African Accelerators increasingly targeting niche programmes

Accelerator programmes in Africa are increasingly going niche, targeting specific programmes targeted at startups in spaces such as fintech and health, instead of following the more traditional 500 Startups, Y Combinator, or, in Africa, 88mph models.

But why are niche programmes suddenly so in vogue on the continent? Has the landscape changed since 88mph departed the scene after programmes in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria that had mixed success? Do we yet know the real ingredients for a successful African accelerator?

Adedana Ashebir is regional manager for Africa at Village Capital, which has run a host of focused accelerators across the continent, most recently a fintech programme with PayPal. She said niche accelerators allow entrepreneurs to share best practices and lessons learned in a more meaningful way.

“There is a real value add to bringing founders that are working on different aspects of a similar problem,” she said. “As an entrepreneur, it helps to have others in the room who understand your challenges with product-market fit or regulation for example. Additionally, corporates play a role in driving this trend as they are looking for potential customers and products.”

There is room for both niche and general programmes within the African startup accelerator space, according to Camilla Swart, ecosystem manager at the Cape Town-based Rise, where Barclays holds its programmes.

“I think there is room for both approaches, it depends on the entrepreneur needs,” she said.

Yet Rise has experienced the benefits of focusing on fintech.

“What is great for us at Rise is that in our co-working community there is a glue that holds people together,” said Swart. “They have a common language in “fintech”, they can be a sounding board for each other, share ideas and resources, and you see the traction of collaboration quite tangibly.”

She points to mergers that have occurred within the startup community at Rise, as well as the fact some of the more mature startups have invest in early-stage businesses.

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