African startups are expanding beyond the continent


The alluring promise for tech startups in Africa is the social and commercial upside that lies in providing scalable solutions and products to users on a continent that’s home to several significant problems—and market opportunities.

Population growth in Africa, which is on pace to surpass the rest of the world, dropping internet costs and rising mobile phone adoption all offer prospects of an attractive market given the wide range of infrastructure gaps from financial technology, logistics, commerce, power and health to education that startups are aiming to plug and profit from. Yet, over the past 18 months, a growing crop of startups and their founders have started looking to expand beyond Africa to emerging markets elsewhere.

Last year Paga, the Nigerian mobile money service, announced expansion plans to Mexico and the Philippines as part of a $10 million funding round while Swvl, the Egyptian bus-hailing service, has also expanded to Pakistan where it currently operates in three cities.

For its part, mobile lending app Lidya has popped up in Poland and Czech Republic and has plans for further expansion in Eastern Europe.

And, although initially founded in the United States by a Nigerian, Migo, a fintech startup that provides credit-as-a service to large Nigerian companies, is now expanding to Brazil.

Expanding beyond the continent bucks conventional expectations of first seeking pan-African growth but Mostafa Kandil, chief executive of Swvl, says the company’s focus has always been global.

“As an emerging market player, we focus on emerging markets that have problems with mass transit—and across the globe, there are quite a few of them,” he says.

“As we grew, we started seeing similar problems in Pakistan as we looked for cities that can be suited to [our] technology,” he tells Quartz.

Paga’s founder Tayo Oviosu says his company just wants to make it easier for a billion people to move and use money.

“Everyone has different reasons for moving abroad but we simply thought ‘where do we go where we can get this one billion number that we’re targeting?’,” he says. It’s a worldview that Oviosu insists isn’t an afterthought.

“When I started the business, I didn’t set out thinking I was building a Nigerian business, I set out thinking I was building a global business—because the problems that we set out to solve exist all over the world.”

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