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    HomeAnalysis & OpinionsEuropean Footballers Flock to Francophone African Startups: Why the Sudden Interest?

    European Footballers Flock to Francophone African Startups: Why the Sudden Interest?

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    Ever since Mathias Léopoldie, CEO of the Ivory Coast-based payments startup Julaya, revealed late last year that the five-year-old fintech (backed by ex-Chelsea star Edouard Mendy) had yielded a remarkable 4x return for its early angel investors, European footballers — mostly of African descent — have been actively seeking the next startups to invest in.

    Just last week, Real Madrid’s French defensive midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni, Barcelona center-back Jules Koundé, and AC Milan’s Mike Maignan further solidified their investment footprint by backing Dakar-based cloud communication and mobile marketing platform LAfricaMobile. This follows Tchouaméni and Koundé’s recent investments in another Senegalese tech startup, Paps Logistics.

    But it seems their investments are concentrated in one direction: Francophone Africa, with Senegal leading the pack. While notable footballers like Leicester’s Wilfred Ndidi and Leverkusen’s Jeremie Frimpong have started similar trends in English-speaking Africa, the uptake in that region remains slow, with traditional venture capital firms still dominating startup financing.

    S/NAfrican StartupsAfrican HQFounders & NationalityInvesting Football Players and their  Countries/Clubs
    1Julaya Ivory Coast Mathias Léopoldie (French); Charles Talbot (French)Édouard Mendy (Senegalese; then Chelsea FC) 
    2FanbantsNigeriaFola Folowosele (Nigerian) Remi Adeoye (Nigerian)Wilfred Indidi (Nigerian; Leicester FC)
    3Bloom (Now Elevate)SudanAhmed Ismail (Sudanese); Youcef Oudjidane; Khalid Keenan and Abdigani DiriyeBlaise Matuidi (French and then Inter Miami) and Kieran Gibbs (English and then Inter Miami FC)
    4Oja (now defunct)Africa-focused; UKMariam Jimoh (Nigerian)Raheem Sterling (English and Chelsea)
    5StarNews MobileCamerounGuy Kamgaing (Cameroonian)Aurélien Tchouaméni (French and Real Madrid); Jules Koundé (French and Barcelona) Mike Maignan (French and AC Milan)
    6RemoteliGhanaSamuel Brooksworth (Ghanaian)Jeremie Frimpong (Dutch; Bayern Leverkusen)
    7Paps LogisticsSenegalBamba Lo (Senegalese) and Rokhaya SyAurélien Tchouaméni (French and Real Madrid); Jules Koundé (French and Barcelona)
    8LAfricaMobileSenegalMalick Diouf (Senegalese)Aurélien Tchouaméni (French and Real Madrid); Jules Koundé (French and Barcelona)
    Based on publicly available data.

    A Multi-Pronged Approach to Patriotism

    Although footballers like Edouard Mendy emphasize that giving back to their native communities drives their interest in local startups, there is also a strong expectation of investment returns. Mendy, who previously backed PowerZ, a French startup founded by Emmanuel Freund (also the founder of the popular cloud gaming service Shadow), exemplifies this balance between social impact and financial gain. In a recent interview with IFC’s Makhtar Diop, Mendy noted that Julaya’s on-ground presence in Senegal was a significant factor in his decision. “They are not the ones to run a business from Los Angeles or other parts of the world. They are here on the ground, so they are able to respond to all needs,” he said.

    I think he (Mendy) is a bit ahead of the curve,” Julaya founder Léopoldie said. “We see that football stars, or high-net-worth individuals in the sports industry, are starting to see that they need to invest in venture capital for two reasons. The first one is that even though it’s a risky asset class, it brings great returns. And second, they need to use their image to show that they don’t only care about their sports career but want to be an inspiration to their home country. It was meaningful for Édouard Mendy because he’s Senegalese.”

    For Aurélien Tchouaméni, the business side of patriotism is, perhaps, the most compelling factor in attracting footballers to invest in African startups. The Real Madrid star, whose parents hail from Cameroon, runs Audentes Capital with his father and his football agency, Excellence Sport Nation. “We gather as much information as possible before making an investment decision,” said Tchouaméni. “Due diligence is not so different from the critical scanning we work on extensively as midfielders!”

    Tchouaméni, who invested in Cameroon’s StarNews Mobile during a US$3 million funding round last year, was impressed by the startup’s rapid establishment of strategic alliances with telecom operators. StarNews Mobile, which allows African creators to produce and distribute content to mobile subscribers, initially launched in Ivory Coast in partnership with MTN and Moov and has since expanded to Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, and South Africa. Besides StarNews Mobile, Tchouaméni has also backed France-based SEAWARDS (part of the Seanergy group) and LAfricaMobile.

    Addressing Gaps Left by Traditional Venture Capital

    One venture capital firm instrumental in increasing the interest of footballers in African startups is Janngo Capital, an Abidjan-based VC led by Fatoumata Ba. The firm, which recently announced the first close of its €60 million new fund at €34 million (approximately US$36 million), has spearheaded many of the Francophone African investments involving footballers.

    The participation of footballers addresses two major issues in the startup ecosystems of Francophone Africa: bridging access to funds and increasing visibility and awareness. In 2023, funding in Francophone Africa amounted to $335 million, reflecting a 37% year-on-year decrease. Despite this decline, it constituted 15% of the continent’s total equity funding, up from 11% in 2022. The region displayed resilience in the number of deals, reaching a total of 93 deals, marking a 16% year-on-year increase, whereas the continent experienced a significant 32% year-on-year drop. This now accounts for 20% of the continent’s total deals, up from 12% in 2022.

    “In 2023, Francophone Africa distinguished itself as a dynamic and growing force in the tech sector, defying broader market trends, and being the only region to demonstrate year-over-year growth both in the number of deals and investor participation,” the report said.

    Janngo Capital’s efforts, bolstered by the involvement of footballers, aim to solve the funding and publicity challenges facing startups in Francophone African technology ecosystem. The announcement of footballers’ participation naturally garners publicity, raising awareness and potentially attracting more investment into the region.

    Charles Rapulu Udoh has carved a niche at the forefront of Africa’s booming tech scene. With years of experience, Udoh has become a go-to expert for multi-million dollar deals in venture capital, private equity, and intellectual property across a vast landscape — from Delaware and New York to Singapore and South Africa. But his expertise extends beyond just the legalese. Udoh is also a corporate governance, data privacy, and tax whiz. An award-winning writer and researcher, he’s passionate about chronicling Africa’s startup story, cementing his position as a true pioneer in the field.

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