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12 African startups to watch in 2021

It has been a tough past year in many respects, but the African startup space has shown great strength and tenacity in the face of adversity, and we’ve had a constant stream of positive news stories coming from startups continent-wide throughout 2020.

But who impressed us the most over the past year? Who should you be keeping an eye out for? Well, just for you, our readers, we’ve compiled our annual pick of the top 12 African startups to watch in 2021.

NORTH AFRICA

Thndr

Egyptian investtech startup Thndr is already making waves, despite only formally launching in 2020.  The startup has developed an investment platform that makes it easy to invest in stocks, bonds, and funds, completely commission free.

Having raised pre-seed funding in December 2019, Thndr made it into the Y Combinator Summer 2020 batch, and followed up by securing the first new brokerage license granted by Egypt’s Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA) in over a decade.

We’re certain we’ll be seeing exciting developments from Thndr over the next 12 months (and beyond).

Ordera

Egypt’s food-delivery startup Ordera hit the ground running with its launch in 2019, promptly getting among 20 companies picked for the Saudi Arabia-based accelerator programme run by 500 Startups and Misk Innovation.  By mid-2020, Ordera was announcing a six-figure seed funding round to help it expand its team and launch in new cities.

With the startup saying it witnessed an uptick in the number of users and orders as well as the number of restaurants and outlets listed on its platform since the COVID-19 pandemic, we think Ordera will be one of the big positive news stories emerging from the tribulations of 2020.

Onboard

Tunisian venture Onboard has been around for a few years already, but 2020 saw things pick up pace and we think the momentum will keep on rolling.  The startup offers a SaaS platform transforming customer experience management for hardware providers, with 3D smart manuals.

In May, Onboard was picked for the Flat6Labs Tunis accelerator programme, receiving US$65,000 in funding; followed by a further US$175,000 funding boost from Kepple Africa Ventures and two local entrepreneurs.

2020 saw a private beta, the launch of a 1.0 version of the platform, and the announcement of plans for European expansion – we’ll sit back and watch for what 2021 has in store.

EAST AFRICA

MarketForce

Launched in 2018, Kenya’s retail-tech startup MarketForce has had a huge year in 2020, and we think it’s a sign of what’s to come in 2021. 

The startup kicked off the year as one of 11 companies selected to pitch at the Africa Startup Summit, powered by Disrupt Africa. In May, MarketForce raised US$350,000 in seed funding; followed by being the only Sub-Saharan African company selected for the Y Combinator Summer 2020 batch, securing US$150,000 in funding.

In December, the startup introduced a new B2B e-commerce marketplace, with plans to scale it up to new locations in 2021, and add new services to its offering.  We can’t wait to see the action.

Eversend

Ugandan fintech Eversend has been gaining momentum for a couple of years with its multi-currency e-wallet, but in 2020 it hit the headlines with the only notable crowdfunding round of the year.  The startup pulled off an oversubscribed Seedrs campaign, securing EUR897,000 (US$1.015 million) in investment.

Over the last 19 months, Eversend has been selected to take part in the Westerwelle Young Founders Programme; the Google Launchpad Africa accelerator; the CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa programme; and won the Helsinki-based Slush startup competition at the end of 2019.  Add to this prep a million dollar funding boost, and we think 2021 has big things in store for this startup.

Amitruck

Kenya’s Amitruck launched its P2P trucking logistics marketplace in 2019, intent on disrupting the country’s difficult and inefficient road transportation network by connecting transporters directly with cargo owners, skipping out middlemen and making pricing more competitive.

We’ve seen impressive growth in the startup’s first year; with its customer-side mobile app downloaded more than 10,000 times, and revenues growing by 300 per cent over 12 months.

Amitruck has made it into a number of accelerators, most recently the Africa Transformative Mobility Accelerator, and secured funding and company building support from GreenTec Capital Partners. We’re betting on these guys to have a great 2021.

SOUTHERN AFRICA

reOS

In the pipeline for three years, proptech startup reOS finally launched to the public towards the end of 2020, with backing from heavyweight local angels including Bill Paladino and Mark Forrester.

Step one for reOS is to thoroughly shake-up the South African real estate space with its task automation tool for rental professionals, following which the startup has plans to disrupt international markets.  In fact, managing director Craig Buckley gave us the lowdown on the startups plans for real estate domination in episode 12 of Disrupt Podcast.  

We’re expecting an exciting ride in 2021.

PremierCredit

Zambian micro-lending platform PremierCredit has had a whirlwind of a time since launching in 2019.  The startup – which offers micro-loans to Zambian entrepreneurs and small scale traders, primarily women – has already launched operations in Zimbabwe in partnership with a local bank, providing affordable bicycles, smartphones and solar equipment on a pay-as-you-go (PAYG) basis.

In December, we heard the news that PremierCredit had secured US$650,000 in funding from Enygma Ventures, to support further expansion across the SADC region. 

This female-owned business has a bright 2021 ahead of it, and we look forward to watching the growth.

The Gradient Boost

Arguably the wildcard of our list for 2020, South African startup The Gradient Boost launched its online mentor-guided data science school in May, seeking to make digital learning more efficient by combining its data science modules with guidance from experienced mentors.

Early graduates from the programme have been picked up by companies such as Sparkle, Spacepen and Investec; and in October The Gradient Boost announced a seed funding round allowing it to expand into Nigeria.

We think this is definitely an ed-tech startup worth keeping a keen eye on in 2021.

WEST AFRICA

Gozem

In West Africa, our eyes are firmly following Togolese startup Gozem, which hit the ground running at the end of 2018 and has been speeding forwards its goal of becoming a regional all-inclusive “super-app”.

Initially a motorbike ride-hailing service, Gozem quickly added car taxis, rickshaw hailing, expanded to Benin, launched e-commerce delivery services, and finally acquired Togo’s leading food delivery app Delivroum in October.

The startup won’t be slowing down in 2021, and we’re looking forward to seeing the next steps in the race to be West Africa’s first super-app.

Vybe

With Africans having access to less than 40 per cent of the world’s top 10 dating apps, Nigeria’s Vybe has decided to take matters into their own hands, launching a dating app designed by Africans, for Africans in 2019.

The market has proven keen – over 10,000 users across 65 countries have joined the platform, available in English and French.  And, the startup was one of 12 startups selected for the 2020 edition of Disrupt Africa’s Pitch Live, which took place virtually at Africa Tech Summit Connects in October. 

With the world more in need of online networks to forge connections than ever before, we’re excited to see what’s up next for Vybe in 2021.

WellaHealth

Although WellaHealth has been around since 2015, the startup pivoted late 2019 and its new focus is attracting more attention.  Initially an e-health startup focusing on pharmacy automation, WellaHealth has pivoted towards fintech, and now offers affordable healthcare coverage to protect families from the financial shock that comes from unexpected health emergencies.

By March, the all-new WellaHealth had been selected to join Founders Factory Africa’s Venture Scale programme; and in July WellaHealth was named as one of three African startups to receive capital and business support from global fintech accelerator Catalyst Fund.

So on the back of this flurry of activity and traction, we think this pivot might have been just what WellaHealth needed to see great growth in 2021.

While you’re at it, check out our picks for 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. And here’s how our 2020 selection got on!

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