Venture Lab in Africa: Heading west in 2016

Over the past few years, Venture Lab has primarily focused on East African fintech investments, such as Kopo Kopo and Umati Capital, both based in Kenya, as well as First Access, which operates in Tanzania and Kenya. But now we’re taking a more concerted look at other markets across the continent. Since October, I’ve been exploring the fintech ecosystem in four West African countries — Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Cote d’Ivoire — thanks to a grant from the MasterCard Foundation. I’ve been meeting players in the financial services space to better understand opportunities in these markets and the needs of a growing cohort of startups.

One thing has become clear — there’s a lot to be excited about in this region. Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, is an incredibly dynamic market with opportunities to disrupt financial services. Ghana and Senegal have burgeoning startup ecosystems with active tech hubs and growing interest among entrepreneurs for fintech. And Cote d’Ivoire is the world’s fastest growing mobile money market with potential for innovation.

We’re still in the midst of the work, but our early takeaways are:

  1. Nigeria, Nigeria, Nigeria!  We’re excited to be meeting more people and learning about opportunities in the country. The fintech space is heating up — Paga raised $13M for its mobile money transfer platform this fall; Venture Garden Nigeria raised $20M for the fintech entities within its holding company; Interswitch may IPO in 2016.
  2. While the buzz around fintech is now centered around payments, we see massive opportunities across a broader array of financial services. In particular, small and medium enterprise (SME) finance continues to be a major gap across these markets and we’d love to see more entrepreneurs addresses challenges there.
  3. Human capital is a huge need — how can ecosystems encourage entrepreneurship and attract talent with both the experience and the ideas to succeed?

These are all topics Venture Lab will be thinking more about in the new year. Stay tuned as we explore more of the opportunities and challenges in the region. And we’re excited to continue to meet entrepreneurs across West Africa in 2016!

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