Key trends & themes to look for across Africa in 2022: What's old is new again
The trends that will characterize the African startup ecosystem in 2022
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Looking back on 2021 across Africa’s startup ecosystem, a few themes emerged. Among them were: the rise of mega-rounds & African unicorns and the overall growth in funding targeting the continent’s startups; increased global visibility & awareness of the African startup space thanks to new dedicated coverage teams at Techcrunch, Rest of World, and other global media outlets; the rapid development of the Egyptian ecosystem; the rise of B2B e-commerce & the race to digitize informal retail; the growth of open banking infrastructure & fintech’s continued fundraising dominance; and much more.
To future-forward analysts, investors, and other ecosystem actors, this may raise the question: when we look back at 2022 a year from now, what will be the key themes & trends that characterize the year?
While it’s often folly to attempt to predict the future, it’s an interesting exercise to assess developments in recent history, synthesize observed trends, and try to tease out where they’re heading. Hence, our effort here.
“Only a fool would make predictions — especially about the future.” — Samuel Godwyn
“The best way to predict the future is to study the past.” — Robert T. Kiyosaki
Without further ado, here are five key trends & themes we’ll be watching for and expect to see across Africa’s startup ecosystem in 2022.
1. Increased “MENASSA” and out-of-Africa expansion
“The biological imperative of a startup is to grow.” But, to date, growth via geographic expansion across the African continent has generally followed specific playbooks (e.g., Nigeria to Kenya/Ghana) or has been oriented primarily towards adjacent local markets leading to the rise of so-called local champions (e.g., Egyptian startups competing solely or primarily in the MENA region or Kenyan startups doing so in East Africa).
What we haven’t seen much of historically has been a NASSA (North Africa + sub-Saharan Africa) or MENASSA (Middle East + North Africa + sub-Saharan Africa) strategy where startups originating in Egypt and North Africa expand in earnest to sub-Saharan Africa, and/or SSA-originating startups go North.
But as the ecosystem and the startups within it mature and seek out more growth, we’ll be watching for 2022 to be the year the continent’s startups (& investors) pursue cross-continental MENASSA strategies in earnest. We’ve already seen some examples on this front in 2021 including the expansion of Nigeria’s OPay to Egypt, the expansion of South Africa’s SweepSouth to Egypt, and the MENA expansion of Nigeria’s Helium Health. Expect startups at similar stages (e.g. Nigeria’s Kobo360) to actively pursue & accelerate similar strategies.
In addition to transcontinental expansion, we’re also watching for more “Africa to the world” startups, where startups originating on the continent build new solutions or adapt & implant existing ones in other global emerging markets.
2. Increased strategic bolt-on & tuck-in acquisitions
While still in the early innings, the African startup ecosystem is maturing and startups on the continent can be expected to seek out more growth; in addition, legacy players on the continent may seek out exposure to fast-growing firms and sectors.
It’s against this backdrop that another trend to expect in 2022 is increased strategic M&A that offers acquiring firms some combination of new geographies, new customers, new product lines, and/or new intellectual property.
Again, 2021 provides a guide of what one can expect in earnest in 2022. See, for example, South African home services platform SweepSouth’s December 2021 expansion to Egypt. Unlike its earlier expansions to Kenya and Nigeria, the Egyptian expansion involved M&A — it acquired Egyptian home services platform FilKhedma in an undisclosed deal that it said, in its search for growth, “almost doubles SweepSouth’s addressable market on the continent.”
Another similar 2021 example of MENASSA geographical expansion via strategic acquisition on the continent is Nigerian healthtech platform Helium Health’s November acquisition of Qatar-headquartered and UAE-based doctor booking platform Meddy that offered Helium Health not only doctor bookings and telemedicine, but also a foothold in the GCC/MENA region.
And for an example of expansion-driven M&A within sub-Saharan Africa, one can look to Nigerian mobility tech platform Treepz’s 2021 expansions to Ghana via the acquisition of Stabus and to East Africa via the acquisition of Uganda’s Ugabus.
For examples of 2021 deals done without a geographic expansion rationale, consider B2B marketplace Chari’s August acquisition of fintech app Karny in Morocco or B2B e-commerce platform Alerzo’s October acquisition of fintech company Shago Payments in Nigeria — both deals unlocked/accelerated what’s an increasingly common hybrid B2B e-commerce + fintech playbook in emerging markets.
Again, as startups seek to accelerate their overall growth trajectories, increased bolt-on/tuck-in M&A is a 2022 trend to watch for. And while the above examples all involved startups as acquirers, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the continent’s legacy players more active on the acquisition front as they too seek out innovation & growth.
3. Diversification/verticalization of fintech
Across Africa’s fintech landscape to date, investor and innovator attention has arguably been focused on generalist infrastructure layers. From payments to mobile money to open banking APIs and more, companies like Flutterwave, Wave, Chipper Cash, Mono, and others made, er, waves across the ecosystem in 2021.
Again, with the ecosystem continuing to mature, 2022, however, could see the rise of vertical fintech specialists.
For example, Kwara, a SACCO (savings and credit cooperatives societies) specialist, raised a $4M seed round in December from Softbank Vision Fund Emerge and others as it builds a specialist neobank for credit unions.
Among others, potential vertical fintech specializations to watch for include:
occupation/economic activity specialists (e.g., ImaliPay, a financial platform for gig economy workers; Moni Africa, a financing platform for mobile money agents; Brass, Prospa, & other SME-focused banking service providers)
demographic segment specialists (e.g., Sproutly, a digital bank focused on teens & kids; ZeddPay, a Gen-Z focused airtime-driven payments platform; Fingo, a neobank for Africa’s youth; Little, a money management platform for children and teens)
In the aggregate, it’s worth noticing first in the list above the vertical specialist neobank/digital banks like Kwara, Brass, Sproutly, & Fingo that point to a more general 2022 trend to watch: the continued rise of (specialist & generalist) neobanks/digital banks on the continent.
Also, while perhaps not a discrete specialization, the rise of embedded finance is another 2022 fintech trend to watch, especially as offerings across Africa multiply. Remember, for example, TradeDepot’s newly avowed emphasis on BNPL-led embedded finance, OnePipe’s pivot to embedded finance infrastructure, and various other announced (& rumored) embedded credit and insurance developments across e-commerce, logistics, and other sectors in 2021.
But, to the thrust of this section, as fintech continues to evolve on the continent and the ecosystem continues to mature through 2022 & beyond, keen observers will take note of the opportunities that have emerged & will continue to emerge across various segments & specializations.
And more broadly, we’ll also be watching for the diversification of fintech funding on the continent beyond the payments & lending/asset financing subsectors which have generally led VC activity to date.
4. The rise of other/overlooked sectors & geographies
In addition to diversification within the fintech sector, 2022 could see significant developments in non-fintech sectors like healthtech and edtech. Looking to 2021, the September-announced 54gene Series B, the December-announced Series A fundraise of uLesson led by Tencent & others (disclosure: your humble author used to work [happily] for Sim), and the surprise December Target Global-led pre-seed of Edukoya may be indicative of the emergence of the healthtech and edtech sectors in 2022.
And geographically, while according to Max, Max, & co. at The Big Deal, 82% of the value of Africa tech deals happened in the ‘Big Four’ (Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt, and Kenya) cumulatively in the last 3 years, in 2021 alone the Big 4’s dominance fell to 80%, suggesting a minor but notable increase elsewhere. Early January 2022 deals suggest Morocco, Ghana, Sénégal, Bénin, Côte d'Ivoire, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Namibia may be among the beneficiaries and places to watch here. But stay tuned.
While we hesitate to predict the exact locations in play (although we’re partial to Francophone Africa), our sense is that, indeed, the dominance of the big four locations will likely continue to recede somewhat throughout 2022.
5. The rise of local investors
In 2022, be also on the lookout for new funds & new initiatives from established and emerging local fund managers. In December alone, Ivory Coast’s Janngo & Egypt’s Disruptech announced first closes, Nigeria/South Africa’s Alithiea, Egypt & West Africa’s 4DX, Egypt’s Cairo Angels, MENA’s Global Ventures, and Nigeria’s Ventures Platform also announced closes of different sorts. And in many ways, African founders have become the funders, per Afridigest big homie Yinka Adegoke at Rest of World.
Moreover, Afridigest friends at Afrobility, the Flip Africa, and perhaps your friends here at Afridigest itself have or will (at some point) introduce opportunities to invest in specific theses and directly participate in the ecosystem’s growth.
What’s clear is that while there has been pronounced global attention paid recently to the continent’s startup ecosystem, there remain myriad outsized opportunities for well-placed local actors with informed and differentiated ideas. (Contact us via: Whatsapp, Twitter, email for more).
Bonus: In addition to the five themes above, 2022 could see the rise of crypto/blockchain/web3 projects deployed across the African continent as it increasingly becomes the global center of utility-driven ‘web3.’ In this vein, we continue to support & watch closely our friends at Fonbnk and those we admire at Helicarrier and Nestcoin.
The predictions/themes presented here should be consumed alongside the predictions/themes of Afridigest friends Zekarias, Fosi, Haulay, and others. Again, while it’s undoubtedly folly to attempt to predict the future, we adhere to the belief that the best way to predict the future is to study the [immediate] past as we’ve attempted to do here. So in many ways, more broadly, one can expect a continuation of 2021: more capital, more international interest, and more diversification.
One of the reasons for sharing this is to connect more dots and solicit input, so if you have comments/thoughts/questions, let’s talk. And if you’re interested in investing in African tech or considering/already building something interesting in African markets, let’s definitely talk! Contact me on Whatsapp, Twitter (@eajene), or via email.
Thanks for reading 🙌