Changing the tech industry in Africa
Haifa Ben Salem and Evelyn Seltier, International Trade Centre
Trade Forum interviewed two African tech start-ups that attended the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in February 2023 through the support of the International Trade Centre and GSMA. The world’s biggest mobile event gathered more than 88,500 telecom operators, entrepreneurs, corporations, and public institutions.
The exhibition was an opportunity for start-ups to secure business opportunities and pitch African technology beyond borders. Technology promotes financial inclusion and connects people to digital services. This is particularly the case in Africa, where a large population doesn’t have access to traditional banks.
Here is what Emmanuel Emodek, CEO of ChapChap in Uganda, and Bright Chinyundu, Founder of Sparco in Zambia, had to say.
Bright, you took top honours at the Congress by winning a global pitch battle for financial tech companies with your company Sparco.
What does your tech solution offer to small businesses?
We offer digital banking solutions to small African businesses and give them access to international markets.
We provide ways for them to accept payments digitally. The businesses vary from shops selling clothes, African art, cakes, flowers, etc.
Emmanuel, how about ChapChap?
We are a fintech that creates financial profiles for small retail businesses using data collected from transaction records made on our app. We create financial profiles for informal businesses and empower them to access loans from financial institutions.
How do you connect these small businesses to digital solutions?
We partner with financial institutions, telecoms or fintechs and extend their services through small businesses. Many of these small businesses are already servicing low-income people who come to them to purchase groceries or other small household items. With ChapChap clients who may not have access to traditional banking services can top up their digital wallets or withdraw cash, pay for their utilities or the school fees of their children. The opportunities are vast.
Have you seen some impact already?
ChapChap helps small business owners earn money by providing digital services to their customers, and for each service sold, the owner earns revenue (commission). So far, we have paid out nearly $2.2 million in commission to the businesses we work with. By analysing the transactional data generated through our platform, we can help financial institutions evaluate the business’ credit worthiness and provide them with loans. To date, the businesses we have worked with have accessed over $14 million worth of credit through our platform.
What are the specific challenges in setting up a tech start-up, Bright?
First, the regulations to get the central bank to approve operations for the business. And second the talent sourcing. You need dedicated people – this is hard to find.
The fact that we are not a funded start-up also means it is hard to retain staff. We get young graduates, and then big corporates just lure them away after we train them.
What helped you?
Resilience and the fact that I am a software engineer. I can step in writing programmes in case a developer leaves.
What are your plans for ChapChap, Emmanuel?
We plan to grow our mobile-money agent network, primarily by partnering with small businesses.
Additionally, we intend to expand across Africa by collaborating with partners who are already running similar operations in other African countries. We believe that this will allow us to overcome the various regulatory hurdles and complexities that come with operating in the African market.
What would you need for that to happen?
Technical talent, enhanced software, financing, and solid partnerships.
Bright, what is your advice for other tech start-ups?
Build products that people want.
Money is an added advantage but get into the mindset of changing lives and building products that people want. This is how you get traction.
Sparco and ChapChap are changing the tech industry in Africa by solving systemic problems such as having no access to credit scoring, a large unbanked population, and a deep digital divide.
Both were selected to pitch at the flagship Fintech Battle competition during the Mobile World Congress, competing with Austrian and Spanish start-ups. In winning the competition, Sparco gained exposure, access to the 2024 edition, and networking with investors.
The participation of these start-ups at the Congress was made possible through the International Trade Centre’s Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF V) (July 2021 – June 2025) and FastTrackTech SwitchOn programmes that support small businesses in the digital technologies, connectivity and agribusiness sectors.
The projects contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions; for policymakers to create the right conditions for small businesses in developing countries to profit from digital trade and entrepreneurship; and to drive the internationalization of tech start-ups and exports of IT&BPO companies.