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    HomeAnalysis & OpinionsHow L'Afrique Excelle Rewrote the Rules of Startup Investment in Francophone Africa

    How L’Afrique Excelle Rewrote the Rules of Startup Investment in Francophone Africa

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    In May 2019, Serge Boupda found himself in the spotlight at the Vivatech trade fair in Paris, pitching his startup, Diool, to a room of eager investors. His goal was to secure $1.5 million in funding. Boupda’s Diool, a fintech company that had pivoted from a mobile recharge retailer to a financial services platform for small merchants in Cameroon, was at a crossroads: the funding to scale was difficult to find. This is a common hurdle for many startups in Francophone Africa, where access to growth-stage financing is particularly scarce. In 2018, only 1% of the $1.16 billion raised by African tech startups went to those in Francophone Africa. And so, presented with this opportunity by L’Afrique Excelle, Boupda hoped there would be an end to his startup’s funding drought.

    L’Afrique Excelle: A Lifeline Thrown to Francophone African Startups

    The World Bank launched L’Afrique Excelle in 2018 as a regional adaptation of its successful XL Africa program. The goal was clear: provide investment-readiness support to Francophone African startups, enabling them to attract early-stage capital between $250,000 and $5 million. By doing so, the program aimed to demonstrate that Francophone Africa could produce world-class entrepreneurial talent capable of leveraging disruptive technologies to address local challenges.

    L’Afrique Excelle received an overwhelming response, with 450 applications from startups across the region. The selection process was rigorous, involving multiple stakeholders, including VC4A, Suguba, Sahel’innov, and prominent investors from Partech Ventures and Orange Digital Ventures. Ultimately, 20 startups were chosen, each meeting stringent criteria such as having a team of at least three people, generating at least 75% of their revenue in Francophone Africa, and being in the launch or pre-Series A phase.

    The selected startups represented a broad spectrum of sectors, reflecting the diverse entrepreneurial landscape of Francophone Africa:

    • Diool (Fintech, Cameroon): Simplifies financial services access for small merchants.
    • Eyone (Healthtech, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger): Provides digital health solutions.
    • Firefly Media (Adtech, Transport, Senegal): Innovates in digital advertising and transport.
    • GiftedMom (Healthtech, Cameroon, Ivory Coast): Offers maternal health services through mobile technology.
    • LAfricaMobile (Connectivity, SaaS, API, Senegal): Connects businesses with customers through cloud communication.
    • Paps (Logistics, Senegal): Delivers technology-driven logistics solutions.
    • Solaris Offgrid (Fintech, SaaS, Solar, Benin, Senegal): Offers solar-powered fintech services.
    • StarNews Mobile (Media, Cameroon): Helps content creators monetize their work via mobile platforms.
    • Sudpay (Fintech, Senegal): Focuses on digital payment solutions.
    • Tripafrique (Transport, Ivory Coast): Facilitates transport and logistics services.

    From Bamako to Paris: An Intensive Program

    L’Afrique Excelle began with an intensive residency in Bamako, Mali, from March 25–29, 2019. During this week, startups participated in technical workshops covering investor readiness, talent management, and legal protection. The residency also featured a town hall meeting with the Ministers of Digital Economy for Senegal and Mali, fostering a dialogue between policymakers, startups, and the investor community.

    The program culminated in a Venture Showcase at the Francophone African Investors Summit, where 10 of the startups, including Diool, were selected to advance to the next phase: a residency in France from May 11–18, 2019. During this phase, Boupda and his peers pitched their ventures at the Afrobytes and VivaTechnology conferences in Paris, attracting significant investor interest.

    Beyond the Spotlight: The Enduring Impact of L’Afrique Excelle

    The impact of L’Afrique Excelle on its participants has been profound. Although Boupda did not secure immediate investment at Vivatech, the exposure and experience gained were invaluable. A year later, Diool eventually raised $3.5 million from the Lundin family and other investors, facilitating its expansion in Cameroon and beyond.

    Other success stories include:

    • StarNews Mobile raised US$3 million in pre-Series A funding, expanding its platform across six African countries.
    • Paps secured US$4.5 million, including from Launch Africa Ventures and Janngo.africa, fueling its growth in Francophone Africa.
    • LAfricaMobile raised €4.3 million in Series A funding to enhance its cloud communication services and broaden its reach.

    These achievements underscore the critical role of targeted acceleration programs in supporting the growth of startups in underserved regions.

    While L’Afrique Excelle was a one-off program, its impact highlights the untapped potential of Francophone Africa’s startup ecosystem. As more venture capital funds and international investors recognize this potential, the region is poised for significant growth. Programs like L’Afrique Excelle serve as a blueprint for future initiatives, emphasizing the importance of tailored support and investment-readiness programs.

    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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