BY NOMVO KASOLO
A wave of innovative transport start-ups is helping to keep Africa’s heartbeat sector growing. In the past year, the transportation sector achieved an impressive record of 21 start-up companies, the majority of which were aimed at unlocking new growth opportunities through software, internet-enabled solutions, and alternative e-mobility solutions. With roads being the arteries through which the African economy pulses, the ongoing challenges have been key hindrances to sustainable economic growth and global competitiveness and trade. However, the spark of positive change being driven by recent start-ups in markets like Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya has the potential to continue being driven by global trends/shifts but will require the continued support of innovators by both the private and public sectors. Furthermore, this startup wave is one step closer to achieving the estimated jump of $16 billion in intra-regional trade that economists and trade experts expect to be possible through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA).
Though plagued with several challenges, including an infrastructure investment shortfall of $67 billion and $107 billion annually, according to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a look at recent start-ups and their funding avenues in Africa points to a growing attraction of the continent as the last growth frontier for investors. In 2021 alone, the continent attracted about 564 start-ups (Figure 1), with fintech accounting for the majority share. For transport start-ups specifically, the records show a proactiveness by innovators to help solve Africa’s connectivity predicament, where supply chain challenges and limitations in physical infrastructure network limitations amount to about 40-60% surcharge costs on goods on the continent. The record of companies included in ‘Figure 1’ also points to an industry gearing up for global trends that are likely to leave lasting changes in the industry. These trends as recognised by the Association of African Exhibition Organisers (AAXO) were likely noted to be around technology and automation and Environment Social Governance (ESG). In the African context, these have already been adopted and are surfacing through a rise in the e-logistics and e-mobility sectors.
2022 is expected to follow the growth trajectory seen in 2021, through several ongoing joint efforts to support innovators. Among these are incubation and accelerator platforms like the Baobab Network (which raised funding worth $200 million in just eight months); private sector participation like Toyota’s Mobility 54 venture unit and several more new financing options offered to solutions targeted at reaching the untapped markets in Africa, particularly in the key markets highlighted in Figure 2. South Africa saw an impressive 7 start-ups in 2021, with the ‘WhereisMyTransport’ company raising about $14.5 million.
With Africa’s population expected to nearly double by 2050 (to 2.5 billion), achieving efficiency in the connectivity of goods and people will be critical, which begs the importance of supporting current business avenues that are proving to work well. The transport start-up industry is evidently one of them, particularly in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and the North African countries. Moreover, with the ongoing challenges around fuel hikes, and disruptions caused by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, African nations have a keen opportunity to strengthen their networks through forward-thinking solutions, but also to leverage the potential of the AfCFTA through collaboration.
NOMVO KASOLO, a consultant with Frost & Sullivan, in this article, provides an insight into the growing industry of Transport startups in sub-Saharan Africa.