In its 2022 African Blockchain Report, Crypto Valley Venture Capital (CV VC), an early-stage venture capital investor in blockchain companies, excluded Flutterwave, Chipper and Andela from the African unicorn list.
In the initial report, CV VC said that 50% of the continent's unicorns lost their status as privately held startups valued at over $1 billion. However, the firm has admitted to the error and has made updates to the report.
Now, if 50% of the unicorn did not lose their horns, why is Flutterwave, Chipper and Andela not on the list? "The reason for not having included the businesses that you mention is due to their headquarters being registered outside of continental Africa," Wesley Patrick, Head of African Operations at CV VC told Bendada.com.
The research methodology describes this as a "more objective criterion for company inclusion," it is also a sharp contrast to the 2021 African Blockchain Report where CV VC defined African unicorns as "a privately-owned tech company [...] headquartered in Africa or with the bulk of operations in Africa".
It is important to note that the aforementioned excluded startups were listed as unicorns in the 2021 report, that is where the confusion with the now-rectified claim that 50% of African unicorns lost their horns came in.
"In this instalment of the Report, we opted to restrict our methodology to use a single geographical criterion for inclusion to make our data set more objective rather than to have inclusion criteria that allow for a subjective lower-level understanding of the businesses that we included," says Wesley. "Our single geographical-related criterion for inclusion only allows for businesses whose HQ is in Africa—hence the exclusion of the businesses that you've raised."
According to these comments, the three startups were excluded based on the location of their headquarters, not the valuation or primary market.
What defines an African startup?
This is quite a controversial question and there is no generally accepted definition.
Per BD Funding Tracker, an African startup is defined as an Africa-founded company with Africa as its primary market in terms of operations or revenue—not based on HQ or incorporation. This means that companies founded by entrepreneurs of African descent, that are not operating on the continent are not counted.
For instance, Calendly, the founder, Tope Awotona is of Nigerian descent, the product is also used in Africa. However, it is not an African-focused company, which is why it is not counted as an African unicorn. "Framing what an African startup is in your methodology can make a huge impact on the funding numbers and [and its public interception]," says Olanrewaju Odunowo, Head of TechCabal Insights.
With founding heritage and major operations in Africa, we expect that Flutterwave, Chipper and Andela should be included in the count of African unicorns, except it has to do with a slash in valuation.
What we know about the trio's valuation
The continued economic downturn has led to a slowdown in venture funding and a valuation slash at some companies across the globe.
Last year, Chipper's valuation was slashed by 37.5%—from $2 billion to $1.25 billion, according to documents shared by Financial Times. Between last year and now, the fintech company has laid off at least 150 employees.
"Given the macroeconomic climate, we are narrowing our current focus to core markets and products – concentrating our efforts where we know we can thrive. With this hyper-focused prioritization, the reality is that we, unfortunately, need a smaller team at Chipper," Chipper CEO Ham Serunjogi told TechCrunch.
The company was exposed to the FTX and Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) collapse that rocked the global tech ecosystem.
Meanwhile, Flutterwave was last valued at $3 billion, after raising a $250 million Series D a year ago. The company's planned IPO was marred last year by scandals and continued regulatory challenges. "The timing of an IPO is a function of a number of factors, including but not limited to, market conditions," a Flutterwave spokesperson said.
Flutterwave is still Y Combinator's most valuable African company, according to YC's 2023 list of portfolio companies that are valued at over $150 million.
Insiders at the company say that Flutterwave is still a unicorn.
In 2021, Andela raised a $200 million Series E at a $1.5 billion valuation. The company has raised at least $381 million since its first disclosed round in 2014.
This year, Andela has made two acquisitions. In March, the company acquired Qualified, a technical skills assessment platform, for an undisclosed figure. More recently, Andela acquired Casana, a Munich-based network of IT talent to expand its European footprint.
Last year, Kucoin raised a $150 million Series B valued at $10 billion. In March 2023, Scroll announced that it raised $50 million at a $1.8 billion valuation.
Although both companies are incorporated on the continent, their primary market is Asia.
More African unicorns?
"Outside of the market correction we've had over the last 12 months, the fundamentals of many leading African tech startups are at levels that would ordinarily command a unicorn valuation," Zachariah George, Managing Partner at Launch Africa Ventures, says. "Nonetheless, they’re delaying their next raises until the market gets better instead of raising at flat or down rounds caused by macro-economic market correction despite better fundamentals. So yes, there will be more unicorns in Africa, but mainly when the market has improved."