French football stars rally behind Francophone African startups

Recently, StarNews Mobile raised $3 million pre-Series A in a round backed by three French national players showing an exciting and growing trend in Francophone Africa.

French football stars rally behind Francophone African startups
Aurélien Tchouaméni (in white) a French footballer of Cameroonian descent recently invested in StarNews Mobile

Cameroon-based mobile video network, StarNews Mobile announced a $3 million pre-Series A raise on Tuesday. Although the round was led by Janngo Capital, an Africa-focused venture capital firm, the participating investors were French footballers including, AurĂ©lien TchouamĂ©ni of Real Madrid, Jules KoundĂ© of Barcelona and AC Milan's Mike Maignan.

The three players, all under the management of Excellence Sport Nation, an athlete representation agency, have joined a growing roster of French descent football stars who are investing in the region. In contrast to their English-speaking counterparts, startups in the Francophone region tend to secure less funding.

Some experts contend that the language barrier between English-speaking investors, who constitute the largest investor group on the continent, and Francophone entrepreneurs could be a contributing factor to the lower investment levels. Additionally, the funding disparity may also be attributed to the notably stringent regulatory environment in Francophone Africa, which has deterred foreign investors and led them to prefer investing in Anglophone markets.

"Francophone Africa inherited the French system’s bureaucracy, heavy administration, and governance style; as such, processes and regulations can be stricter than in other regions," Coura Sene, Wave’s General Manager for the eight French-speaking countries in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) said.

Being of Cameroonian descent, Tchouaméni has decided to bridge the gap by backing these founders who speak the language that they understand. “I am very excited and proud to back StarNews [...] I can also see StarNews becoming a bridge to connect with the African diaspora, and I personally look forward to being on it,” says Fernand Tchouameni, spokesperson and investment advisor for Aurelien Tchouameni.

With an annual average salary of €33,927 for top male football stars in France, coupled with various endorsement deals, these footballers view this as an opportunity to not only contribute to the development of their region but also diversify their investment portfolios.

Last year, Édouard Mendy, former Chelsea’s goalkeeper and Senegalese national team footballer invested in the $5 million pre-Series A extension of Ivorian fintech startup Julaya. This was Mendy’s first investment in the African tech ecosystem.

According to Julaya’s co-founder and CEO Mathias LĂ©opoldie, football stars and other high-net-worth individuals in the sports industry are investing in venture capital because of two reasons: “The first one is that even though it’s a risky asset, it brings great returns. And second, they need to use their image to show that they don’t only care about their sports career but want to be an inspiration to their home country.”

Blaise Matuidi, a former French footballer of Angolan descent, alongside his colleague, Kieran Gibbs, a former English star backed Bloom, a Sudanese fintech in its $6.5 million seed round which had the participation of Visa and Y-Combinator.

The trend outside Francophone Africa

Beyond Francophone Africa, other football players like Nigeria’s Wilfred Ndidi and Rudzani Ramudzuli of South Africa, are also actively engaging in startup investments across the African continent.

Interestingly, there is also a trend of African tech entrepreneurs who are investing in local football clubs. For instance, last year, Shola Akinlade, co-founder and CEO of Paystack launched Sporting Lagos, a modern football club to incubate the next generation of Nigeria's sporting talent. Earlier this year, Akinlade acquired a 55% stake in Aarhus Fremad, the club is currently at the top of the Danish 2nd Division — the third tier of the Danish football league system.

“By strengthening the relationship between Sporting Lagos and Aarhus Fremad, we aim to create an environment that fosters education, growth, and opportunity for our players and the community at large,” Shola said.

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