The inaugural Financial Times (FT) annual list of Africa’s Fastest Growing Companies (below) provides a view of the corporate landscape in a continent where technology, fintech, and support-service industries have had to adjust to a drastically changed environment.
Operating within the stringent limits imposed by several African governments to combat Covid-19 has been one of the most recent obstacles. In the end, the health impact has been less severe than many had predicted outside of South Africa and areas of north Africa.
However, the economic effects of lockdown have been severe, particularly in densely populated urban areas where many people live on the edge.
A possible silver lining is that the pandemic has accelerated business trends already under way. From banks to education providers, and from start-ups to established businesses, companies have shifted further online and sought fresh solutions for customers and societies as a whole.
Wasoko, formerly Sokowatch, which heads the ranking, is one of several on the continent seeking to cut the cost of doing business in the massive informal commerce sector, by helping to deliver goods to traders more efficiently.
The Kenyan company achieved the highest compound annual growth in revenues between 2017 and 2020 and, in March, raised $125mn in a Series B funding round.
Kenya is the third most represented country in the ranking, with nine companies, behind South Africa (24) and Nigeria (20), and ahead of Egypt (six). These are also the markets that have attracted the most venture capital and where unicorns (companies valued at $1bn+) and would-be unicorns have proliferated.
Many of the fastest-growing companies, especially in fintech sector, are those seeking to tap Africa’s unbanked population, or markets that have previously been underserved or ignored. The health and education sectors, for example — spurred by unmet need and rising aspirations — are among those offering most scope for growth.
Not all the fastest-expanding companies are high-tech. However, some, such as AfricaWorks, offer co-working spaces — a real estate model that has had its difficulties but could plausibly benefit from hybrid post-Covid working patterns.
More traditional companies, among them miners and construction firms, also make the list, proving that not all fast growth is digital. Still, much attention is likely to be paid to the innovative start-ups now attracting record funding, many of which are touting scaleable solutions to Africa’s deep-seated problems.
It will be worth watching the FT’s Africa ranking in years ahead to find out which companies prove enduring enough to move the needle. This inaugural FT list was compiled with Statista, a research company, and ranks African companies by their compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in revenue, between 2017 and 2020. Readers can also use the arrows at the top of columns in the table below to sort companies by country, by sector or by revenue.
Because many fast-growing companies are privately held and do not publicly disclose detailed financial data, a ranking such as this can never claim to be complete. But the rigorous screening process, which also requires senior executives to sign off on the figures submitted by their companies, means the ranking can offer a meaningful insight into the health of these private businesses.