Telecoms firm Orange has announced an early-stage investment programme named Orange Digital Ventures, which will identify and fund startups and provide strategic support.
Orange has earmarked EUR20 million (US$22.4 million) for the fund in its first year, and made it available to any country in which it is present, which includes 17 African countries.
The company has local operations in Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mauritius, Niger, Central African Republic (CAR), Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Senegal and Tunisia.
“Orange intends to leverage its already active role in the global digital ecosystem, and through these new investments get closer to companies that are agile at grasping and acting on technology shifts vital to the creation of tomorrow’s digital services,” Orange said.
Orange Digital Ventures will focus in particular on startups in the fields of communication, connectivity, cloud, payments, the Internet of Things and big data, e-health and security services.
“Early-stage companies move fast, which is why Orange Digital Ventures features a dedicated team of digital specialists and a simplified, rapid selection methodology. The intent is to deliver entrepreneurs a first response in less than 30 days,” the company said.
Orange Digital Ventures intends to be more than a shareholder; also acting as a “growth catalyst”. It says its immediate priority is the economic development of the portfolio companies and their global expansion.
“The ambition for Orange Digital Ventures is to work alongside them to transform far-sighted, talented entrepreneurs into key players in their chosen markets and in so doing benefit Orange and its customers.”
There has been a trend of late towards mobile operators pumping money into Africa’s startup ecosystem. Millicom in October launched the US$10 million Millicom Foundation, aimed at supporting digital innovators in Africa and Latin America, while the company’s ‘think’ accelerator programme launched in Kigali, Rwanda.
Leading Kenyan operator Safaricom launched a US$1 million investment fund aimed at supporting mobile ICT startups, while Airtel launched ‘Catapult-a-Startup’ in Nigeria, aimed at assisting mobile app developers in scaling their businesses.