.