Are these Accelerator programs wasting African startups time?

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Are these Accelerator programs wasting African startups time?

This article was sparked by a thought-provoking LinkedIn post from Victor Asemota, where he delves into the phenomenon of African startups being caught in a seemingly endless loop of acceleration. It’s like watching a hamster on a wheel, except the hamster is a startup, and the wheel is the myriad of accelerator programs out there. Victor’s musings were in the context Visa acceleration program, where he noted that the startups involved were already so seasoned in the accelerator circuit that another round seemed more like a victory lap than a necessity. see Linkedin Post Below 


here are my thoughts on the topic :

Let’s zoom in on three companies from the inaugural class of this accelerator program. First up, Agrocenta, which had already danced through the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Fund in 2018 and Techstars in 2022 before hitting the Visa Africa Fintech Accelerator ’23. Then there’s OZE, which, fresh off a $3 million pre-Series A round (up from a $700,000 haul the year prior), hardly seems in dire need of more acceleration. And let’s not forget Eversend, which split its time between the Techstars Berlin Accelerator and the Google Launchpad Africa Accelerator program in 2019. The common thread? None of these companies appear to be gasping for the breath of acceleration—they need cold, hard cash.


From the startups’ perspective, enduring the grind to tap into Visa’s promised funding might seem like a fair trade. But let’s call a spade a spade: African startups are being over-accelerated and underfunded. And while I am not here to single out Visa (they’re hardly the first to tread this path, and unlikely to be the last), it’s worth dissecting the  benefits of such programs.

  Knowledge and Expertise  : These programs promise a competitive edge, covering everything from product design to sales. While this might be a boon for pre-seed startups, for those at the Series A stage, it’s akin to sitting through a rerun of a show you’ve already binge-watched—tedious and time-consuming.

  Mentorship  : Access to one-on-one mentoring from industry experts sounds great on paper, but for startups that have been around the block, one wonders if there’s really much new to learn.

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  Accelerator owner  Specific Training  : Exclusive fintech and payment training modules might sound enticing, but wouldn’t a few well-targeted ecosystem events or partnerships do the trick more efficiently? Or better yet, just hand over the funding and cut to the chase.

  Funding  : Ah, the holy grail. The chance to secure funding at the end of the accelerator rainbow is the main draw. But when the path to get there is littered with time-consuming tasks and workshops, one has to question if the juice is worth the squeeze.

  Partnership Opportunities  : The promise of forging powerful partnerships and gaining access to a network of industry leaders and innovative companies is alluring. But again, for startups that have already established a strong presence in their markets, the value proposition starts to wane.

  Product Perks  : Over $200,000 in product perks and discounts from vendors like AWS can be tempting. Indeed, for that kind of money, many would be willing to endure the accelerator grind.


But here’s the rub: the danger of over-acceleration for African startups is all too real. The potential pitfalls range from equity dilution and a focus on short-term goals to resource drain, market misalignment, dependency syndrome, and burnout. The narrative of startups being propelled through accelerator after accelerator, each promising the moon but often delivering an experience not too dissimilar from the last, is becoming all too familiar.


To bolster the argument, consider the broader landscape of African startups. The continent is teeming with innovation, yet the mismatch between the needs of these startups and the offerings of accelerator programs is glaring. For instance, a 2021 report by Partech Africa highlighted that while funding for African startups is on the rise, the distribution remains uneven, with a significant focus on later-stage companies. This underscores the need for a more nuanced approach to acceleration, one that recognizes the diverse stages and needs of startups across the continent.



For accelerators, the challenge is to tailor their offerings more closely to the needs of African startups, recognizing the diverse ecosystem within which these companies operate. This might mean providing more flexible, stage-appropriate equity arrangements, or focusing on deep, sector-specific mentorship rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. It could also involve creating pathways for startups to engage with local markets and communities, grounding their growth in the realities of the African business landscape.

Government and Policy Makers

Governments and policy makers can play a pivotal role by fostering an environment that encourages sustainable growth over rapid scaling. This could involve incentives for startups that prioritize long-term strategic development, support for local accelerator programs that understand the unique challenges and opportunities in their markets, and investment in infrastructure that facilitates business growth.

Ultimately, the path forward is one of balance and intentionality. It’s about recognizing that while accelerators can provide a valuable boost, they are but one ingredient in the recipe for success. The most sustainable growth comes from a foundation of strong, locally relevant business models, deep understanding of customer needs, and an unwavering focus on building products and services that truly resonate with the market. For African startups, the future is bright, but it requires navigating the accelerator landscape with discernment, focusing on genuine growth over the allure of speed.

In conclusion, while accelerators have their place in the startup ecosystem, the narrative needs to shift towards a more balanced approach—one that values sustainable growth, strategic planning, and the unique context of African markets. It’s time for startups to take the wheel, steering clear of the over-acceleration trap and charting a course towards long-term success.