Startup investment is making a comeback in North Africa

Image: AP/Manoocher Deghati
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African startups raised more than $129 million last year, according to a report from Disrupt Africa, a blog on technology and entrepreneurship on the continent. South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya were the most popular destinations, with north African countries catching up.

Fundraising for Egyptian startups jumped 105%, according to the report, making the country the fourth most popular tech investment destination on the continent.

There’s been a trend towards investment returning to Egypt and other North African countries having been scared off by years of political turmoil, according to Disrupt Africa. Altogether eight Egyptian startups raised $9.7 million, compared to $4.7 million last year, the largest increase of any country that had more than five startups secure investment for the year.

The relatively early use of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for political mobilization was notable during the Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia six years ago. But North African startups have not had a prominent profile in Africa’s tech landscape to date.

A small but vibrant startup scene is emerging in Egypt, despite its political upheaval, insecurity, and various crackdowns on civil liberties. Still, Egypt is the largest economy—or second largest, depending on how you measure it—on the continent and is at the center of the Arab world’s almost 160 million internet users. Banking on that growing population, companies like Vezeeta, a doctor appointment and review site, raised $5 million last year, the most of any Egyptian startup so far.

The Egyptian government is also trying to support entrepreneurs. As of last year, the country is second only to South Africa in number start up hubs and incubators in Africa. One tech hub, near the square where Egypt’s 2011 uprising began, is known as “Tahrir Valley.”

Other North African countries are starting to come up. Morocco, which appeared on Disrupt Africia’s list for the first time this year, saw about $3.4 million raised, coming in at sixth place. (Beeksat, a meeting and events app, raised most of that amount.) Morocco, which has been courting foreign investment heavily, is also home to startup spaces littered throughout the capital Rabat, the economic center of Casablanca, and even sleepy seaside towns like Taghazout.

Tunisia, where no startups managed to raise funds last year, brought in half a million for companies like RoamSmart, a cloud-based system for reducing roaming costs and Expensya, an expense reporting system.

While more startups found funding last year, the total amount raised dropped from the year before, a sign that more early stage startups are finding funding now. Sources of funding have yet to change much from international sources.