Our 12 startups to watch in 2017 – how did we do?


Back at the start of the year, Disrupt Africa unveiled its 12 African startups to watch in 2017, always a risky business. But how did we get on with our predictions?

Egyptian bug-reporting startup Instabug

We said: “In February, Instabug was selected to participate in the Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator accelerator; and announced it was coming out of beta testing at last. By June, the startup announced it had closed a US$1.7 million seed round to allow it to expand its suite of tools to provide a comprehensive support kit for mobile apps. Oh, and by the way, Instabug has been used to report 20 million bugs already… and counting. 2017 will be exciting for these guys.”

What actually happened: Instabug grew its team from 20 to 60 people, became profitable, and has so far reported 100 million bugs – signifying growth of 500 per cent.

Verdict: Hit

Tunisian roaming solutions provider RoamSmart

We said: “Tunisia’s RoamSmart is something of a startup world veteran, also launched in 2012. But the startup is on a renewed push to take the world by storm, and we think they might just do it in 2017. Initially funded through private funds and bank loans, RoamSmart secured its first funding round in 2016 to help it on its way to world-domination. We’re excited to see what’s next in 2017, aren’t you?”

What actually happened: Now serves 46 customers in 38 countries on 5 continents, including major new customers such as Telenor Group, Sky UK, Digicel Pacific and MTN. Launched a new and unique solution for Inbound Roaming Market Share, and closes 2017 with annual revenue growth of more than 50 per cent.

Verdict: Hit

Egyptian tutoring startup Tutorama

We said: “Founded in January 2016, Egyptian ed-tech startup Tutorama spent most of the year in closed testing, working through technical kinks and refining its business model. We think they have what it takes.”

What actually happened: It’s all gone very quiet on the Tutorama front.

Verdict: Miss

Kenyan recruitment startup Fuzu

We said: “Kenyan career development startup Fuzu only launched in late 2015… but did this team hit the ground running or what? The startup immediately received backing from the Rockefeller Foundation and Accenture, and by December 2016, Fuzu had announced it had raised US$1.88 million in funding to support its business development, and expansion from Kenya to other African countries as well as to Asia.”

What actually happened: Crossed two million lifetime users on the platform and tripled its registered user base to more than 350,000 users in Kenya, where it has become the second largest employment platform. Has started its regional expansion.

Verdict: Hit

Kenyan emergency response startup Flare

We said: “Kenya’s Flare app is a great example of a startup responding to a local pressing challenge. The app was under construction and testing with ambulance companies throughout 2016; with the startup raising funding (US$150,000) in the last quarter of the year to enable a full-scale commercial launch. We’re looking forward to seeing the emergency response space in Kenya thoroughly shaken up in 2017.”

What actually happened: – Now has the largest fleet of ambulances in Nairobi, and the fastest response time – 15 minutes. Flare launched its consumer membership product, of which it has seen good uptake, and has raised another round of funding. It is on track to scale to other cities in Kenya in 2018, and identify its next country as well.

Verdict: Hit

Tanzanian microinsurance startup Jamii

We said: “The startup has racked up some impressive successes so far. It received backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and won the Tanzanian leg of Seedstars World – progressing to the global finals. Jamii has promised launches in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa over 2017, and is raising funding. We’ll definitely be keeping a keen eye on this startup.”

What actually happened: Closed a US$750,000 seed round in January, but has not yet expanded to new markets. Is, however, establishing its blueprint in Kenya and Tanzania, and is raising another funding round. Has signed a partnership agreement with Safaricom in Kenya, and has managed to activate 27,580 customers since its national launch in June.

Verdict: Hit

South African blockchain-based anti-piracy solution Custos Media

We said: “This South African startup has found an innovative use for bitcoin and blockchain technology which we think is worth following. We’re not the only ones to have our interest piqued. Custos raised two funding rounds in 2016 – US$265,000 from a South African private investor and the New York-based Digital Currency Group in April, followed by US$420,000 from South Africa’s Technology Innovation Agency in August.”

What actually happened: Steady progress as it reaches news markets and new niches. Announced in September it was participating in a new blockchain-based anti-piracy solution for e-books. Launched its entry-level anti-piracy product for the film industry, and started marketing its white label video on demand solution with integrated content protection. Now has clients in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.

Verdict: Hit

South African Wi-Fi monitoring tool Cape

We said: “South Africa’s Cape – which rebranded from Asimmetric in November – had a very exciting 2016… and we think it’s just the beginning for this startup. The startup launched an all-new edition of its product in November, coinciding with its rebranding to Cape… in preparation for great things this year, we’re certain.”

What actually happened: Landed some major customers, and is growing at more than 30 per cent month-on-month. Has launched a channel partner programme and is adding resellers globally. Cape is now used in 14 countries, and was recognised as the Best WiFi Startup in 2017 by industry group WiFi NOW.

Verdict: Hit

Zimbabwean e-health startup Dr CADx

We said: “Zimbabwe’s Dr CADx is a new kid on the African startups block, but we think these guys are worth keeping an eye on. Founded in August 2016, the startup is developing a computer-aided diagnostic system to help doctors diagnose medical images more accurately, and to provide pervasive radiology diagnostics in regions which currently do not have radiologists.”

What actually happened: Still pre-launch, but was named a finalist for the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA) in mid-2017. Now preparing its study protocol for its first trial – focused on TB diagnosis – which will run early in 2018. Hopes to launch a TB diagnosis tool in late 2018 or early 2019. Improved the accuracy of its diagnoses during 2017 to 92 per cent.

Verdict: Hit

Nigerian digital printing startup Printivo

We said:Printivo was voted the country’s most investable startup in 2016, beating the likes of Hotels.ng, Andela, and iRokoTV to take the top spot… and we’re not about to disagree – it’s a great venture.”

What actually happened: Continues to impress. In February it was one of the 44 companies selected for the 20th batch of the San Francisco-based 500 Startups accelerator programme, while in May it launched Printivo Store, a designer marketplace where users can create and sell designs on print products and earn 15 per cent royalties.

Verdict: Hit

Nigerian business management platform SpacePointe

We said: “2016 was SpacePointe’s strongest year to date. In June, it announced it had raised US$1.2 million in funding from multiple investors, enabling it to launch two in-store business management and point of sale (PoS) applications into the market. The startup is busy pushing its products out to as many customers as possible, and we’re eager to watch uptake soar in 2017.”

What actually happened: Claims to have seen “tremendous traction” as it focuses more firmly on payments. Has been selected as a service provider by the Edo State Government, collecting revenue from thousands of taxpayers. Also onboarded thousands of stores, and partnered Mastercard as a payments facilitator.

Verdict: Hit

Ghanaian beauty startup Tress

We said: Tress showed us it meant business by going straight for a global launch in February 2016, having been incubated at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). With the global black haircare industry valued at over US$500 billion, we’re eager to see how much of the market Tress will dominate this year.”

What actually happened: Nothing that we know of. Still appears to be operational but we have received no information on milestones, in spite of our best efforts.

Verdict: Miss


> Overall total <

10 Hits

2 Misses

Turns out we’re pretty good at this! Keep an eye out over the next few days for our 12 African tech startups to watch in 2018. A very happy new year to all.


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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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