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Quartz Africa's review of 2021

Looking back at 2021, here are some of the milestones we hit and some of what captured Quartz Africa’s attention over the past 12 months.

TikTok star Khaby Lame attends the blue carpet at the Giffoni Film Festival 2021 on July 23, 2021 in Giffoni Valle Piana, Italy.
This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
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Hi Quartz Africa readers!

2021 was an important year for all of Quartz, as we began work on our revamped mission to “make business better.” For Quartz Africa, it was a year of substantial change, with a new editor and a fresh team of reporters covering the continent.

Our truly global newsroom came into its own in a year of continuing travel restrictions and remote work, making our ability to tap into knowledge and experience beyond Africa even more useful and important.

Looking back at 2021, here are some of the milestones we hit, and some of what captured Quartz Africa’s attention over the past 12 months.

Startups

We looked at the impact of startups we’ve been following for ages…

…but we also told the stories of new enterprises…

…and what else affected business and innovation on the continent

We had fun doing it!

And we surprised you too

Ecosystem

The normalization of African startups raising $100 million

2021 was the year when African startups normalized raising $100 million. TymeBank and Flutterwave opened the gates in the first quarter. Chipper did it twice in six months. Wave put an overlooked sub-region on the map.

In 2021, these and six other tech companies each raised at least $100 million in different rounds to herald a new regime of “mega-round” startup funding in Africa. The 11 deals they closed were worth more than $1.7 billion, accounting for more than 40% of the $4.2 billion African startups have (so far) raised in 2021, according to The Big Deal, a startup funding database.

No African startup raised $100 million in 2020. Indeed, except the buzzy acquisitions of Paystack and Sendwave, last year was marked by fears of investor apathy towards Africa. As the pandemic ravaged economies, there was some anxiety that western investors would retreat, focusing rainy-day funds on less risky, developed markets.

But 2021’s rush of African mega rounds (as $100 million raises are sometimes called in Silicon Valley) suggests those fears did not materialize. Instead, old and new investors raised the stakes with their biggest bets yet.

This is a chart showing the 11 deals by the 10 African startups that raised more than $100 million in any round in 2021. The table shows the sector of the startup, the name, how much they raised, the location and the investors.

Innovators

For the first time, the Quartz Africa Innovators’ series entirely focused on identifying some of the most ambitious and imaginative women on the continent. The 2021 list, our sixth edition, highlighted female artists, activists, investors, and entrepreneurs whose innovations are helping their communities, countries, and the continent through a challenging period.

More than two dozen women, representing 18 countries and a diverse range of sectors, represent the dynamism, entrepreneurial drive, and resilience of millions on the continent. Their innovations demonstrate the potential that can be unleashed when women with bold ideas and decisive actions take the lead.

The pandemic

We contextualized the evolving pandemic…

…and also explored the various ways it changed our economies

What you enjoyed reading

Top stories of the year

Reader picks

My favorite story this year was one on Ghana issuing a social bond. I am interested in coverage that promotes or advertises financial and technological advancement on the continent. Thanks for your good work!—Quartz Africa reader

Editor picks

I loved reading How economic sanctions drove money transfers in west Africa underground. Hawala was a new concept to me, as a reader, and I loved learning about the practice and thinking about parallels in modern finance. I also enjoyed reading Retail trading apps in Nigeria face a defining moment—while Robinhood gets all the attention, this was a great look at not only its African competitors but how various African economies affect the market for retail trading on the continent.—Zach Seward, chief executive officer and a co-founder of Quartz
My favorite is A white founder’s $1 million Nairobi food startup aims to fix a problem Kenyans say doesn’t exist, because it so perfectly captures a certain kind of presumptuous overconfidence, a cross between a white tourist’s misinterpretation of a new city and a white tech entrepreneur’s blind belief in the novelty of his idea. The fact that the unproven problem at hand is related to local food just increases the drama. The story expertly pans out to become an indictment of the racial inequity at play in Kenya’s startup scene.—Katherine Bell, Quartz editor-in-chief
My top story of the year was on Akon’s plan to run a city in Senegal on cryptocurrency. This story sits right at the intersection of hype and possibility, which is where crypto itself lived for much of this year. By digging into Akon’s vision, we get a sense of the real advantages and pitfalls of crypto (and have to admit that “Akoin” is a pretty good name.)—Kira Bindrim, Quartz executive editor

Thank you for joining us on the fascinating trip that was 2021. Have an informed end to your year. —Quartz Africa team

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