Harambean Unicorns Shaping the African Ecosystem

(Left) Iyin Aboyeji H'10, Co-Founder of Flutterwave and Andela and (Right) Melvyn Lubega H'16, Co-Founder of Go1

For several decades, scant interest was shown in investing in Africa, let alone in young African entrepreneurs, the very people who are now beginning to break the glass ceiling by starting and scaling businesses that are solving some of Africa’s biggest problems. We’ve seen in places like Silicon Valley, how a small group of individuals can have an outsized impact on ecosystems and Harambeans are starting to play this kind of role in Africa. Companies like Yoco, Go1, Flutterwave and Andela have broken the mold and gone a long way to put Africa back on the map and convince global investors that Africa is a good place to invest their capital, grow their businesses and find talent.

Iyin Aboyeji, H’10 is passionate about partnering with talent and capital to build an African future. He is the co-founder of Flutterwave, a business building payments technology and infrastructure to connect Africa to the global economy. Over the last few years, he led the company to become one of the fastest growing payments technology businesses processing over $2 billion across more than 50 million transactions with annual revenues of millions of dollars a year. The business attracted significant investment from experienced players in the global payments arena. Prior to Flutterwave, he co-founded Andela, Africa’s largest engineering talent network with over 1000 software engineers with investments from Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Google Ventures. Aboyeji is also a general partner at Future Africa where they partner with innovators turning the continent’s most difficult challenges into global business opportunities.

Flutterwave closed a $170 million Series C funding round in March 2021, giving it unicorn status with a valuation of over US$1 billion and wider relevance within Africa’s tech ecosystem. “Africa is still growing as a continent and to be a unicorn now comes with the responsibility to take the future of payments to Africa, connect Africa to the world, and the world to Africa,” says Aboyeji.

Another rising star is corporate edtech, Go1, co-founded by Melvyn Lubega, H’16, that announced the closing of a $200-million Series D funding round in July 2021. The round skyrocketed the company into unicorn status, bringing its valuation to over $1 billion. The edtech platform collates existing learning material from leading global educational institutions into a central digital library, making corporate training simple for employees and employers. “It’s crazy to think how far we’ve come, but our North Star has remained the same, which is that we exist to unlock positive potential in people through a love for learning. This raise validates the size of the problem we’re trying to solve and the size of the opportunity to address that problem. Becoming a unicorn is an important milestone for us and the tech scale-up ecosystem, but we also know that our story is just beginning,” said Lubega.

Yoco is an African technology company that creates opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to get paid and is another example of fintech innovation on the continent. Yoco was co-founded by Katlego Maphai, H’21 and Lungisa Matshoba, H’14. Since launching in 2015, it has acquired over 150,000 merchants/small businesses, processing $1 billion per year through the platform and today employs 230 people. Yoco secured $83 million in Series C funding in July 2021 amid a surge in demand for digital payments among African small businesses. This latest investment round brings the total funds raised to date by Yoco to US$107 million.

These case studies show that a thriving Africa is possible. We need to keep on sharing our stories and successes on the global stage so we continue to see growth in the amount of venture capital dollars that come into our ecosystem. “Our unicorns give us more reasons to be bolder and hopeful for Africa’s future as investors and companies change their focus to include the continent. We are extremely proud of what these businesses have achieved and believe this is just the tip of the iceberg – there is much more to come!” said Founder and Chairman of Harambeans, Okendo Lewis-Gayle.

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