Last January, the Orange Group launched the Orange Ventures Middle East & Africa fund. What are the characteristics of this fund compared to Orange Digital Ventures, launched in 2015?
Firstly, there is the available investment amount, which has risen to 350 million Euros. Secondly, the governance: Orange Ventures is now a full-fledged company. Its team makes their investment decisions autonomously, based on return on investment criteria. Previously, Orange Digital Ventures was a component of Orange SA. We have reviewed the interaction processes between Orange and the startups in the portfolio to be able to generate maximum synergies, where it makes sense. We have also repositioned our investment strategy. In Europe and the US, we are focusing on more mature companies in sectors such as connectivity, cybersecurity, digital enterprise and innovative financial services, but also exploring new areas such as e-health. In Africa and the Middle East, a promising and exciting continent, we will step up our action. We are investing in two different pockets. We have a first pocket dedicated to future pan-African champions that we can source from all over the continent and a second seed pocket that that we have just launched for younger companies to finance 100 startups by 2025.
Since 2015, Orange has been investing in African startups. Why does Orange invest in "made in Africa" innovation?
We believe that African startups are a significant part of the answer to the major challenges posed by the demographic explosion and the emergence of a middle class on the continent. With digital technologies, entrepreneurs can find local solutions to facilitate access to essential services. We are of course talking about basic financial services (payment, transfer, credit, savings, insurance, etc.), as well as transport, education, health, agriculture and many others. Orange wants to be a key player in this digital revolution, both through our investments in networks and through all our initiatives aimed at the continent's entrepreneurs: Orange Fab and Orange Ventures, to name but two. This is why Orange Ventures has always put the African continent at the heart of its investment thesis and has since invested in 10 startups in Africa and the Middle East.
Through these investments, how do you see the African tech ecosystem evolving? What are the needs of African startups and how can we better support them?
To begin with, what is striking is the speed of this ecosystem growth, which doubles in size almost every year on average. We can see it in the growth of the amounts raised since 2015, the number of startups that raise, of investors active on the continent, of the size of these funds, of the number of new structures to support these entrepreneurs. Even if on a global scale, the ecosystem remains small and still highly concentrated in a few megacities, these trends are very encouraging and are part of a long-term structural transformation dynamic that affects almost all African countries. This is what makes Africa one of the most interesting opportunities for venture capitalists today.
Finally, what can a group like Orange bring to this African tech ecosystem and to startups?
Orange Ventures strives to bring the best of both worlds to entrepreneurs, the agility and independence of a VC with the wealth of a group such as Orange. Orange in Africa and the Middle East has extraordinary assets for startups for which the main challenges are often access to customers and digital payment solutions, especially in several countries. Orange serves 125 million customers in 18 countries through more than 700k points of sale and has essential technologies (in the form of APIs) for communication (SMS, USSD) and payment (Orange Money, airtime). In addition, the group has a vast network of experts and partners across the continent.
We are proud at Orange Ventures to have a team dedicated to bringing value to our startups every day. Today, 50% of our portfolio collaborates with Orange, whether as customers, distributors, suppliers, etc.