Finance Friday – August 12, 2016


226 million.

That’s how many smartphone connections there are in Africa — up 2x in just 2 years! The broader subscriber base for all forms of mobile is now up to 48% of the population, vs. 31% in 2010.

I have been fortunate to travel to Africa just about every year for 20+ years, and have visited twice in the last 6 months (to Liberia, Malawi, and South Africa). What do these changes in statistics look like in real life?

  1. I see bus and taxi drivers paid by phone, making systems like PayPal seem clunky, and cash-based systems downright ridiculous.
  2. I meet young people in cities working out of tech hubs, often part of the accelerator programs for entrepreneurs that are popping up everywhere.
  3. I see health workers in ultra-rural areas able to transmit data more easily and more frequently, adding to quality of care and allowing for ongoing insights and improvements.

Applications in Africa are not just mimicking the ones found elsewhere in the world; new solutions are being found, and different questions are being answered.

And yet, it is rare that I talk with a US-based investor who is looking at opportunities in Africa.

For a more wide-ranging view on technology in Africa from Toby Shapshak, see his TED talk from 2013, with one of my all time favorite quotes – “see this map of the world with the US and Europe all lit up at night? When we look for innovation, that’s where it isn’t.”

A great summary of the mobile phone data can be found from Quartz, and the original report referenced with more detail is from GSMA

For institutional investors with an interest in the region, Melissa Cook at African Sunrise Partners has been focused on the region for years and has lots of unusual insights. (Full disclosure, we were also housing analysts at the same time, many moons ago, and have remained friends ever since.)

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