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Digital: heading for Africa for European start-ups


Ua land of opportunities. A qualifier that comes up regularly to define Africa and its start-up ecosystem. But settling on the continent can also be more complex than you think. Without a network or unfamiliar with the structures in place, it is difficult for a European entrepreneur to find a place for himself. Helping them understand the territory and supporting them in their installation is precisely the ambition of the brand new program of the investment company Partech, Chapter54. Supported by the German development bank KfW, the objective is to support ten European start-ups every year for four years. The call for tenders, launched in January, will close on March 5.

“With the current context, it was not won. But we have received many applications from all over Europe, says Vincent Previ, in charge of the program. Fintech entrepreneurs, which are very successful in Africa, but also health, education and B2B services. Despite two years of pandemic, “Africa still attracts”. What drives entrepreneurs to set up there? “Economic growth, which, despite the health crisis, is still strong in several countries,” replies the official. But also “its young population, digitized, and open to novelty”. “European entrepreneurs see Africa as a place where they can test their concepts,” he says.

Like Babylon, a British company specializing in telemedicine based on artificial intelligence, which established itself in Rwanda in 2016. Last year, it entered into a ten-year partnership with the government of Rwanda to building Africa’s first digital universal healthcare system. Impactful success stories that could well multiply in the years to come. Because if 2020 was the year of resistance, 2021 was for the continent that of rebound.

According to the Africa: The Big Deal database, he received more than $4.3 billion, or €3.8 billion, in start-up funding that year. In its latest report published in early February, Partech announces 5.2 billion dollars in financing, or 4.6 billion euros. Record figures – more than times the sum raised the previous year – which illustrate the confidence of investors for the African ecosystem. And which therefore push Europeans, like the African diaspora, to come there.

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“Social impact”

Grégoire Landel made this choice in 2015. Founder of CityTaps, a solution that allows all city dwellers to access running water at home via mobile money, the French entrepreneur has never regretted his choice. Among the criteria that brought him to Niger, Burkina Faso or even Senegal and Kenya, “the very strong social impact that a company can have”. “Here, we realize that what we do is useful, and can really change people’s daily lives”.

But also “the dynamism of the population, always ready to innovate”. “There are highly educated young people on this continent, who have nothing to envy the French start-upeurs, he wishes to underline. The game is worth the candle “. If the leader acknowledges having spent “the last two very difficult years”, “since the end of 2021, the recovery is strong, he assures. We have since 1er January 2022 two and a half times more orders than for the entire previous year”.

An enthusiasm shared by Guy Losendjo, based in Nice. Founder of the start-up Banafrika, a community platform whose goal is to promote the detection of young African talents through digital technology, this former footballer also feels “more useful” in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Senegal or in Côte d’Ivoire than elsewhere in the world. His sector of activity, sport, is also a less formal domain on the continent, which multiplies the opportunities for Banafrika.

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Daily challenges

Guy Losendjo acknowledges, however, that his activities are sometimes impacted by “distance” and “travel prices”. “Flights from France to Kinshasa, for example, are still very expensive,” he laments. This prevents me from coming into direct contact with my clients. The search for financing is also, as for all entrepreneurs, a challenge. CityTaps, the company of Grégoire Landel, is itself more vulnerable to the volatility of the exchange rates of the countries where it is established, and to that of raw materials. Government interference is also a small daily challenge. “It’s not easy to do business in Africa. But like everywhere else! Each region of the world has its particularities. You just have to be aware of it before you start, ”he warns.

To overcome these potential obstacles, Chapter54 has divided its support into three phases. The first, integration, will aim to facilitate the contact of the young shoots selected with this new professional environment, to which they aspire. The program then offers various webinars that will address questions such as “How to recruit in Africa? », « How do I pay my suppliers or my employees? or “How to work with African telecommunications operators?” “, explains Vincent Previ. During the third phase of the program, each company will be assigned a mentor, a fine connoisseur of the business culture of the country in which it wishes to do business.

Welcome support also offered by Kobo Hub, directly on the continent. Based in Kinshasa since 2018, the incubator supports entrepreneurs in the country who wish to create their company. Its founder, Sidonie Latère, embarked on the entrepreneurial adventure herself a year after her return to the DRC in 2013. Arriving from Belgium, she was immediately impressed by “the country’s potential”. “I saw opportunities everywhere. So I set up a lot of projects… most of which failed brilliantly, she says, laughing. I needed advice. In Belgium, I knew where to knock for training, information and help. In Kinshasa, there was nothing. Hence the creation of Kobo Hub.

Since December, faced with growing demand, the company has also set up in Goma and Lubumbashi. “We teach young people to rely on local actors and, above all, to analyze their environment. It is useless to directly apply its method to the European on an African ground. Once you understand that, success is key. »