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Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet outlines the accelerator’s newest program in Africa

Techstars CEO Maëlle Gavet outlines the accelerator’s newest program in Africa Image
  • Posted on 22nd Jul, 2022 09:33 AM

The Nigerian tech ecosystem has grown tremendously in the past five years, with venture capital reaching over $1.8 billion in 2021

In April, startup accelerator Techstars, in partnership with ARM Labs, a Lagos-based innovation program focusing on fintech startups, announced the launch of ARM Labs Lagos Techstars Accelerator Program

As Techstars’ newest accelerator program in Africa, the announcement re-emphasized the expansion plans Techstars touted when it hired Maëlle Gavet as CEO last January. The Lagos accelerator adds to the long list of dedicated generalist and specialist programs the firm has managed to create globally over the past couple of years. 

Companies that get accepted into any of these three-month programs receive $20,000 plus a $100,000 convertible note in exchange for 6% common stock, access to the Techstars networks and other resources. In 2021, the Colorado-based accelerator ran up to 50 accelerator programs across 18 countries, most of which were based in North America and Europe. 

In Africa, the accelerator test-ran an accelerator program in Cape Town between 2016 and 2017. Techstars has invested in more than a dozen African-based startups through other programs. Thus, it was only a matter of time before one of them hit Africa — and where better to start than in Nigeria. Most of the startups backed by the accelerator on the continent are based in the country including Farmcrowdy, Healthtracka, TalentQL, OurPass, Rentsmallsmall and Treepz. 

The Nigerian tech ecosystem has grown tremendously in the past five years, with influx of venture capital reaching over $1.8 billion in 2021. Lagos is at the epicenter of this growth. According to this data, the city is one of the fastest growing ecosystems worldwide and the number one African startup city as of last year. By partnering with ARM Labs, Techstars hopes to capitalize on the immense opportunity created by its startups. The program’s inaugural class starts in December, culminating in a Demo Day next March.

TechCrunch caught up with Gavet on her trip to Lagos and spoke at length on how the program would work, opportunities for founders and why the accelerator is bullish on Africa. 

TC: There are many Techstars programs, from London to Seattle to Riyadh to Oak Ridge-Knoxville, and sometimes it’s hard to keep count. But before launching in Lagos, it seemed only the Toronto program took actual notice of Africa, as evident in the 15 startups represented from the region in its program. Why is this the case?

MG: Techstars has been active in Africa since 2011. We have run 350 local ecosystem-building events, primarily in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. We also had a Barclays Accelerator program in South Africa for two years, and we have made close to 100 investments in African founders. But you’re right. The most recent Toronto cohort was heavily focused on Africa, honestly, more because I think Canada has a very welcoming visa system for African founders and so it just makes it a lot easier for them to go to the Toronto program than it would be to many other Western programs. But Techstars has been very actively looking at Africa in general and the discussion last year was that we should, given how vibrant the tech ecosystem here is, have accelerators here in Africa. 

I am in Nigeria this week — I’m also going to Kenya — because I’m here to figure out the right way to do it, where we will open them and so on. We decided last year to open one in Lagos and we are very much hoping to be able to double down and explore other options in terms of different hubs across Africa. 

Why partner with ARM for this program in Lagos, and can you describe the structure?

We have pretty high standards regarding the type of company we partner with and the three-month program we put in place. And that model has worked out for the last 15 years, so I’m pretty confident. Any founder going to apply to these and then be accepted into this program here in Lagos will benefit from the experience we have accumulated over the last few years, from the playbook that we have to run this program, from the international network that we have. 

Soon, we’re going to announce the new managing director for Lagos, some with local experience as an entrepreneur and experience working with the regulators as well. Now, we decided to partner with ARM because we wanted someone who was embedded into Nigeria and understands the country better than us from a business perspective.

Image Credits: lARM Labs Lagos Techstars Accelerator Program.

We wanted a business partner who understands Africa and what it means to do business across Africa. And I think we’re realistic enough to realize that we don’t know everything and can provide much better service to founders when we combine each other’s strengths — the global network of experts, or playbook, all the infrastructure we have, and the knowledge and experience and local network of a partner like ARM.

Can international founders apply for this program and how would they need to come down to Lagos to participate?

All of our programs are international, we usually have between 20%-40% of local founders, and the rest are international founders. With the Lagos program, we expect this ratio to be about the same. 

While there is so much knowledge and energy from founders in Nigeria, we also expect that there will be many African founders. For them, it would be easier and more appropriate because they’re mainly focused on the African market and so it will be better for them actually to come to the Lagos accelerator. That’s part of why I’m going to Kenya next because I think that there are quite a few Kenyan founders who would prefer coming to Lagos than going to Europe or North America. 

And then, quite a few founders in Europe and the U.S. are looking at Africa as a tremendous market for their business. And so I expect that we will have applications from them and those who get in will have to come down. At the end of the day, we’ll select the best.

As an African founder, why would I apply to Techstars Lagos rather than Toronto, New York or other Western programs?

We have 60 programs and accept founders from around the world. So if you’re a Nigerian founder and want to apply to any Techstars accelerator, you can do that anywhere in the world you want. 

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