The Power of Tech: How Three Award-Winning Startups Are Building a Better Future for Africa

March 7, 2023
  • Three African tech entrepreneurs benefited from a wave of new growth opportunities after winning the first edition of the AfricaTech Awards, launched in 2022 by IFC and VivaTech.
  • The awards brought investments and international visibility to the three winners: WEEE Centre in climate tech, Click2Sure in fintech, and Chefaa in health tech.
  • Building on the success of the first edition, IFC and VivaTech have announced the 2023 AfricaTech Awards. Startups and companies with innovative tech solutions for African markets are encouraged to apply by March 23, 2023.

About a year ago, Kenyan entrepreneur Bonnie Mbithi submitted an application for the AfricaTech Awards, a brand-new initiative launched in early 2022 by IFC and VivaTech to spotlight tech innovations making a difference in Africa. In June, his e-waste management company, WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Centre, won in the climate tech category during VivaTech 2022, a four-day startup and tech event in Paris. A few days later, Mbithi signed an agreement with a leading French refinery to explore how to extract precious metals from e-waste. Since then, WEEE Centre’s revenue has topped $1 million, with $500,000 in new investment and operations in 15 African countries.

“The AfricaTech Awards give you visibility and credibility,” says Mbithi, who is also working on a carbon-credit transaction with a French company. “It has opened a lot of doors and created new opportunities to expand our business across the continent. I was able to pitch our business both on the big stage and in many one-on-one meetings with investors.”

WEEE Centre’s mission focuses on promoting the circular economy. It processes junked computers, batteries, mobile phones, and other e-waste. Plastics are sorted and recycled along with glass and metals, while toxic elements are safely disposed of under international standards. Some items are rehabilitated and either resold or donated through partnerships with schools and youth centers.

The two other winners have also secured more international investment and expanded into new territories. The Cairo-based digital pharmaceutical service Chefaa, winner in the health tech category, is planning to launch operations in Saudi Arabia. The company is an artificial intelligence and GPS-enhanced platform that helps deliver medications and health products from pharmacies to primarily chronically ill patients, including those living in remote areas.

Meanwhile, the South African insurance tech company Click2Sure has grown by more than 40 percent since winning the award in the fintech category. The company recently signed a deal with one of Africa’s largest retailers. Click2Sure offers insurance products typically out of reach for low-income, vulnerable populations, including multiple options of funeral or household content policies. The company manages every aspect of policy lifecycle management, ranging from quotes to premiums to claim processing.

IFC and VivaTech launched the AfricaTech Awards in 2022 to support Africa-focused companies with innovative solutions addressing key development challenges linked to climate change, health care, and financial inclusion. Africa's young demographics present a powerful consumer market for technology and digital services, yet most startups have difficulty accessing funding.

“While 2022 was a remarkable year for Africa’s tech industry, startups on the continent only received a mere 1 percent of the global venture capital funding,” says Makhtar Diop, IFC's Managing Director. “Initiatives like the AfricaTech Awards – matching talents with opportunities — help shine a light on the best of Africa’s innovations and leverage IFC’s convening power to bring together innovative entrepreneurs with potential investors.”

On February 27, IFC and VivaTech announced the call for applications for the second edition of the AfricaTech Awards. Winners in the three categories – climate tech, fintech, and health tech – will be announced at VivaTech in Paris from June 14-17. As with the previous winners, the companies taking home the awards will have access to mentoring sessions with industry experts and increased visibility among global investors.

Strengthening Tech Ecosystems

The AfricaTech Awards are part of IFC’s efforts to help build and strengthen Africa’s nascent venture capital markets, which have demonstrated significant growth potential but still face challenging global economic conditions. In November, IFC announced a $225-million Venture Capital platform to invest in tech startups across Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Pakistan and help them grow into scalable ventures attracting mainstream financing.

In December, the size of another IFC initiative, the Startup Catalyst (ISC) Program, doubled, with an additional $60 million to support seed funds, incubators, and accelerators in financing and mentoring early-stage startups in emerging markets. Since the program’s inception in 2016, of the more than 2,800 entrepreneurs supported by ISC funds so far, one-fourth are women.

Five years before winning an AfricaTech Award, Chefaa received early seed money from Flat6Labs Cairo, one of the accelerators supported by ISC. The startup helps deliver medications from pharmacies to patients and has Arabic-speaking pharmacists on call 24/7. The company can also send users medication reminders. So far, Chefaa has partnered with more than 1,000 pharmacies and counts over 7.5 million monthly active users across all its digital platforms.

“In Africa, there are so many problems that need to be solved, but the resources are not always available and they are relatively limited,” says Rasha Rady, a pediatrician who co-founded Chefaa with Doaa Aref. “Since winning (the AfricaTech Award), so many connections were made, resulting in more opportunities in business and impact scaling.”

Marguerite Vendroux, Click2Sure’s managing director, agrees. “Our purpose is to make insurance available, easy, transparent, and cost-effective for everyone,” she says. “This award definitely helped us convince investors for new investments and bring in new clients and partners.”

Investing with Impact

William Sonneborn, IFC’s Global Director for Disruptive Technology and Funds, said the impact of the awards on the winners is in line with IFC’s investment goals in direct venture capital: In addition to commercial financial returns, IFC focuses on its development impact in Africa and other emerging markets.

“Innovation plays a key role in accelerating progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. “Tech innovation and impact investing come hand in hand. IFC is unique as an investor in venture capital as we focus on profits with a purpose. We go into nascent markets and help build the tech venture capital ecosystem. We make it as robust as possible, so it will boost employment, improve productivity, and nurture business models that can solve big problems not just in emerging markets but globally. We hope more startups from Africa and beyond can join us in this journey.”

The AfricaTech Awards 2023 are now open for submissions. Entrepreneurs are invited to apply for one of the awards’ three categories – climate tech, fintech, and health tech – on the awards’ website from February 27 to March 23, 2023.

Published in March 2023