Ryan Chiao, Senior Photographer

On Wednesday, the Yale Africa Startup Review, or YASR, selected 30 companies for its 2022 list of Africa’s most innovative startups.

YASR is a digital publication created by students and alumni of the Yale School of Management whose mission is to draw attention to the African startup ecosystem and attract interested stakeholders and venture capitalists across the globe. Beginning last year, the publication releases a list annually, dubbed YASR30, which recognizes Africa’s top 30 startups.

In the YASR30 selection process, startups are first screened through a nomination survey in September. The editorial team — consisting of students and alumni of the SOM — then evaluates each startup for product market fit, innovation, scalability and attractiveness to investors, and selects up to 75 semi-finalists to forward to an external judging panel. This panel — composed of Africa’s leading venture capitalists — selects the final 30 startups to be featured in YASR30. 

“We started the review … [to] share stories of ingenuity and innovation across the African startup ecosystem,” said Samuel Kitara SOM ’20, who is the co-founder and editor of YASR.

Kitara discussed what he considers to be the Review’s unique approach. First, YASR relies on grassroots-driven startup sourcing by soliciting nominations from African accelerators, entrepreneurs and VC firms. Second, the breadth of startups varies widely, especially in terms of their geography and their investment stages. Finally, their review is structured to evaluate startups in the context of the African and emerging markets ecosystem.

According to Kitara, the Review partnered with African student organizations across Yale College to run an event where students learned about companies and explored potential internships at African companies. In addition, Kitara hopes to bring African startup founders to the classroom to discuss innovative ideas offered by their venture-driven companies.

“In terms of building [networks] within the Yale community, our goal is for every Yalie who is interested in Africa to [find] a place for themselves in the Review,” Kitara said.

Kitara also spoke to the importance of the University’s engagement with the Review, and said that he hopes to have alumni come aboard as judges and to partner as sponsors who can provide resources for selected companies. 

Sharon Mwale MPH ’16, who also is the co-founder and editor of YASR, described how the Review was created out of a “common thread of frustration” surrounding opportunities for students intending to get involved in African initiatives. Students such as herself felt that there were limited opportunities and resources to support individuals hoping to work with African companies in the business world.

Mwale described how venture capital resources were generally allocated to individuals such as herself who grew up in the United States and had access to talent and resources from leading institutions and centers of innovation such as Silicon Valley. These individuals, she said, who wanted to return to Africa to create a startup often have significant advantages over those who have grown up on the continent, who often understand the issues in their regions very well but do not have the same access to resources or mentors.

“There is growth going on [in Africa],” Mwale said. “There are people who are building things on the continent that are from the continent, that have lived the experience and are trying to find their way to build something up.”

Two such startups which will be featured on the YASR list include Rology, an AI-assisted teleradiology platform in the Middle East and Africa, as well as Sycamore, an online peer-to-peer lending platform in West Africa.

Moaaz Hossam, who is the co-founder and Chief Product Officer at Rology, noted that the African continent has developed into one of the main hubs for startups in the last ten years.

“Right now, you have many, many VC’s based in Africa founded by African people, backed by African capital as well,” Hossam said. “If you’re based in this region, you would have a deeper understanding of the problem of the people and you would have the network and experience to be able to judge startups.”

CEO and co-founder of Sycamore Tunde Akin-Moses expressed his hope that the YASR would draw attention to the African startup scene.

“[Africa is] doing very well, but we could still do so much better in terms of catching up with the rest of the world,” Akin-Moses said. “… A chance to get some international visibility is great.”

The YASR30 first launched officially in March 2021.

WILLIAM PORAYOUW
William Porayouw covers international affairs at Yale and serves on the YDN business team. Originally from Southern California, he is a first-year in Davenport College majoring in ethics, politics and economics.