South Africa is a startup powerhouse that leads the continent for exits, finds new report

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That is according to the South African Startup Ecosystem Report 2022, released today by startup-focused news and research company Disrupt Africa in partnership with the SA SME Fund and Nedbank CIB.

Since launching its research arm in 2016, Disrupt Africa has built up a significant portfolio of publications, most notably the African Tech Startups Funding Report and Finnovating for Africa, previously available for sale but now made available free for all via open-sourcing initiatives with various partners across the continent’s tech ecosystem.

The South African Startup Ecosystem Report 2022, its 17th publication and second country-focused report, utilises Disrupt Africa’s datasets, expertise and networks to document what startups are doing what in the country, who is making investments, and who is providing ecosystem support. It also includes the full list of startups tracked for the purposes of the report.

It is released for free in partnership with the SA SME Fund, a partnership between the South African government and CEOs to stimulate the economy and create jobs by investing in funds that support and develop entrepreneurs, and Nedbank CIB, the corporate and investment banking division of leading African bank Nedbank. The other partners are Newtown Partners, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), and Quona Capital.

The report will be a deep-dive into the South African startup scene, utilising Disrupt Africa’s datasets, expertise and networks to document what startups are doing what in the country, who is making investments, and who is providing ecosystem support. It takes as its starting point a list of 490 South African tech startups for which enough data was available.

Fintech is a major driver of activity within the South African startup space, the report finds, with 30 per cent of companies active in that space. There are almost three times as many fintech startups in South Africa, in fact, than there are in any other individual vertical. E-commerce and retail-tech are also prominent spaces.

Of these startups, a disappointingly low 14.3 per cent have at least one female founder, suggesting the space still has an issue around diversity, while more than 25 per cent of the tracked companies have been through some form of accelerator or incubator. Between them, they employ more than 11,000 people.

South Africa tracks well from a funding perspective. Between January 2015 and May 2022, the report finds, a total of 357 individual South African tech startups raised a combined US$993,684,600, a figure topped only by Nigeria over that time. Funding, both in terms of the number of startups backed and the total tally secured, has generally increased year-on-year, most especially in the last three years, and 2022 is already in course to be a record year for South Africa in both metrics.

And though the other members of the “big four”, namely Egypt, Kenya and Nigeria, rival it for funded ventures or total funding, South African startups are by far the most successful when it comes to successful exits. Since 2015, 35 South African tech startups have been acquired, accounting for one-third of the acquisitions tracked by Disrupt Africa across the entire continent in the last 7.5 years. The country was top of the pile in 2019, 2020 and 2021 for acquisitions, and looks set to do so again in 2022. Increasingly, fintech is driving this, with almost half of South African startup exits in the last 18 months having involved fintech companies.

“South Africa is well-established as one of Africa’s foremost startup ecosystems, leading the way when it comes to M&A activity and the development of local support networks. This report tells that story, providing an ideal jumping off point for any entrepreneur or investor – or anyone else! – looking to get involved in the local startup scene,” said Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Disrupt Africa.

“It is core to our identity as a company that we offer entrepreneurs both active and aspiring access to pivotal information, resources and opportunities with which to take their businesses to scale. The democratisation of data, and the release of detailed industry reports free of charge, is central to that, and with that in mind we hugely appreciate the assistance of the SA SME Fund, Nedbank CIB, Newtown Partners, CiTi, and Quona Capital, who are doing their bit to ensure this report reaches as many people as possible,” said Tom Jackson, co-founder of Disrupt Africa.

“We are proud to partner with Disrupt Africa to facilitate the release of the South African Startup Ecosystem Report 2022, which will shine a light on the exciting South African startup ecosystem and provide valuable quantitative and qualitative data to founders, investors, and anyone else that wants to get involved. This fits with our mission of supporting the early-stage startup sector. We thank Disrupt Africa for undertaking the important work, and we hope the result is of value to anyone that reads it,” said Ketso Gordhan, chief executive officer at the SA SME Fund.

“As a corporate venture capital investor, we are proud to partner with Disrupt Africa in their mission to track the progress and development of the South African startup ecosystem, as it is crucial to provide accurate data points to inform and attract key ecosystem players to the developing sector,” said Johann Van Zyl, head of principal and alternative investment at Nedbank. “This aligns well with our ethos “money experts who do good”, as we have been not only an investor but also a supporter of the burgeoning startup ecosystem. We have seen an incredible growth of interest but to further support this, we must be data-driven and well informed in our strategies and businesses. We are pleased to be a part of this initiative to improve data access to all African ecosystem players.”

“Venture capital investment in Africa has seen unprecedented growth in the past two years. It has become essential that key ecosystem stakeholders collaborate to ensure that South African startups are ready to scale and attract their fair share of international capital. We are excited to be part of Disrupt Africa’s South African Startup Ecosystem Report and to make these insights available to all stakeholders, especially corporates, LPs, GPs, and startup founders. This research enables us to better understand the current state of play and what needs to be done to make the South African startup ecosystem globally competitive,” said Llew Claasen, managing partner at Newtown Partners.

“As Africa’s most experienced technology incubator we have had a ringside seat to the evolution of technology driven startups in Africa. CiTi is proud to be acknowledged as a key catalyst to the creation of the mature start up ecosystem in South Africa. We believe that the best opportunities for economic growth and job creation in South Africa will be unlocked by entrepreneurs who are able to scale their businesses,” said CiTi CEO Ian Merrington. “We continue to recognise the importance of accurate data and information to potential funders, tech hubs, ecosystem enablers, policy makers and entrepreneurs themselves. We are therefore delighted to partner this pivotal and comprehensive ecosystem report to enable the widest possible free access to all the participants in the South African tech ecosystem.”

“We are really excited by the amount of ingenuity we’re seeing in the South African fintech ecosystem, where Quona has been actively investing since 2015,” said Johan Bosini, partner at Quona Capital. “We all learn and benefit from access to industry data on venture funding trends, and we’re delighted to be part of this important initiative from Disrupt Africa to share it widely with VCs and entrepreneurs alike.”

The South African Startup Ecosystem Report 2022 is available to all for free, making the data and analysis contained in its pages accessible to those for whom the information is most valuable – entrepreneurs.

The publication, which is the 17th released by Disrupt Research, is almost 60 pages in length and provides a detailed overview of the South African startup ecosystem and its development over the last 5-10 years. It involves analysis as to what areas startups are active in, a detailed look at funding and M&A trends, and detail the range of startup support services available to South African entrepreneurs, including hubs, incubators, accelerators, and government, corporate and university initiatives.

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