Africa grabs fintech start-up limelight

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By Prosper Ndlovu

AFRICA has recently become a hot zone for financial technological innovations, which are fast transforming the financial services sector operations with a higher financial inclusion dividend. 

Coupled with the widespread use of mobile, the digitisation of financial services has opened avenues of opportunity for technology innovators, as well as empowered ordinary consumers and small businesses.

The trend has seen big and small players in the domestic and regional finance industry rushing to embrace the information communication technologies (ICTs) to boost their businesses and consolidate clientele base. Big corporates such as Ecobank, MIT Legatum Center and Mastercard Foundation, have actually gone out of their way to bankroll some of the pioneer financial technology (fintech) start-up projects across the African region.

Experts concur that fintech start-ups are the potential giants for Africa’s future growth amid high hopes that selected finalists would capitalise on the available institutional mentoring programmes and support opportunities on their journeys to future success.

Recently, Ecobank, a leading independent pan-African banking group, announced its 11 finalists for the second edition of the annual ‘Ecobank Fintech Challenge’, a competition for Africa-focused technology start-ups. The list includes 11 fintech start-ups from across the continent and beyond. 

According to the bank, an innovation fair and awards ceremony will honour the start-ups on August 30, 2018 at the global headquarters of Ecobank in Lomé, Togo. During the scheduled event, the start-ups will exhibit and pitch their products to a jury for the Ecobank Africa fintech prize, which will be awarded the top innovator and two runners-up. The top three innovators will win cash prizes worth US$10,000, US$7,000, and US$5,000 respectively, says Ecobank.

The bank has also pledged to enrol all 11finalists into the Ecobank Fintech Fellowship, which will run for a period of six months during which fintech fellows will benefit from an opportunity to further explore partnerships with the Ecobank Group. 

This includes multinational product roll-out support: for the start-ups deemed commercially viable to grow their businesses across any of Ecobank’s 33 markets in Africa as well as deals for start-ups with deep capabilities to become product partners within Ecobank’s ecosystem.

Ecobank group chief executive, Ade Ayeyemi, commented: “At Ecobank our digital strategy is spectacularly successful and has changed the landscape of African banking, so it goes without saying that we see fintech as a vital component for the economic transformation of the continent and the prosperity of its citizens. 

“We want to do all we can to encourage the next generations of fintech entrepreneurs as they will be a driving force in propelling Africa into a globally competitive power in commercial services, enjoying significantly increased market share.”

The Ecobank fintech challenge is designed in partnership with the advisory firm Konfidants and is supported by partners across Africa and the world. The partnership also covers technical and mentoring support during the six months fellowship period where participating innovators will benefit from technical support from Ecobank’s global network of technology leaders, fintech experts, investors and management coaches. 

The eleven start-ups are Lypa (Kenya), Wallet.ng (Nigeria), Nala (Tanzania), Litee (Benin), Seso Global (South Africa), InvestED (Sierra Leone), Eversend (France), Secapay (Nigeria), Virtual Identity (South Africa), MojiPay (Togo), Awamo (Germany).

Similarly, MIT Legatum Center and Mastercard Foundation have selected another set of 10 African Start-ups as finalists of the 2018 Zambezi Prize for innovation in financial inclusion. The grand prize winner and runners-up are set to be announced during the Opec Mic Africa Summit set for Nairobi, Kenya next week Wednesday.

The prestigious competition, awarding a total of $200,000 in prizes, was established in 2015 to discover Africa’s most promising and innovative early-stage start-ups that promote and advance financial inclusion on the continent. 

Selected companies under this category include four from Kenya, two from Ghana, two from South Africa and others from Senegal and Nigeria. “We are pleased to welcome the 2018 finalists into the MIT Zambezi family”, said Georgina Campbell Flatter, the executive director of the MIT Legatum Center. 

“They represent some of the world’s most innovative change agents.” “The finalists demonstrated strong leadership and innovation in the way they are solving financial inclusion challenges”, said Ali Diallo, the Global Programs Manager of the MIT Legatum Center. “We also want to thank the hundreds of great startups that applied to this competition and shared with us their inspiring ventures, visions, and insights for advancing financial inclusion. We hope to keep them all engaged through our upcoming initiatives”. The grand prize winner is set to be awarded $100,000 while two runners-up will each receive $30,000 while the seven remaining finalists will each receive $5,000 in cash prizes. Additionally, the Legatum Center will award $5,000 to an African entrepreneur who demonstrated great leadership qualities to unify Africa’s tech ecosystem.  

The Legatum Center was founded on the belief that entrepreneurs and their market-driven solutions are critical to tackling the world’s greatest challenges and driving global prosperity. The Mastercard Foundation has also been consistent in its mission to advance learning and promote financial inclusion for people living in poverty. As one of the largest foundations in the world, it works almost exclusively in Africa.   

 

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