Only 14 West African startups raised $10m+ in the last decade

by | Nov 3, 2020

Jumia’s success as a Unicorn born out of Africa has not halted the search for another.

Coined in the US, the Unicorn term describes startups or companies worldwide that have reached $1 billion in valuation either because of private equity or going public (IPO).

And while the race to build the next African Unicorn is still on, we’ve come to terms with the high-flying Gazelles around the continent that we hold in high esteem.

At the TechCrunch Disrupt event last year, Senegalese venture capitalist, Marième Diop gave a different description of the moniker that has been in use for up to five years.

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Of the opinion that Africa’s harsh business environment made it difficult to create Unicorns, she encouraged founders to try to build more Gazelles.

“It might be a better option to set lower revenue expectations and have startups list on local exchanges to raise capital from IPOs when they’re ready. We may be able to create more Gazelles at home than Unicorns abroad,” she said.

Gazelles on the West African scene

According to Diop, Gazelles are startups with a $100 million valuation or more while generating $15 to $50 million in annual revenue.

While these figures aren’t set in stone, we have an idea of Diop’s philosophy: Gazelles are startups that have secured eight figures in money raised and revenue, and an eight to nine-figure valuation.

Launched last month, Techpoint Africa’s West African Startup Decade Report highlights the funding activities of startups in the region between 2010 and 2019.

However, only Millionaire West African Startups (MWAS) were featured. In other words, startups that each raised $1 million or more cumulatively in the last decade.

Our research shows that although 51 startups fall into this category, only 14 (27.45%) raised $10m or more.

For these startups that can be called Gazelles, the recently-acquired Nigerian payments startup, Paystack, is a hallmark. Before joining Stripe, the US payments giant, for $200m, Paystack had cumulatively raised $11.675 million in seed and Series A rounds between 2016 and 2018.

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Interestingly, of the 14 startups to have achieved this feat in West Africa, only 2 (with expat founders) have gone on to raise $100m or more cumulatively. That being said, the West African Decade report also shows that only one of these startups didn’t launch from Nigeria or isn’t Nigerian-based.

Tage Kene-Okafor
Tage Kene-Okafor

Endlessly amused by technology. @ulonnaya

On January 22, 2022, be part of the largest gathering of innovators, startup founders, thinkers, programmers, policymakers, and investors in West Africa. Register free.

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