The global climate has now become increasingly favourable to the growth of startups. CB insights reports that there are 1,087 unicorn – billion-dollar – startups in the world as of April, 2022. US and China dominate the list, both accounting for over 67% of the world’s unicorn startups.
In recent years, African startups have shown a significant presence on the list of unicorns. Before 2016, there was not a single African unicorn, but now, Africa boasts of a number who have been able to attain unicorn status. This development is not only brewing confidence in the future of the continent for Africans in Africa, but also for foreign investors. Fintech startups have proven to be the giants of African startups, but companies such as Jumia and Andela have also soared to that status. Several African companies are also on their way to attaining unicorn status.
This article will address both African-based and African-owned startups who have hit the billion-dollar mark.
Valuation: $3 billion.
The Nigerian-owned and US-headquartered Flutterwave now dominates Africa’s payment space. Flutterwave facilitates international online transactions for individuals and companies in Africa. The company also has an online marketplace and remittance service that enables its customers to send money to and from the continent. It has operations in Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana and 7 other African countries.
The company was founded by Olugbenga Agboola (the current CEO), Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Adeleke Adekoya in 2016 in Lagos, Nigeria. The decision to have its second headquarters in San Francisco later on was for the purpose of reflecting the company’s transformation to a global company.
Flutterwave tripled its valuation to $3 billion with its series D funding round which raised $250 million in February, 2022. The funding round was led by B Capital Group amongst others. Since its inception, Flutterwave has raised a total of $475 million from funding.
Chipper Cash (Uganda, Ghana)
Valuation: $2 billion
Chipper Cash is a company that facilitates intra-African payment. The fintech giant builds software that enables free and instant peer-to-peer transactions across Africa. They also recently started remittance from the US and UK to some African countries. The platform currently has over 4 million users.
The company was founded in 2018 by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled who are both based in San Francisco. It currently has operations in Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa, and Kenya.
In May last year, the company hit a $2 billion valuation following its $100 million Series C round of funding led by SVB Capital, Bezos Expedition and others. Six months later, the company saw another round of funding, its Series C extension which was led by Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange platform.
Valuation: $2 billion
OPay is another fintech company that facilitates mobile payments. The platform enables its users to send and receive money, pay bills and perform other online transactions. Unlike the aforementioned companies, OPay operates like a neo bank, offering personal accounts with debit cards. The company also offers logistics, food delivery and motorcycle hailing services.
OPay was founded in 2018 by Chinese Yahul Zhou with a focus on Nigeria, and Africa at large. Since its inception, it has raised a total of $570 million in funding. Its latest Series C round of funding raised the company to a $2 billion valuation. Its investors include Chinese financiers, Softbank and IDG Capital.
Valuation: $1.7 billion
Wave works with mobile money accounts to provide peer-to-peer money transfer services with a maximum of 1% fee. It was launched by two Americans, Drew Durbin and Lincoln Quirk in Senegal in 2017. A spin-off of SendWave, Wave was created to serve the underbanked African population and facilitate mobile money transactions. It became a subsidiary of WorldRemit in 2020.
Wave’s $200 million Series A round of funding in September, 2021 catapulted it to unicorn status, with a valuation of $1.7 billion. This made it the first unicorn in Francophone Africa. Apart from Senegal, Wave now has operations in Cote D’Ivoire and Uganda, with plans to expand into other African markets. It currently has over 5 million users.
Valuation: $1.5 billion.
Andela is a global HR solutions provider. It is a Nigerian-based network that connects international companies with the best software engineers in emerging markets. The company was founded in 2016 by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji (also known for Flutterwave), Ian Carnevale, Jeremey Johnson and Christiana Sass. It has since seen immense growth, especially now that the world is leaning more and more towards remote work environments. The company started with 7 countries in 2014, but now has operations in over 80 countries in 6 continents.
Andela has raised a total of $381 million in multiple rounds of funding since its inception in Lagos. Its latest Series E funding in September 2021 was valued at $200 million and elevated it to unicorn status. The funding round was led by Soft Bank’s “SoftBank Vision Fund 2” seed.
Valuation: $1 billion
Interswitch is a company that enables integrated digital payments. The Lagos-headquartered fintech was founded by Mitchell Elegbe in 2002, pioneering digital payments in an economy that was predominantly cash-based at the time. Since its inception, Interswitch has provided 22 million “Verve” debit and credit cards. Currently, up to 190,000 businesses use Interswitch to process payments. Aside from Nigeria, the company also operates in Uganda and Kenya.
Interswitch became a unicorn in 2019, after Visa acquired a 20% stake in the company with $200 million.
Esusu ($1 billion)
Valuation: $1 billion
Esusu is a fintech platform that helps individuals save and build credit by reporting rent data to credit bureaus. It was founded in 2016 by Nigerian Abbey Wemimo and Indian Samir Goel, and is based in New York. The company reached fintech status in January after the SoftBank-led Series B funding round of $130 million. Esusu made the Forbes Fintech 50 list in 2021.
The company reports rent payment data for over 2 million rental units across all 50 states in the United States. Esusu has partnerships with top US property managers like Mercy Housing, WinnResidential and Goldman Sachs Asset Management.
Valuation: $0.8 billion (as of April 25, 2022)
Jumia dubbed “the Amazon of Africa” is an e-commerce site that operates in several African countries and has its headquarters in Germany. Jumia was founded in Nigeria in 2012 by former McKinsey consultants, Jérémy Hodara and Sacha Poignonnec along with Tunde Kehinde and Raphael Kofi Afaedor. It now operates in Ghana, Egypt, Morocco, Côte D’Ivoire, Kenya, South Africa and some other African countries. Jumia recently launched other platforms such as Jumia Food, Jumia Travel, Jumia Deals and Jumia Pay.
Jumia is technically not a unicorn startup anymore as it went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 2019 and has a current valuation below $1 billion. However, before it went public, the company became Africa’s first unicorn in 2016 with a valuation of $1.1 billion. In its IPO on the stock market, Jumia raised $196 million in net proceeds. Its share price more than doubled in the first three trading sessions, but after reaching a peak of almost $50 (from $14.5), the share value declined significantly. As of today, its share price is $7.9, but the prices are constantly fluctuating.
Valuation: $0.87 billion.
Fawry is an e-payment network that enables customers to settle bills online and digitally through ATMs, retail Points of Sale (POS) and digital wallets. Fawry currently operates more than 60,000 service points. The company was launched in Egypt in 2009 by Ashraf Sabry to facilitate payments for individuals and business owners in Egypt, since traffic congestion and complex procedures posed serious obstacles.
Fawry is also technically not a unicorn as it is public and has a current valuation below the billion-dollar mark. However, in 2021, the company attained a $2 billion valuation before it dropped and is largely considered a startup.
Some honourable mentions are American-based City Block Health and Calendly which were co-founded and founded, respectively, by Nigerians. City Block is a health-tech company worth $5 billion while Calendly is a modern scheduling platform worth $3 billion.