Perspective: Africa’s top 20 startups as ranked by Forbes

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The February edition of Forbes Africa has a feature profiling the top 20 startups from the African continent. As expected, mobile played a dominant role with Mxit coming up tops as the most promising startup. In the truest sense of the word startup, Mxit might not qualify as it went through institutional investors and is more than seven years old. Definitions and valuations aside, the geographical origins of the startups profiled serves as yet another call to action for those of us in Zimbabwe.

Our neighbours down south or continental buddies up north might have more developed economies with easier access to skills and funding, however as determined at BarCamp 2011, what makes things happen is a robust community. It might begin as a trickle but the more we work towards a shared interest, the more prospects arise for individual startups.

*The quality of the above ranking by Forbes is heavily influenced by the fact that the publication is based in South Africa, however the geographical distribution would remain the same if the ranking were to be redone. The fact is that there is no Zimbabwean startup that would make it…

Each of the startups that are listed in the feature are from countries with a deep rooted technology ecosystem. By deep rooted l’m not only referring to money or skills but more importantly to community. Both funding and skills are critical to succeed however they are not a prerequisite in their entirety. We must organise ourselves such that the skills laden diaspora or overflowing venture capitalists find a compelling reason to join us. Africa is on the cusp of a great ICT revolution, Zimbabweans are a part of many of the companies driving this revolution, it’s about time we channel this energy in an appropriate manner.

In 2011, the spark happened. With the commitment of ZOL and other partners, Both BarCamp and the Startup Challenge took place. These events might not have been perfect but real people with a common interest came together. I’ve been amazed by the linkages that happened thereafter as developers, entrepreneurs and other professionals got connected.

It is also heartening to note that 6TM Solutions, a startup that pitched at the Startup Challenge, didn’t give up after not making through to the local event. They proceeded to become a finalist at Seedcamp Paris, Europe’s most prestigious startup accelerator. As if this is not good enough, 6TM recently qualified for the San Francisco (Silicon Valley) based New Me Accelerator 2012 batch. It would be mischievous to attribute their success to BarCamp and ZOL, however l am of the opinion that they built on such an experience and are now making the most of their passion.

We must continue to build a meritocracy in which people are given an opportunity to connect and develop with likeminded peers. Perhaps next year’s Forbes feature will have a Zimbabwean startup, l have no doubt that this and much more is possible…



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43 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I think Yola should be the first on that list if its money we are talking about. Mxit has been in business for 10 years so thats expected.

    How does Flo Cash get ranked as an African start-up when its from UK?
    I know someone will try and shoot me but in any case then Yola is from the Silicon Valley since that’s were its now located.

    Reply
  2. Aaa

    Im actually thinking, when will i make it on such a list, as a Zimba i have taken it upon myself, to be the change that i want, so watch that space 2 years from now :-)
    And @eb4b6134f24782361286aae36f1423cb:disqus  Mixit is the most popular, and @Nerudo:disqus  we will get past joomla im sure, lol . .

    Reply
  3. Clinton D. Mutambo

    Joomla is not the problem. classifieds.co.zw is probably Zimbabwe’s most profitable web platform and its powered by Joomla. The problem dwells in poisonous “get rich quick” mindsets. Such thinking leads to shoddy work, lack of proper research and dishonesty. @Nerudo:disqus you couldn’t have put it any better; its all in the mind.

    Reply
  4. Chirau

    The thing that comes to mind after reading the article is, what is it about our culture and technology that hinders us from getting noticed or coming up with catchy original ideas for apps and sites, are we so out of touch with tech and development that within our borders we actually don’t have an outstanding platform that’s a sign of innovation in our country. I think of ecocash, maybe etxt but even those ideas are copycats of something out there.

    Of course Joomla is popular because it looks nice and is open source, what more would you want, it a start. It’s a lot of sacrifice and hard work to be relevant in tech and lets face it in our country this doesn’t come easy, not because people aren’t interested, besides a solid resource base, institutional investors and fanatical hobbyists, it’s most likely will not be profitable to develop from Zimbabwe, in my mind I’m still trying to think what we have to put out on the table in the tech space for Africa and beyond.

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  5. Chanyani

    Just checked Joomla in wikipedia. The stuff uses MVC and OOP. What’s wrong with that. Maybe I am missing something. Programmers love OOP!

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    1. Anonymous

       I guess I could churn out a shitty framework based on the MVC aproach with an OOP methodology just that would make it awesome I guess.

      OOP is just a methodology or parten WHY and any developer can impliment it on any language! that however doesn’t make his code clean/efficient etc.

      MVC is also nothing but just a programming approach you could use that approach on almost anything you dev

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      1. Chanyani

        I still do not get it. Are people compaling about Jamoola because they have inspected the code of others and found it not smart! Please let me in on why there is compalints about Jamoola. Are Zimbos using OOP and MVC capable tools to produce junk??

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

           I have over nemerous times been laughed at the moment I mention Im Zimbabwean at meetups. And have had given 2 keynotes on why I hate it.
          Zimbabwean developers and zimbabwean sites are nothing but joomla templates all across the .co.zw space its what they know best download install and plug it plug it plug it insert images and a featrured slider with nothing but poorly done graphics.

          Its just a MESS. lOOK AT http://www.sha.co.w  ndohwa kunyara eish

          Reply
          1. Chanyani

            Oh. Now I get it. The complaint is on pulling templates. Yes I have had the same dissapointment with what I consider “good”programmers (i.e. the guys I trained at NUST or mentored). My recent experiance is when i gave a guy a simple task to write a VB.NET based business object to access Office documents, shapefiles and CAD drawing. Guy pulled some content management called Alfresco, burried it under his code and claimed that he had coded the work. Its only when he failed to integrate it into the document management components I had written that his lie came to light. Yes we need people who can roll their sleeves and build code from scratch at times.

          2. Tapiwa ✔

            @Chinyani:twitter – thank you for getting to the bottom of the general negative sentiment towards Joomla… it turns out there is nothing inherently wrong with the CMS itself, but how the less-skilled use it… it’s basically a subset of what I think about most PHP ‘developers’. If they can make Joomla insecure, imagine the amount of havok they would wreak when they code everything from scratch as is being suggested by some quarters…

            People feel good about themselves when criticising, but fail when it comes to suggesting viable solutions. Joomla is clearly a lesser evil

    1. Clinton D. Mutambo

      Because the list was done by South Africans that are probably struggling to swallow the fact that Kenya is now the tech hub of Africa (with all its problems & GNU government like us…). Nokia recently made it its R & D hub for India, the Middle East and Africa. You’re right, Ushahidi has made much more of a measurable global impact than Mxit. It was even used in Japan during their earthquake…

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

         No no no no thats were I think even the editor got it wrong.

        When people say a certain market is experiencing the highest growth that doesnt mean it is now the highest valued market. Angola is currently the highest growing mobile economy that doesnt mean they are top of the money chain they are just “Growing” so applies to Kenya.

        Mxit is not the toy story you hear of, there is whats called the Mxit Group. Bear in mind Mxit is not an App like most of you think Mxit is a marketing agency they make money of their network and moola revenue name it. That does mean they do deserve to be at the top south african or not. Mxit has all financial due right to be ontop its not a growing network its a Matured start-up those start-uips you mention are simply popular by demographic influence and wont be able to reach up to the money Mxit has ammassed to this point.

        South Africa is a Mobile first world kenya or not! And that wont just change coz Obama is funding his mum and fathers children back home.

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        1. Clinton D. Mutambo

          You’re right @Nerudo:disqus : South Africa is a “mobile first world”. Unfortunately the rest of Africa lives in the third world. This is why companies like Cellulant Kenya are striking deals with titans like Barclays Africa to power up ALL its mobile banking needs across Africa. 

          Beneath the sunny surface of Cape Town, Sandton or Stellenbosch lies a 3rd world so big SA has the world’s highest inequality rate. But we never get to see or hear much of it. I’m inspired by the progress Kenya has made and also believe South Africa can play an important role as well.

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          1. Anonymous

             You are right Kenya is coming to the shore all thanks to the Black president. SA is quite mature as a market and has the ability to shit inline with trends looking only at Yola which could verily be measured across africa in suceess even in the growth of Kenyan start-ups.

            Kenyan start-up thrive on VC something that SA start-ups are at a disadvantage at

  6. Chirau

    Mxit has nothing on WhatsApp or even Nimbuzz those are fanastic products without a doubt, Kakoa Messenger http://www.kakao.com/talk/en has already amassed 38 million users and is relatively new but for Africans I guess mxit is ok. My point is as well as the company has done there product is not really something to have bragging rights to in terms of unique innovation, it’s simply something else on the shelf from numerous products. Yes for a feature phone mxit is probably the way forward but when you look at smart phone segment it’s got some serious rivals something they may need to consider competing with

    Reply
      1. Chirau

        Forgive my assumption I  was looking at the number 1 tech product from Africa according to Forbes that is, it’s “core competence” which would be social networking and the various platforms it incorporates and how versatile it actually is. 

        Yes it’s business model is a monetized one of ads but I find it a very difficult app to get used to for starters, numerous failed download requests, painful installations at times requiring more than a single attempt although not unique to mxit, a difficult to get .jar file and it’s only last year they switched to m. instead of www. and had a steady build for the desktop platform and a half decent smart phone version 6 that is.

        I hate looking at the negatives of a number 1 product but you find it’s not an epitome of software design whether it’s considered truly African or not.

        Will my comments take away it’s popularity or dissuade those who like it from using it or rather bragging about it, certainly not! But  giving it the title “Top startup” would be disappointing, it is by no means a start up, it’s been around and recently got acquired. To conclude I say remove it from this category it just doesn’t do the word “start up” any justice.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

           You are very right on that and yes Mxit has had issues lately and will still do. SA has a very big skills gap and it continues to grow which makes these guys opt to get Indian devs etc to work on their products and inturn they never really get anywere

          Reply
  7. Chanyani

    The kenyan and south african tech markets are quite interesting. was just following an analysis of why UCT and Stellenbosch are the only africa universities with meaningful world rankings. kenya is doing just fine believe me.

    Reply
  8. Clinton D. Mutambo

    Why is it that whenever we try to put heads together the topic always gets derailed into who’s better or blah blah blah than blah blah blah. I believe everyone can make a meaningful contribution in their own special ways. Lets do so. Ask not what your ecosystem can do for you but what you can do for your ecosystem. The clicky, selfish culture we were becoming used to as a nation will not work moving forward.

    Reply
    1. Chanyani

      Software developers, by nature, are quite passinate about their tools. I used to run a software house with four programmers and the fight on which tool is better than which one was a dailly ritual. I let that go on but just managed the delivery side of code and things worked just fine. As long as you are in the creative space of software development, the who/which is better than what is part of the deal. open source vs microsoft, oracle vs ms-sql, java vs .net, VB vs C#, .The good thing about Zim discussions is that they are civil!

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

       Developers anywhere form a community and unless that community is driven in unison we end up with those that stick to Fotran instead of embarrassing the collective other languages that are more efficient for example.
      Don’t get our negation to the bad practices some developers have as being merely criticism. Unless a developer catches up with the ever changing trend that very community gets pulled back. This thing of doing things the wrong way only harms the market and in turn the community. If you are going to just pull down some template and sale it for $100 as a website someone down the line in the same market will suffer a major loss not because he is uncompetitive but you just got money the very wrong way and added to the very old junk we have to get rid of.
      As developers we collectively create trends and pass the bill to clients and unless we look to create efficient trends we never get anywere. We kill each other by allowing edyots to harm the good work that costs more from a dedicated team member of the community who is doing it the right way.

      Reply
      1. Chanyani

        I agree with you. I develop enterprise software and in that market you get a young guy pulling an open source ERP, hawking it at US 200 and then dissapearing. The ceo then develops cold feet about buying local software at reasonable prices. he will prefare an off-shore solution that costs an arm and a leg. i believe educating the market on the proper cost of developing software and on the skills required to do this is the way to go.

        Reply
        1. Anonymous

           If we develop skill then we will all look to perform better and get better out of our labour than look to cripple those that are doing a Good jb by pricing Code like Tomatoes

          Reply
          1. Chanyani

            Confusious (some Chinese philosopher who goes by a name silimilar to that) says: Tomatoe healthier than coke, so tomatoe should cost more than coke!! hahaha!

  9. Alpesh Patel

    they did not mention Mi-Fone THE FIRST African Mobile Devices brand . Now in its 4th year having surpassed $20m in revenues where most start ups take 5 years to even get to revenue stage. With a penetration into 12 African countries Mi-Fone is a true Pan African start up to Early growth company. 
    Start ups are not all about software and app companies. Technology is technology whether its hardware or software 

    Reply

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