Africa We Want

RWANDA: This Swedish non-profit has big dreams for tech startups in Kigali

Niklas Adalberth (right), founder and chairman of Norrsken Foundation with Arnold Kwizera (left), Ecosystem and partnerships lead, Norrsken East Africa. Photo courtesy of Norrsken House Kigali. By Abraham Augustine

Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation hopes a $20 million investment in its first hub outside Stockholm will birth Rwanda’s first impact unicorn.

On Wednesday, November 8, 2023, Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame formally opened Norrsken House Kigali. The 12,000-square-metre campus is a $20 million bet by Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation that Kigali will become a nerve centre for African technology companies.

“Rwanda is an excellent testbed and a proof-of-concept hub,” said Niklas Adalberth, the 42-year-old founder and chairman of the Norrsken Foundation in his keynote address. If the Kigali hub is successful, Norrsken will set up similar hubs in other countries. The foundation defines success as being the home for billion-dollar impact businesses and a thriving community of companies that could create profitable businesses that are a net positive for the planet.

It’s a big win for Rwanda; with a gross domestic product of around $13 billion and growing public debt, the country needs private-sector investment. “The country can be small but the value we create can be very high,” President Kagame told guests at Norrsken Africa Week.

Adalberth was only 24 when he co-founded Klarna, the Buy-Now-Pay-Later company that is Europe’s most valuable private company. Adalberth exited the company in 2016 and founded the Norrsken Foundation to support impact businesses. Since then he has progressively sold down his stake in Klarna to less than 1%. Half of the proceeds were committed as an initial investment into the Norrsken Foundation. Since its creation in 2016, Norrsken’s house in Stockholm has become the centre of the city’s impact entrepreneurship space in a country that is considered Europe’s impact hub. By bringing the right mix of investors, entrepreneurs, and talent, the foundation hopes to recreate the same success in Kigali.

Built on the former site of École Belge de Kigali, a Belgian school founded in 1965, the Kigali campus is the second such hub the foundation has put up since it acquired one of the grand halls of an old tram station in downtown Stockholm for its first facility. Two weeks ago, the foundation opened its third house, a 3-storey, 10,000-square-metre building in Barcelona, Spain. The Kigali campus which has been operational since January 2022 hosts roughly 1200 members, East Africa director, Pascal Murasira said at Norrsken Africa Week. The event is Norrsken’s first impact entrepreneurship and investment meeting held outside Stockholm.

Wooing capital to Kigali

Two weeks ago, Norrsken22, an independently managed African growth-stage VC announced it had raised $205 million to invest in growth-stage tech companies in Africa. Last week, Norrsken22 partners were part of fund managers at Norrsken Africa Week. An event the Norrsken Foundation said was organised to bring capital allocators and tech founders together in person. The Norrsken Foundation is a founding partner of Norrsken22.

This first Africa event was held in the Norrsken campus in Kigali on the 8th and 9th of November. More than 1,500 entrepreneurs, investors, government officials, and academia from Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and across Africa attended the 2-day networking-focused meeting. The event also brought together the different arms of the Norrsken Foundation, including Norrsken22, the $205 million Africa-focused growth stage fund, and Africa Seed Fund, an early-stage investment outfit. African startups that had been part of the Norrsken Accelerator, a global impact-focused accelerator based in Stockholm were also represented by their founders.

Kigali’s big push for private capital

Since 2009 Rwanda has aggressively sought to position itself as a diversified investment hub in East Africa. In recent years, the focus moved to tech investments. A $30 million Rwanda Innovation Fund backed by the African Development Bank (AfDB) was launched in 2021 to invest in funds and directly back tech companies in East Africa. Per Statista, Rwandan tech startups raised only $1.9 million in 2022, a year when African startups raised the most ever. It was a decline from 2021’s $6.8 million figure. 2023 has been better. Kasha, a Rwandan startup raised $21 million in Series B funding, and Eden Care, a Rwandan insuretech became the first from the country to be accepted into YCombinator, the famed San Francisco-based accelerator program.

Making Kigali a leading finance hub is a key part of president Kagame’s economic reform program.

Convincing investors to invest in the country remains challenging. But the country’s new financial centre wants even more. It wants investment funds to be incorporated in the country and has created a special fintech program that boasts Flutterwave, Onafriq (formerly MFS Africa), Chippercash, NALA, and recently, Paystack as members.

Just before Norrsken Africa Week, it hosted a breakfast meeting for investors. One early-stage investor who had attended the meeting told TechCabal that her firm was still weighing their options. Another early-stage investor said her VC firm was in the process of setting up a new fund in Rwanda and scouting for office space. They favour Norrsken, which is home to at least 3 other VC firms (Katapault, Angaza Capital, and Renew Capital). Earlier this year, on the sidelines of the Inclusive Fintech Forum, the Africa Business Angels Network (ABAN) and Kigali International Financial Centre signed an MoU to pave the way for the network to set up its catalytic Africa fund in Kigali.

Entrepreneurs also suffer from indecision. One e-logistics startup founder who spoke with TechCabal was impressed with Kigali, but still weighing options. She considers a location that will facilitate access to capital without being too far from the business operations as ideal. “It’s a chicken and egg problem,” the founder conceded.

Resolving this tension between capital and founders is the thrust of the Norrsken Foundation and its ecosystem partners.

Author: MANZI


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