Google has renewed its commitment to growing Africa’s startup ecosystem with the announcement of a new Google for Startups Accelerator (GFSA) Africa class, the launch and opening of applications for a new $3 million Black Founders Fund (BFF) Africa programme, and a Google.org-backed $3 million grant to the Tony Elumelu Foundation, leading philanthropy empowering young entrepreneurs across all 54 African countries, to support female entrepreneurs on the continent.
Applications for GFSA Africa opened earlier this year making way for 15 startups, from across the continent, to join the 6th class of the programme starting on 21 June, 2021. The three-month online programme, which includes virtual training bootcamps, mentorship and Google product support, is designed to support these nascent businesses through their early growth phases.
In a further show of support for innovation on the continent, a new $3M Google for Startups Black Founders Fund Africa is launching as part of Google’s global commitment to support underserved communities. This fund, which is part of the company’s racial equity commitments announced in June 2020, will provide cash awards and hands-on support to 50 Black-led startups in Africa and, unlike most startup investments, it does not require founders to give up any equity in exchange for funding. Google will be working with the Co-Creation Hub, a Google for Startups partner and leading tech community hub with presence in Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda, to distribute the funding to the selected companies across Africa.
Applications are now open for access to funding, as well as technical and business support, for 50 early-stage startups across the continent in 2021. BFF Africa is open to all startups in Botswana, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, that meet the eligibility criteria. Applications will close on 7 July, 2021.
“It’s encouraging to see Google’s continued dedication to strengthening and elevating the startup ecosystem in Africa. Google was one of the early believers in tech entrepreneurs on the continent and this support over the last 10 years reflects a thoughtful commitment. This programme is extremely timely and will not only empower founders across the continent but also deepen the pipeline and unlock follow-on funding from both local and foreign investors,” says Bosun Tijani, Co-founder & CEO at Co-Creation Hub.
“Google understands that the growth and success of one player in the startup space lays the path for others. This is what drives the commitment to empowering entrepreneurs and startups and effectively driving employment and enabling both economic and social development on the continent. We are determined to help black founders grow their businesses, not just through access to capital but also through access to the best of Google’s resources,” says Nitin Gajria, managing director of Google Sub-Saharan Africa.
Furthermore, Google.org’s $3M grant support to the Tony Elumelu Foundation will go towards providing entrepreneurship training, mentorship and coaching to at least 5,000 women with low digital skills, who come from rural areas and currently operate in an informal sector. Seed capital in the form of one-time cash grants will also be provided to 500 African women aspiring entrepreneurs in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and select Francophone countries. This will prepare women founders who otherwise wouldn’t have access to opportunity to navigate their businesses through the startup journey.
“We are dedicated to building a world where all women can thrive. According to data collected by the World Bank in 10 African countries, male-owned enterprises have six times more capital than female owned enterprises. This huge capital gap is not stopping the rise of female entrepreneurs, but it slows them down and makes their journeys that much more challenging. We hope that the support to The Tony Elumelu Foundation will help accelerate the growth of women techmakers and entrepreneurs in Africa,” adds Gajria.
“As Africa’s leading philanthropy empowering young African entrepreneurs, this grant support will provide financial and technical support for additional women-owned businesses and marginalized groups in the informal sector through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. There is no better time to invest in women’s economic participation on the continent than now. Through this support, women will drive growth for local economies and enable better living conditions for their communities. We are delighted to disburse the Google.org grant to scale our ongoing efforts to empower young African entrepreneurs as we believe this will be instrumental in building much-needed businesses and resilient economies,” concludes Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, CEO at Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Olumide Soyombo Launches Pan-African VC Firm, Voltron Capital
Olumide Soyombo, one of Africa’s most prolific and active early-stage investors in tech startups, has today announced the launch of Voltron Capital – a Pan-African pre-seed & seed firm for elite tech founders tackling critical problems in the continent’s largest markets. Co-founded alongside Abe Choi, CEO of Simple Dealer, the new firm will deploy capital in up to 30 startups across a range of sectors and marks a major bid to address the severe lack of access to early-stage funding for African tech companies.
With a ticket size of $20,000 – $100,000 per company, Voltron Capital’s portfolio will primarily focus on startups in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Northern Africa, and is headed by a founding team with a robust investment track record. In Soyombo, who is also the Co-Founder of LeadPath Nigeria and Bluechip Technologies, the team has over 10 years of experience of early stage investing, with a portfolio of 33 African tech startups including Mono, PiggyVest, Spleet, Migo, TeamApt and Paystack. During his time as an investor, Soyombo’s portfolio has raised over $70m, ranging from pre-seed to Series A, and he has also overseen two secondary and one primary exits. Voltron Capital’s Co-Founder, Abe Choi, has also invested in 15 tech startups – two of which have been exited and collectively, the founders’ existing portfolio spreads across a vast range of sectors including finance, energy, logistics, retail and education.
Speaking on the launch of his new firm, Olumide Soyombo, Co-founder at Voltron Capital, says “Voltron Capital is the beginning of another incredibly exciting journey for Abe and I, but it is also a celebration of the road Africa’s entire tech space has travelled to-date.”
Soyombo was an early investor in Paystack, the fintech company that exited to Stripe in October 2020. The exit and subsequent liquidity event revealed a maturing in the African tech market, validating early investment decisions. His work in corporate Nigeria has also allowed him to access non-traditional capital for the tech VC ecosystem.
Soyombo continues, “We hold a track record of identifying and supporting some of Africa’s most high-growth startups to-date with capital at pre-seed stage and also hold long-established relationships with corporates and regulators, which can make what can often be a difficult path for African startups much smoother. We want the next wave of African tech success stories to not only make an impact on the continent, but to be truly global; through Abe’s strategic connections to the USA, we’re confident we can provide our portfolio with the best possible opportunities to achieve this through our US and global network. ”
Despite total funding for African tech startups passing the $1bn mark last year, according to Briter Bridges, more than half of these deals were attracted by a select group of late-stage startups, leaving numerous early-stage tech firms competing for a limited share of funds. According to the IFC, 82% of African tech startups face major problems in accessing capital with insufficient seed funding and a lack of angel investors, some of the most prominent issues mentioned.
With Africa’s internet economy projected to contribute over $180bn by 2025, emerging tech companies are set to play a crucial role in unlocking this value across the continent’s key verticals. However, without early-stage funding, many of the startups primed to drive this growth are missing out on vital capital to support their early operations and generate revenue, which is a key requirement for securing later rounds of funding and larger scale. The end result of this could not only impact the immediate lifespans of these businesses, but also result in a major loss in value for Africa’s consumers, wider tech ecosystem and ultimately, its economy.
First Bank Loan To Firstmonie Agents Tops N100bn In One Year
One year after it commenced its agent credit scheme, First Bank of Nigeria Limited, said it has given out N100 billion to its 114,000 Firstmonie agents spread across the 772 local government areas in the country.
According to the bank, its agent banking network is part of its drive to increase the level of financial inclusion in the country whilst creating jobs and empowering its customers.
A statement by the bank explained that the agent credit scheme was created by the First Bank to promote and expand the business activities of its foremost agent banking platform, Firstmonie Agents, whilst putting them at an advantage to positively impact their immediate environment.
Firstmonie Agents network which is amongst the bank’s many initiatives to expand financial access in the country, have been integral to bridging the financial exclusion gap, providing convenient banking services that are easily accessible, thereby saving time and travel costs for individuals in the suburbs and remote environments that have no access to financial services.
Reiterating First Bank’s role in deepening financial inclusion in the country, group executive, e-Business and retail products of the bank, Chuma Ezirim, said: “We are truly excited about the tremendous impact of the agent credit on the performance of our Firstmonie agents nationwide. Since the introduction of the agent credit to support our ‘Human ATMs’ as we fondly call our Firstmonie agents, they have recorded immense growth in their businesses, at levels they never envisaged in such a short period.
“Our key goal is to continue to deliver financial services to the underserved and unbanked populations, employing modern technology for processing of real time transactions and in doing so, contribute to building capacities and learning new skills in information technology, cash management and relationship management for our FirstMonie agents.
“We encourage our Firstmonie Agents to keep being exemplary in setting the pace to promote financial inclusion as we collectively work towards the continuous growth and development of the national economy.”
Meet the Innovators: Winners Emerge in the UnionX Innovation Challenge
Picture 1: Announcing the UnionX Innovation Challenge Winners L-R ), first prize winner, Tobilola Awogbemi (Quizac; first runners up, Khalid Ismail (Gistabyte); second runner-up, Olakunle Boye & Chibuzor Njoku.
The top three winning solutions in the just concluded UnionX Innovation Challenge have been announced!
Tade Samson and Tobiloba Awogbemi, emerged as first prize winners, receiving N2million for Quizac – their EdTech solution that creates higher learning engagement through gamification and improves retention using Artificial Intelligence.
First runners up, Khalid Ismail and Bobby Ojeh, who built Gistabyte – a social payment app, received N1.5million, while the second runner-up Folarin Olulana received N1million for his initiative T40- A logistics company that has digitalised intercity travel across Africa.
The UnionX Innovation Challenge is Union Bank’s Innovation Challenge series focused on discovering, showcasing, and supporting eligible entrepreneurs with innovative, technology-focused Minimum Viable Products (MVPs).
Following the entry period, a cohort of 10 semi-finalists were selected to participate in a boot camp organised by Greenhouse Capital. The cohort was subsequently invited to pitch their innovative models at a virtual Demo.
The panel of judges included Union Bank’s Head of Retail Banking and Digital, Lola Cardoso; Head, SME Banking, Chidi Ileka; Chief Credit Officer, Olajumoke Odulaja along with the Co-Founder/CEO of Indicina, Yvonne Johnson; Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Startupbootcamp Africa, Zachariah George.
Speaking at the virtual showcase event, Union Bank Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Emeka Okonkwo said –
“Innovation is a key part of who we are at Union Bank and has been crucial to our growth through the years. We pride ourselves on being a ‘104-year-old start-up’, combining the wisdom of age and the flexibility and agility that innovation brings. I applaud the finalists and winners for their impressive ideas as we look forward to deeper engagement with the larger ecosystem.”
While expressing their gratitude to Union Bank, Quizac’s co-founders, Tade Samson and Tobiloba Awogbemi said:
“We are excited to have won the UnionX Innovation Challenge. We would like to appreciate Union Bank and GreenHouse Capital for putting together this amazing opportunity not just for Quizac, but also all the 10 finalists. We look forward to working with Union Bank while maintaining our vision to make learning as fun and engaging as possible for every student.”
Union Bank also unveiled its ‘Developer’s Portal’ – a one-stop shop where startups can test and validate their ideas in a sandbox environment while progressively moving towards launching their products.
Lola Ekugo, the Head of Digital and Innovation at Union Bank also reiterated Union Bank’s commitment to driving agile innovation and collaborating with startups to enrich its bouquet of services for its customers.
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