How Viable is VC Funding for African Tech Startups in Today’s Landscape?

Africa's VC scene grows, with Kenya leading. Despite challenges, funding persists. Insights urge Kenyan startups to prioritize profitability for 18-month runway. Kenya remains attractive with government support, offering entrepreneurs a promising fundraising ground. Article unveils Africa's VC landscape and practical tips.

Fiona Maingi 🇰🇪
February 19, 2024

In recent years, Venture Capital (VC) has emerged as a crucial lifeline for businesses across Africa, offering essential funding for growth and expansion, especially when conventional lending options are either unavailable or too costly. VC firms step in to shoulder early-stage risk and mature start-ups, becoming increasingly vital since the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic’s disruptions to traditional financing channels. Venture capital holds the potential to play a pivotal role in realizing Africa’s “digital moonshot,” serving as a critical source of risk capital to fuel innovation, scale the digital economy, create jobs for the future, and drive economic growth.

While the numbers show an exponential rise in VC funding in the continent, it remains far from sufficient, representing only 0.4% of global VC funding flows( or 0.05%of Africa’s GDP). This disparity explains why despite a handful of remarkable tech startup success stories on the continent, reaching “unicorn” status remains an isolated achievement, primarily concentrated in a few countries, as Africa’s tech startup ecosystem is still in its early stages.

Kenya’s Venture Capital Scene

In the face of challenging global economic conditions, Kenya has consistently proven itself as an exceptionally promising investment hub,showcasing a resilient and enduring allure for both venture capital and private equity. This trend underscores Kenya’s enduring status as an enduringly “favourable” long-term investment destination, despite the prevailing macroeconimic challenges around the world.

Business Insider Africa reports that in the initial half of 2023, startups based in Kenya garnered more equity funding from African investors, as disclosed by Briter Bridges data. The report highlights Kenya ($520 million), Egypt ($510 million), South Africa ($400 million), and Rwanda ($280 million) as the top four countries in terms of funding. Kenya led the pack with over 80 concluded deals, followed by South Africa with over 60, Ghana with over 35, and Egypt with over 15 deals in H1 2023.

Photo Credit: Business Insider Africa-H1 2023 Africa Investment report-Briter Bridges

Thus far, 2023 has posed significant challenges for startups seeking funding. Notably, startup funding across the continent declined to $1billion, a drop from $1.5 billion in the second half of 2022 and $1.8 billion in the first half of 2022. The funding volume witnessed a 26% decrease from H2 2022 to H1 2023 and has generally followed a downward trajectory throughout 2023. Consequently, investor attention has shifted from growth-stage startups to those in their late and early stages.

Additionally, 2023 has witnessed multiple startups shut down due to challenges in meeting their objectives. Many have been forced to decrease their valuations and reduce the size of their teams.

Insights into Kenya’s Market Challenges

While Kenya boasts a well-established tech startup ecosystem within Africa, it falls behind its counterparts, Nigeria and South Africa, in terms of a robust local investment scene. Notable exceptions, such as Novastar Ventures and Chandaria Capital, have made considerable contributions, often supplemented by international capital. Several early-stage investors, including Antler, Norrsken Foundation, DFS Lab, and Launch Africa Ventures, are actively involved in the country. Nevertheless, the Kenyan tech industry grapples with various challenges, with limited access to sufficient funding being a prominent obstacle, especially for early-stage startups.

The growing number of innovative solutions, emerging unicorns and a rising pool of high-potential ventures underscore Kenya’s increasing appeal to venture capital. As later-stage funding rounds continue to draw significant investments, there is a growing emphasis on early stage investments with firms like Antler supporting startups from inception, providing guidance for long-term success and growth.

Kenya's investment-friendly regulations could use enhancements, as they currently have limitations that pose challenges for investors. Issues such as ownership constraints, tax complexities, sluggish licensing procedures, and other factors affect private equity and venture capital. There's also potential for better preparation and support for both entrepreneurs and investors in the country. Slyvia Kithinji, Partner and Head of Corporate Commercial at Ashitiva Advocates LLP mentions that Kenya will continue to remain a “favourable” investment destination long-term however, more can be done to improve entrepreneur and investor readiness.

It’s not just about identifying the right opportunities, but also scaling those investments to become viable long-term businesses.”

Current VC Climate- Trends and What to Expect for Funding Seekers

For entrepreneurs in pursuit of VC funding within today’s tech realm, understanding critical insights can be a game-changer. Here’s what you should be aware of if you’re aiming to secure a funding round.The Africa Financial Industry Summit provided valuable insights into the current state and future prospects of the VC industry in Africa for startups. Four key points emerged:

  1. Reduced VC Funding: Kenyan startups will continue to face a tighter VC market. Investors now demand a clearer focus on unit economics, profitability, and efficient cash management, with a maximum time frame of 18 months for achieving sustainable profitability. Startups must adapt their business models to thrive in this challenging environment.
  2. Dynamic Shifts: Entrepreneurs must be ready to make tough choices to acquire the necessary capital to sustain and expand their businesses in this demanding landscape. This may entail embracing down rounds, where a company’s valuation is lower than its previous funding round.
  3. Consider Impact: If your startup has a social, environmental or impact angle, highlight this aspect, as impact investing is gaining traction.
  4. Understand Investors’ Priorities- Different investors have different focus areas and criteria. Research and target investors whose interests align with your business.

Considering raising funds in Kenya? Here’s why it’s a smart move:

Kenya continues to stand tall among Africa’s prime investment hubs, offering a fertile ground for startups. The extensive support ecosystem, with active participation from numerous firms, surpasses many in the region. Moreover, the proactive government initiatives, like the Startup Bill and upcoming subsidy programs, create an environment ripe for innovation and entrepreneurial growth. In essence, Kenya presents not just financial opportunities but a thriving landscape where startups can flourish and thrive.

A detailed report on the latest VC updates across Africa can be found here.

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