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Africa must act or miss the global start-up investment revival

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 16 Oct 2023
Africa’s top one hundred start-ups feature at the  EXpand North Star 2023 start-up exhibition in Dubai.
Africa’s top one hundred start-ups feature at the EXpand North Star 2023 start-up exhibition in Dubai.

Africa should take a cue from the Middle East to attract investment into its start-up ecosystem.

This is one of the key takeaways from the Expand North Star 2023 start-up exhibition,  hosted by the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy (DCDE) from 15 to 18 October alongside the five-day GITEX Global 2023.

The event, inaugurated by Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the first deputy ruler of Dubai, deputy prime minister, and minister of finance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is billed as "the world’s largest tech and start-up show."

Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, President, and CEO of the DCDE, highlighted that this year's event features the Africa Fast 100, showcasing the continent's top 100 start-ups competing for funding against others from around the world and looking to scale.

Africa boast abundant innovation and the world's youngest population, Lootah said. "Most of the innovation nowadays comes from the young population, that’s why I think in the future we will see more innovation, more technology, especially from Africa.”

Lootah emphasised the opportunity for African entrepreneurs to connect with global start-up ecosystems and government representatives from trade and industry in key markets such as Dubai, and noted that the DCDE expanded its Africa presence . 

He added that the DCDE has expanded its Africa presence to seven offices, including a recently opened office in Johannesburg.

Replicate successful models

The speakers at the event urged Africa’s start-ups to act in order to anchor investment interest from venture capitalists focused on the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region.

The DCDE said that UAE companies clinched the lion’s share of US$4 billion in start-up funding across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in 2022, fetching investments to the tune of US$1.85 billion across 250 deals, a 5% increase in value over the previous year.

Meanwhile, according to Disrupt Africa’s ‘Africa Tech Startups Funding Report’, Q3 2023 saw African tech start-ups raising a total of US$492 million, bringing the year-to-date total to US$1.4 billion as of October 2023. This represents a 48% year-on-year decrease, mirroring the global trend of reduced investment amid a challenging economic climate. Disrupt Africa anticipates a regressive trend in investment levels for the rest of the year.

The DCDE says GITEX Global 2023 showcases use cases across multiple sectors that African start-ups can leverage to gain insights on rapid scaling, refine their business pitches to investors, and secure funding.

Representatives from various African start-ups, interviewed by ITWeb at the event, expressed confidence in the continent's ability to overcome challenges and enhance its international technology prowess.

Majdeddine Soufi, founder and CEO of Wisevision, a Tunisian start-up specialising in developing AI solutions for retailers, said his country’s government has established a committee to oversee start-up projects and funding pitches. “This will definitely help new businesses to enter the market and help businesses to benefit from technology like AI.”

Victor Akpan, CEO and founder of Gifty, a Nigeria-based digital shop maker, said noted, “Nigeria has an established start-up ecosystem, but we need to do more to ensure that everyone is able to benefit.”

Hamza El Bakkali, MD at Moroccan start-up Big Blue Logistics, said Morocco is aggressively pursuing start-up development, particularly for those incorporating AI into their services and products.

Organisers say over 1 800 start-ups are expected to attend the Expand North Star event, alongside 1 000 investors from 70 countries, with US$1 trillion under management. The event will culminate with the Supernova Challenge, a pitch competition with a prize fund of US$200 000.