This year, investment, innovation and growth has been erupting from African businesses at a temperature hot enough for the world to notice. The reason? Their ability to penetrate and tap into the potential of its still unstructured markets, thereby creating the beginning of the infrastructure necessary to make African financial inclusion a reality.
In honour of our recent interview with M-Pesa, we’ve put together an overview of 6 rising finance and tech stars
The branchless, bankless option.
Far from being a bank, Branch is a micro-lending start-up which uses a person’s spending patterns as a credit check, then allows them to borrow money at a 15% interest on loans as small as a few dollars a month to 15 percent APR on its largest loans, which are $1,000 and can be paid over the course of a year. According to CEO Matt Flannery, these micro $2 loans do put the at a loss, but the sting is worth taking as repeat business is reported to be as strong as 20 loans per annum. Since its launch, Branch has attracted a total of $80 million in investment from international firms, and continues to grow in Africa on average 20% per month.
Somalia’s first tech incubator.
Set to open this September in the capital of Mogadishu, iRise – whose name originates from the popular socio-political hashtag #SomaliaRising – will provide the ideal resources and workspace for Somali entrepreneurs and developers to harness the financial power of modern Sub-Saharan Africa. According to GSMA Intelligence, no less than 400 million smartphone connections will open for business by 2020.
Although tech hub Innovate Ventures has done a terrific job of cultivating innovation since its inauguration in 2015, the arrival of a new incubator is welcomed by investors who understand the country to be nurturing one of the most active digital banking communities. iRise’s focus is expected to be split between incubator tech solutions and creating bonds between them and future investment.
Transferring trust from old to new.
For those who are wondering, stokfella is slang term for the traditional South African savings pool system used by locals where each participant contributes in rotation, and the resulting lump sum can be used for unexpected family needs. It is estimated that approximately 80% of South Africans participate in a stokvel, with the country harbouring over 800,000 at any give time. By offering a digital platform to both modernise and secure this ancient money-saving system, founder Tshepo Moloi hopes to fan the flames of a niche and very local market estimated to be worth billions.
Access to 60 million possible clients, in one go.
It seems this startup listened to global comments on Africa’s limited infrastructure and decided to deliver in a big way.
Using a combination of partnerships with financial data API and machine learning, Inclusive has created a pan-African network with acces to millions of identities. Its business model proposes to allow financial services from around the world to expand their own services and business models in Africa without the hassle of building their own infrastructure first.
The firm’s website shows strong focus on connecting “ordinary Africa”, stating their long-term goal as enabling farmers in Zambia to purchase stocks to a Fortune 500 company on the New York Stock Exchange right from their phone on their farm. Inclusive’s potential has already been spotted by US-based 4DX Ventures and Google for Entrepreneurs.
Financial inclusion, whether online or not.
Nala is a mobile money app with the major distinguishing feature of allowing users to perform transactions without an internet connection. For individuals and digital businesses looking to flourish in a continent with patchy networks, this detail has proven to be a gamechanger.
Cellulant, which was founded in Nigeria and Kenya in 2004, is digital payment platform which offers mobile banking services to Africans who are unable to open traditional accounts.
“With two thirds of Africans unable to access a bank account, we believe that building a connected payments infrastructure is the foundation of solving real challenges and accelerating Africa’s growth and development,” said Ken Njoroge, Cellulant co-founder and chief executive, in an interview with Forbes.
If this sounds a little like M-Pesa that’s because it almost is, but Cellulant deserves a mention of their own for raising $47.5 million in one of the largest Series C rounds ever witnessed for an African-focused firm.