2017 in South Africa is a very hard year to define. Most people are limping into 2018 battle-scar ridden and trying to figure out what the hell just happened?! Bitcoin highs and Steinhoff lows, neighboring coup-non-coups, Rugby World Cup hosting woes and Western Cape dam levels scraping the bottom of the barrel along with GuptaBots, while Cyril is rising to the top.

But adversity is the mother of invention. South African entrepreneurs had a bumper year — leading the charge with innovation, job creation, and growth. It was a real challenge cutting it down to ten, but these are some of the defining moments that shaped the South African entrepreneurship ecosystem in 2017 that stood out for me.

Yoco's Series A funding

Yoco closed a funding round with US-based Quona Capital and Velocity Capital of the Netherlands to expand the footprint and services offered by this fast-growing FinTech startup that processes more than R1 billion in transactions per year. Subsequently, Mastercard announced that it will be collaborating with Yoco to roll out 15,000 mobile Point of Sale (mPOS) devices to SMEs by the end of 2017.

Nimuno Loops raised $1,6 million through crowdfunding

Nimuno, the South African designed ‘LEGO tape’ by Chrome Cherry Design Studios — quickly overshot its modest crowdfunding goal of $8,000 on Indiegogo, and ended up raising $1,647,948 in one of 2017’s best inventions!

In May 2017, New Zealand based Zuru Toys signed an exclusive, worldwide licensing agreement to manufacture, distribute and market Nimuno Loops. The success of this simplistic design is now featured in the London Design Museum.

MyGate acquired for 23 million euro by Wirecard AG

Wirecard AG supplemented its existing regional product portfolio with the acquisition of leading Cape-based payment service provider, MyGate, for a purchase price of 23,1 million euros. MyGate enables merchants across Africa to accept a wide range of different e-commerce payment options.

IoT.nxt raised R100 million

Centurion-based Internet of things startup IoT.nxt secured a further R100 million from funding partner Talent Holdings to expand globally and invest in research and development. IoT.nxt’s core product is Raptor, a data-clearing platform that takes data from multi-vendor systems and integrates it into a platform that is independent of the legacy technology.

Vusi Thembekwayo sells majority share of Motiv8

Vusi Thembekwayo, an entrepreneur, and prominent global business speaker sold a majority stake in his management advisory and growth consultancy business, Motiv8 Advisory, to US-based Watermark Advisory LLP. He then set up MyGrowthFund to find and nurture high-growth entrepreneurs through funding, incubation and enterprise development platforms; and through it, all launched a leadership and management book: The Magna Carta of Exponentiality.

GetSmarter acquired for $103 million by 2U

In one of the most exciting deals of 2017 for South African startups, Nasdaq-listed 2U acquired GetSmarter — a local EdTech Startup that delivers short-term online certification courses to distance-learning students in partnership with many of the world’s top-tier universities — for $103 million (plus an earn-out provision of as much as US$20 million). CEO and co-founder Sam Paddock noted that they weren’t necessarily looking to be acquired, but hey!

Luno raised $9 million in a Series B funding round

Luno allows users to buy and sell digital currencies — clearly, something traders have been doing a lot of this year with the rise of the Bitcoin price. Luno’s R60 million Series A funding round in 2015 was led by Naspers. Its recent R120-million Series B round for expansion into 35 new markets across Europe was led by London-based venture capital firm Balderton Capital. Rand Merchant Investments, through its fintech investment arm, AlphaCode, and existing investors Digital Currency Group also participated in the round.

Knife Capital's UK expansion and Swedish investment

Sure, I am biased ;-) but it has been a big year for South African venture capital firm Knife Capital! Knife successfully exited its investment in sports radar-tracking business, FlightScope, and invested in local ticketing services solution, Quicket, and Swedish IoT specialist, MOST (alongside the creators of Candy Crush). The Knife-managed SARS s12J VCC, KNF Ventures, keeps on gaining credible investors and in September Knife expanded into the UK with the opening of a London office after introducing UK-based Draper-Gain Investments as a strategic investor. And with a few due diligences running — Knife is well tee'd up for an even better 2018.

XL-Africa

20 of the most promising Afrikan digital startups were chosen for the XL Africa residency, the flagship initiative of a business accelerator by the World Bank Group’s infoDev program. While there is an accelerator frenzy in Africa at the moment, it is great to see that some are adding some real market access value for their cohort companies.

Other exciting developments in this space include, Webber Wentzel Ignite — a legal incubation programme for entrepreneurs, Startupbootcamp Cape Town, MEST Cape Town Incubator for South African entrepreneurs looking to launch into the rest of the continent and Knife Capital’s Grindstone Accelerator (Applications for Grindstone 4 now open!).

WumDrop acquired by Makro

Big retailer Makro acquired a majority stake in last-mile delivery startup, Wumdrop, to enable it to shrink its delivery window in getting products to its customers.

WumDrop is now busy integrating with Builder’s Warehouse and Mass Discounters, and deliveries from those companies will start in 2018.

Well done to all SA entrepreneurs and ecosystem participants! Let’s build on the momentum created in 2017, collaborate, learn, innovate, fail, iterate, invest, bootstrap, accelerate, exit, have fun, make money and create an impact through conscious capitalism!