Unexpected seed investment in Congo, Iraq, Uganda, Bangladesh?  You bet.

Unexpected seed investment in Congo, Iraq, Uganda, Bangladesh? You bet.

Entrepreneurship and investing in startups are notoriously risky activities. But there’s one area where founders and VCs typically avoid risk: geography.

The overwhelming majority of funded startups cluster in countries that are highly rated for ease of doing business. You rarely see them in countries known as more dangerous and difficult places to start new businesses.

This basic notion seems obvious, but we thought it would be interesting to see if there are any unexpected places where startup funding is on the rise. To do this, we took a World Bank1 ranking of the 190 best and worst countries for doing business. We then used data from Crunchbase to see how countries at the bottom of the list are seeing investment gains in startups.

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It turns out that there are quite a few countries where this is the case, as seed and venture capital investments reach more parts of the globe. For the sake of simplicity, we’ve selected four countries that have never been startup hubs but are experiencing strong growth in funding:

No. 1: Democratic Republic of Congo

We will start with Congo, the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa and home to a population of around 108 million. It is a place with a famous and gruesome colonial history, followed by several troubled decades under a series of strongman rulers. Although vast and rich in natural resources, earning a living or setting up a business has never been easy.

But Congo is too big for startups to completely ignore. Since 2021, approximately $10.4 million in funding has gone to well-known Congo-based startups listed in Crunchbase.

Although Congo’s numbers don’t seem huge, it’s a jump from previous years. For the decade 2010 to 2020, for example, Congolese companies only raised $1.2 million in pre-seed funding through venture capital funding, according to Crunchbase.

Altech Group, a provider of solar energy and clean cookstoves, is one of the biggest recipients of recent funding. The company raised $1.5 million in equity funding, with social investor SIMA Funds as a backer, as well as $7.1 million in debt funding, through Crunchbase.

Another $37.5 million went to Jambo this year. An African “Web3 SuperApp” with Congo-born founders, the company recently secured a $30 million seed round in May led by crypto-focused investment firm Paradigm. (It is unclear whether Jambo is also present in Congo.)

No. 2: Iraq

Iraq isn’t exactly the hub of tech startups. From 2010 to 2020, only about $2 million in total known venture capital and seed funding went to Iraqi startups, according to data from Crunchbase.

More recently, however, things are picking up speed. Since 2021, Baghdad-based startups have secured at least $13.7 million in equity funding, per Crunchbase. There is even a dedicated fund, Iraq Tech Ventures, which says it focuses on “diversifying the Iraqi economy away from oil and into more sustainable sectors like technology”.

In recent quarters, the biggest funding recipient has been Baly, a Baghdad-based ridesharing app that raised $10.5 million earlier this year. Meanwhile, Alsaree3, a food delivery startup, raised $3.2 million.

No. 3: Uganda

Uganda is said to have the youngest population in the world, with around 45% of its inhabitants under the age of 15. Only 2% of people in this sub-Saharan country are 65 or older (compared to about 17% of Americans).

Some of that youthful energy is apparently funneled into start-up companies. Since 2021, at least 20 Ugandan startups have secured seed, venture capital, or venture capital debt funding, through Crunchbase, collectively raising over $40 million. In comparison, over the entire decade from 2010 to 2020, Ugandan startups made less than half.

The biggest name is Tugende, a Kampala-based startup that offers financing and services to small businesses and individual operators who want to own income-generating assets such as motorbikes and cars. According to Crunchbase data, Tugende has secured $22 million in equity funding and $27 million in debt funding to date. The company also announced an undisclosed size B pre-series in June.

Telemedicine provider Rocket Health Africa also landed one of the biggest rounds, with a $5 million Series A announced in March. The Kampala-based company offers medical consultations via smartphone, lab sample collection and drug delivery.

No. 4: Bangladesh

With approximately 170 million inhabitants, Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country on the planet. By land mass, however, Bangladesh ranks 94th, which means it is also one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Despite the geographic challenges, Bangladeshis have a proven track record of being among the fastest growing economies in the world over the past decade. This has led to a surge in funded startups, many of which manufacture goods and services for consumers and businesses in the domestic market, as well as export-oriented companies.

Crunchbase lists nearly 100 seeds through venture capital rounds for Bangladesh-based companies that have closed since last year, collectively raising more than $230 million. The majority of that sum went to a single company: Dhaka-based ShopUp, a B2B commerce platform for small businesses that has raised over $200 million in venture capital. Other larger cycles are dominated by e-commerce, logistics and delivery.

Methodology

Our fundraising survey only included cycles recorded in the Crunchbase dataset. Due to language barriers, decisions not to publicly announce a fundraiser, and other reasons, other funding rounds may have occurred in the countries studied that were not included in the dataset. .

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Stay up to date with recent funding rounds, acquisitions and more with the Crunchbase Daily.

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