Africa’s next big thing will be its tech startups, says prolific investor

Akintoye Akindele is a man on a mission to build a new Africa and he is not afraid to fail to get there.

Changing the continent’s narrative will entail solving old problems while also harnessing the power of new technologies, says Akindele, a serial entrepreneur and investor from Nigeria.

Speaking ahead of receiving the African Business Leader of the Year Award 2022 at the UK’s House of Lords on Monday, Akindele told CNN the next big thing out of the continent will be the tech industry.

With more exposure and through encouraging creativity by giving innovators permission to fail, Africa can take its tech sector global, repeating the success of its Afrobeats music industry, Akindele argues.

Afrobeats has had a meteoric rise with songs by African artists topping charts and becoming a fixture at parties and nightclubs globally. At the recently held BET (Black Entertainment Television) Awards 2022, in Los Angeles, the Nigerian duo of Wizkid and Tems fended off tough competition from more established US stars such as Kendrick Lamar, Doja Cat and Drake to win the Best Collaboration Award.

Africa’s tech landscape is also increasingly attracting attention — and funding. Between 2015 and 2021, total annual funding flowing into African tech startups has grown by 1,000 per cent according to the African Tech Startups Funding Report 2021.

According to the report, 125 tech startups in Africa raised $185 million in funding in 2015 but in 2021, 564 startups raised $2.1 billion.

Africa’s tech ecosystem has seen the emergence of several unicorns. In countries like Nigeria, which is home to five of the continent’s seven tech unicorns, these success stories are still largely seen as Nigerian and African and not truly global tech companies. Akindele noted that taking African tech companies global would also require efforts similar to how Afrobeats became known around the world.

“Afrobeats was a deliberate export by the people in the business who genuinely believe that they could compete with the best in the world. The same way Afrobeats became mainstream, gradually, our tech ecosystem is also becoming mainstream,” he told CNN.

“A Love Affair with Failure”
Akindele has just released a book “A Love Affair with Failure: When Hitting Bottom Becomes a Launchpad to Success,” jointly written with Olakunle Soriyan. They argue that many people do not fulfill their full potential because they are afraid to fail. But without taking risks, innovations that could propel Africa’s and the world’s growth will not emerge.

“Failure is a good thing to engender curiosity and innovation. Everything that is a success today has its foundation in failing. To encourage more people in Africa to not be afraid, we are sharing relatable stories that will make them realize that no matter what they are going through, magic is possible,” he told CNN.
Akindele noted that Africa’s burgeoning fintech ecosystem is only about a decade old but he has high hopes for its growth in the global marketplace.

In early June 2022, it was announced that an African fintech company MFS Africa acquired Oklahoma-based Global Technology Partners for $34 million — a move that Financial Times described as “a rare case of an African group doing a tech deal in the US.”

“I think an era is coming when African fintech companies will buy global financial institutions, forming a marriage, because by solving cash problems on the continent, they are [also] solving global cash problems,” Akindele said.

Building the new Africa
Akindele is also the chairman of Platform Capital, a venture capital outfit that invests in tech companies across the world, but mostly in Africa. In May 2022, Platform Capital announced an investment in Zuri Health, a company that connects patients with affordable healthcare services via SMS, WhatsApp and a dedicated app. Akindele noted that tech can be an avenue for Africa to quickly solve its problems, catch up with and overtake the rest of the world.

“Technology has lowered barriers to problem solving, market access, knowledge and everything. The market-know-how is now more accessible,” he said.

Among the many outfits Akindele runs is Duport Midstream Company Limited, which is creating what it describes as Nigeria’s first energy park. Located in Edo state, the company said the park would include a refinery, gas processing plant, a compressed natural gas plant, and a power plant, over a five-year period. Indirectly, thousands of lives will be impacted from the energy park, Akindele said.

But building the new Africa also entails dealing with some of the challenges that the continent continues to struggle with — inadequate energy supply and food crises in some countries — while also investing in, and being actively involved, in new technologies.

“We are not left behind in any way,” Akindele said. “We fundamentally believe that the youth and the old of Africa can work together to build a new Africa.”

He noted that the “older guys” know how to build heavy industry infrastructure while the “newer guys” know how to build agile businesses. And as well as solving longstanding problems of food, infrastructure, energy, and transport, “we then match them with payments, robotics, health tech and others. Africa will be able to create a world where it can determine its own future.”

Akindele argues that in spite of the myriad challenges Nigeria struggles with, he is “hopeful and confident” in the Nigerian narrative. “We are stronger than we think we are,” he said.

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