On March 29, 2023, two early-stage African companies took first place in the finals of the world’s largest independent start-up competition.
The rise of the African techpreneur on the global stage was evident in the announcement of the overall winners of the 2022 Global Startups Awards (GSA), considered the world’s gold standard for startups.
The awards offer startups exposure in the international arena, as well as access to new markets, funding opportunities, and a global network of leaders. More than 120 techpreneur companies from 115 countries competed for these coveted awards. The top ten trailblazer entries were announced at the gala event.
This is the first year to see winners of the GSA Africa make it onto the list of global finalists at this event. Last year, the GSA Africa considered 7 589 nominees before crowning the continent-wide winners in 12 categories, including ‘Women in Tech’, ‘HealthTech’, ‘AgriTech’ and ‘Best Newcomer’. Sixty regional winners were announced.
Two of these, Kubik and Emata, were recognised for their world-class skills and innovation at the GSA’s gala event.
Kubik, last year’s GSA Africa ‘Startup of the Year’ and winner of the ‘ESG Tech’ category, took first place in the GSA’s Startup of the Year category. The environmental technology company from Ethiopia turns plastic waste into low-carbon, low-cost buildings. Their environmentally friendly alternative building materials are designed to interlock, thereby circumventing the need for costly and polluting materials.
Emata was announced the Best Newcomer. By providing them with affordable digital loans, the Ugandan fintech company is revolutionising how smallholder farmers access financing. Not only has this startup automated the entire loan process from data collection and credit scoring to loan disbursement, they also cater for small and remote farmers by offering loans as small as UGX 60 000 ($15).
Jo Griffiths, co-founder of the GSA Africa and the Global Innovation Initiative Group (GIIG), says the future will be shaped by startups that master technology and innovation. “These awards help identify and celebrate future-shapers, and build a network of innovation organisations across the globe.
“This year, we are also breaking down boundaries and old misconceptions about Africa, with startups from this continent having earned global awards. Africa is the tech continent of the future and offers a world of opportunities.
“It is also a continent brimming with world-class talent, impact-driven ideas, and ample opportunities to scale,” she adds. “We are incredibly excited to connect with the next cohort of leaders in African innovation and to support their growth with new opportunities for funding, market access, and global mentorship. The world needs Africa to find solutions for some of its most pressing challenges.”
The focus of this GSA season is on green innovation and how to propel society to move in a more sustainable direction, thereby contributing to Denmark’s green future and the rest of the world’s green agenda. Copenhagen, host to GSA’s headquarters and the annual international awards ceremony, is renowned as Europe’s green capital. The city supports massive investment in green growth and eco-innovation, both directly and indirectly.
The GSA’s multidimensional dynamic is the result of extensive and rigorous research, networking, and collaborations across the globe to discover the most promising innovators. Its Investor Delegation and African Meet-ups prior to its gala on 29 March were additional approaches to connect startups with like-minded individuals, potential investors, and the general public. The African Meet-up, fully-booked and the first of its kind, was made possible by the Global Innovation Initiative Group (GIIG) which continues to fund the development of solutions that align with the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
GIIG’s purpose is to find, fund and grow globally significant innovations emerging from Africa. One of the ways it fulfills this mission is by participating in the GSA Africa, where it identifies and evaluates startup ideas from 55 different countries. The GIIG Africa Fund participates in the top one percent of the GSA Africa’s winners’ network. The GIIG Africa Foundation again aids in the progress of the remaining 99 percent of businesses.
Awards that secure future impact
At regional level, the award process involves public nominations, followed by the juried selection of regional finalists. Regional winners are determined through means of a public voting process. Global winners are also voted for by the public from a list of jury-selected finalists drawn from the regional winners list.
The winning startups in the 12 global award categories are well-positioned to respond to the climate crisis and other socio-ecological challenges. They have proven that their solutions could make an immeasurable difference to lives in Africa and beyond.
Over the past decade, the GSA has used market position and growth services to support pioneering projects and products relating to next-generation innovation, thereby providing visibility to more than 10 000 startups.
“This [GSA] network and the awards that recognise excellence among startups are helping to ignite innovative startups’ power of ingenuity,” Griffiths says. “This year, we have unearthed extraordinary talent. The awards are helping fuel a new industrial revolution, powered by sustainable development.”
“I represent Kubik, but more importantly, I represent Africa,” recalled Kubik CEO and co-founder, Kidus Asfaw, during his acceptance speech at the GSA. “It truly takes a village to build a company. It’s not without the support of our community and country that Kubik is where we are today as the global Startup of the Year.”
Asfaw further commented that he believes these awards will have “a massive positive impact on Africa’s startup ecosystem.”
“It brings a lot of exposure to the fact that Africa is a launchpad for innovation. The continent is often seen as a beneficiary of others’ solutions. The GSA will help change this perception.”
“It will also create public awareness that Africa has unique and impactful solutions that are investment-worthy,” he says. “At Kubik, we want to be a voice for the many silent but phenomenal African entrepreneurs who are creating world-changing products and services.”
Bram van den Bosch, CEO and co-founder of Emata, shared that even though Uganda may be considered a small country, it is known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’. “[The Best Newcomer] award stands testament to Uganda’s significant contribution to Africa’s, and now the world’s, innovation ecosystem.”
“The award gives us exposure to a global audience and attracts the attention of investors who share our vision for supporting smallholder farmers. It also confirms that our innovative approach to financing agriculture is unique and effective.”
“Getting exposure on a global stage is crucial for the African startup ecosystem for several reasons,” he adds. “It allows startups like Emata to showcase their innovative solutions to a wider audience. This exposure leads to increased funding, partnerships, and growth opportunities, which all help us scale and significantly impact the African continent and its people.
More importantly, global exposure can help change the negative narrative often associated with Africa. For too long, Africa has been portrayed as a continent needing aid rather than as a continent with significant potential and resources. We dare African farmers to dream big, invest in transforming their farms into businesses and secure their own prosperity.”
“Hosting the leading African startups that are driving positive transformation on a global scale offers incredible opportunities,” says Kim Balle, GSA co-founder and CEO. “We have long desired to create such a platform to showcase the distinct solutions that African startups offer to make a difference in people’s lives. We are excited to witness what is to come from this continent’s entrepreneurs and as we continue to invite finalists back to the annual GSA.”