Where in the World Is AlliedCrowds? Dispatch from Nairobi

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The following was written by Anton Root, Head of Research.

One of the many of advantages of working for a startup like AlliedCrowds is the flexibility it affords. We make decisions quickly, aren’t intimidated by trying something new, and get to optimize our working arrangement.

So when our CTO Malcolm and I decided to spend a part of the summer working from Nairobi, the trip came together in a matter of days.

While I’m currently back in London, after spending a month in Nairobi, Malcolm has decided to stay an extra month to experience the city and build out our network. Looking back at a month filled with new experiences, exciting insights, and countless meetings, here are a few takeaways from our trip to Nairobi:

  1. The entrepreneurial culture is vibrant. The vast majority of people we encountered in Nairobi had very much a can do attitude, and were looking to do business. Indeed, many companies we met were looking to make it easier for others to do business. These included flexible and fast mobile lending platforms that helped vendors to purchase stock in the mornings, as well as startups that are helping small vendors simplify their value chain via mobile. But the can do attitude extended beyond startups and SMEs to everyday interactions. One example — I landed in Nairobi at 6am with no apartment lined up. Within hours, I had visited nearly a dozen apartments, and was able to sign a lease by 5:30pm. Compared with the process of moving to London (complete with tedious background and reference checks, and days or weeks of visiting flats), securing an apartment in Nairobi was a relative a breeze. Another example is an Uber driver who drove us 5 hours to the Masai Mara National Reserve in a car nowhere close to being equipped for off-road travel (which much of the trip ended up entailing).
  2. The alternative finance space still has plenty of room to grow. According to our database, there are nearly 250 alternative finance providers (angel investors, crowdfunding platforms, impact investors, VCs, private equity firms, and public/semi-public funders) operating in Kenya. Most of the existing players know each other well, however, and it’s a close-knit community. We were referred to the same investors by different stakeholders, and we often bumped into people we had met with outside of work. While there are constantly new investors from the region (and further afield) exploring the market, there are still plenty of opportunities for funders to enter the promising market.
  3. There’s a need for better resources to help entrepreneurs fundraise. While we met with several advisors in Nairobi that are doing important work for SMEs, there is a dearth of similar resources for smaller startups that may not have the intrinsic appeal of a tech firm. As Thomas Sankara writes, the vast majority of funding in East Africa goes to expatriate founders. A lot of that has to do with investors’ relative inexperience with working in the region, to be sure. But better training for African founders on how to pitch to foreign investors may help to close the funding gap. Additionally, with the ecosystem being as tight-knit as it is, figuring out who to contact in order to get a foot in the door is highly important — we think the Capital Finder can be a great help here.

As AlliedCrowds continues to grow, we’ll be taking the time to travel to new destinations. We’ll keep our followers updated on where we’re coming to next — don’t be shy and let us know if you’d like to meet!

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Cryptocurrencies on the Blockchain: Recent Developments in Africa

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Written by Akachi Obijiaku.

Recently, there has been a rise in discussions concerning blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies. While some have been speculative, blockchain does indeed hold the potential to facilitate innovation and connect people in developing countries who, traditionally, have had limited access to financial services.

In simplest terms, a blockchain is a distributed ledger. Its decentralized nature implies that it does not need to be managed by a central authority. This reduces transaction costs, as the need for an intermediary is eliminated, and people can engage in transparent transactions.

Africa’s Blockchain: Potential Use Cases

The instability of central authorities in various African countries is a serious problem that blockchain frameworks can tackle. Nasdaq, for example, believes Bitcoin is immune to local inflation, which arises due to recurring political conflict, war, or, simply, mismanagement.

Another notable benefit of cryptocurrencies lies in its security. With a cryptographic-oriented protocol, information on the blockchain is highly unlikely to be alterable, as records cannot be retracted. For example, in African countries, SMEs and service providers can enter into agreements with one another on the blockchain without red tape and fear of fraud. A ‘smart contract’ can significantly reduce (or even do away with) settlement times and automatically make payments to either parties when all conditions of the business agreement have been made. Such self-executing financial contracts on the blockchain also imply that counterparty risk is reduced and, thus, they present a novel way of combating fraud and corruption (which are prominent in many developing countries such as Botswana, South Africa and Nigeria). In Africa alone, economic crime has risen by 70% since 2015.

Using cryptocurrencies (such as Bitcoin), people in emerging markets are able to move assets transnationally and escape the relatively heavy costs associated with such transfers. An interoperable system currency such as Bitcoin can make cross-border trade significantly easier. A potentially fruitful use case for this would be in Zimbabwe, where the national currency has collapsed and has engendered the use of US dollars and Chinese yuan locally; it presents an ideal test for Bitcoin as a back-end trading currency. In fact, Zimbabwean bitcoin startup, BitFinance, has just announced plans to test that idea.

However, Africa is home to only 1.4% of blockchain companies globally. There needs to be much more traction in order for such African startups to start making significant social impact. Bankymoon is an example of a company that is exploring the applications of blockchain in frontier markets. Operating out of South Africa, it aims to provide Bitcoin payment gateways to vendors of smart meters and cut out costly local authorities.

Potential Challenges

From peer-to-peer micropayments to cross-border transactions, blockchain holds hope for a future where there are reduced financial inefficiencies and more inclusive growth. If African nations can support the development of this technology — for example, through building and promoting technology hubs — they will become beneficiaries of transactional security. Nonetheless, it is essential that governments willing to experiment with this nascent financial instrument focus on the practicalities of it, rather than the hype. The functioning of blockchain applications, for example, is energy-intensive. This means that societies with poor power supply are likely to get left behind.

Hence, to really make blockchain inclusive, governments in emerging economies will need to lay a strong structural foundation and work in close partnership with entrepreneurs. Proper institutional buy-in would be needed for Bitcoin to be operational in developing societies, and a good first step would be to clarify its legalities and the extent to which it can be treated as legal tender in various jurisdictions.

Image: ‘Bitcoin‘ by fdecomite

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Entrepreneurship Education in Africa

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Written by Akachi Obijiaku. 

Despite Africa’s reputation as the world’s next economic frontier, the continent’s expansion has created insufficient jobs and the high unemployment rates pose threats for the next generation. This points to a greater need for entrepreneurship education in Africa.

University of Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship predicts that over 600 million jobs need to be created by 2020 just to keep employment levels the same in the developing world; in sub-Saharan Africa alone, long-term unemployment among youth is estimated to be 48%.

To foster an entrepreneurial culture, effective entrepreneurial education among youth is much needed. Indeed, several studies have shown that specialized education directed toward entrepreneurship is a strong motivator that can engender a startup mentality among students. Such education can equip African youth with the knowledge needed to be self-reliant and manage SMEs, creating jobs and boosting economic growth in the process.

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Alternative Finance in Africa Report Released

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crowdfunding newsWe’re excited to announce the inaugural Developing World Alternative Finance report! The first edition focuses on the state of alternative finance in Africa.

The report is based on data from the AlliedCrowds Capital Finder, a database of over 6,500 alternative capital providers across the world. These include angel investing networks, VCs, private equity firms, impact funds, crowdfunding platforms, DFIs, accelerators, and more. The providers are categorized by sector type (agriculture, healthcare, etc.), as well as the type of capital they provide (equity, loan, grant/donation).

This report focuses on Africa, which is an emerging continent for alternative finance. It highlights western Africa as an emerging region, and shows unique data on the continent’s alternative finance ecosystem.

Data in the report

The data in the report includes:

  • Ranking of African countries by strength of alternative finance
  • Top sectors in Africa
  • Breakdown of provider types
  • and much more!

Click here to view the report!

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Crowdfunding Solar Energy in Africa

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Written by Akachi Obijiaku

Access to electricity in Africa is poor; over 45% of sub-Saharan Africans (almost a billion people) are without energy access. Current deployment rates suggest that it will be 2080 before every African has adequate access. Further compounding the problem is that over 60% of the energy supply in Africa is from fossil fuels, while just about 1% is made up of wind, solar and geothermal sources. Innovative government-supported (but not necessarily government-run) financing options and entrepreneurial initiatives might prove to be beneficial in sparking change.

To avoid the deleterious effects of carbon-intensive economic growth, there will need to be an energy revolution in the region, one which is smart and dependent on client-resilient infrastructure and the plentiful renewable energy sources. A diversification of energy sources seems crucial at this point, and off-grid solar solutions are becoming increasingly relevant. Some leaders, like Oxfam’s executive director Winnie Byanyima, are going a step further and calling for African economies to be explicitly designed to achieve the wellbeing of the people as well as the environment. Such climate-smart measures will increase access to energy, provide jobs, and reduce environmental pollution.   Continue reading →

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