Africa’s 5 Unicorn Startups – Which Has the Highest Valuation?

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Image sourced from Inc42.

Recently, global engineering talent outsourcer Andela reached the highly exalted status as a unicorn startup – a startup with a valuation of $1-billion or more. Andela joins an exceedingly exclusive group as one of Africa’s 5 startup unicorns currently operating.

The first startup in Africa to achieve a ten-figure valuation was Jumia. The Nigerian-founded company is now a pan-African retail leader and an e-commerce powerhouse, but its valuation dropped below $1-billion in 2019 due to its volatile share price.

Interestingly, 4 of 5 current unicorns are from Nigeria – the African country that saw the most VC investments in 2020, according to Statista. The other unicorn is from Senegal, which doesn’t even chart on Statista’s list of top African country’s for VC.

Another interesting tidbit is that 4 out of 5 unicorns provide fintech solutions, while Andela provides talent outsourcing.

This short list indicates Africa’s 5 unicorn startups ranked in terms of their valuation and only includes companies that were founded in Africa. Chipper, while also a startup unicorn that operates extensively in Africa, was excluded as it was founded in the US.

Here are Africa’s 5 Startup Unicorns Ranked:

5. Interswitch – $1-billion

This Nigerian digital payments firm achieved unicorn status in 2019 after Visa acquired a minority equity stake in its company.

Founded in 2002, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure necessary to digitise Nigeria’s then-mostly paper-ledger and cash-based economy. Now, according to its website, Interswitch manages over 190,000 business transactions daily.

4. Flutterwave – Over $1-billion

Flutterwave, another Nigerian fintech, achieved unicorn status in March of this year after it closed a Series C funding round at $170-million.

The firm says that more than 290,000 businesses use its platform to carry out payments, which the company can do in “…in 150 currencies and multiple payment modes including local and international cards, mobile wallets, bank transfers, Barter by Flutterwave.”

3. Andela – $1.5-billion

The most recent startup to join the unicorn club, Andela is a Nigerian-founded global engineering talent outsourcing company. It achieved the lauded status after closing a Series E funding round at $200-million which earned it a valuation of $1.5-billion.

Andela maintains a network of engineers from over 80 countries across six continents. The company has placed engineers in leading tech firms like GitHub, CloudFlare and ViacomCBS.

Its applications process is notorious for its rigour. The company’s developer program is even more difficult to get into than Harvard.

2. Wave – $1.7-billion

This Senegalese mobile money provider achieved unicorn status just recently after raising $200-million in a Series A funding round – the largest ever Series A round for an African fintech startup.

In just 4 years since its inception, Wave has gone from a cheap remittance company (Sendwave) to one of the continent’s most valuable startups. Now, the company is focusing on expanding across Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire.

Wave also intends to grow its 800-person team across product, engineering and businesses, as well as expand into other markets like Uganda and Mali, which the company considers regulatory-friendly.

1. OPay – $2-billion

The most valuable startup in Africa is Nigeria-founded fintech provider OPay. Having achieved unicorn status in August of this year, OPay is the second of four unicorns to be born in 2021, following Flutterwave by just 5 months.

OPay amassed the single largest investment round secured by an African-based startup at $570-million. It also marked the first African investment from the Japanese SoftBank Vision Fund (which also took Andela to its current valuation).

Currently, OPay’s monthly transaction volumes exceed $3-billion, driven by its strong network of 300,000 agents and 5-million registered app users.


By Luis Monzon
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