Private equity firms in South Africa are showing love to the country’s tech sector, with investments into tech companies on the surge.
According to data from the 2023 Southern Africa Venture Capital Association report, in 2022, 11% of South Africa’s private equity (PE) firms investments went to technology companies, compared to only 3% in 2021. This represents the highest investment of any sector by the country’s PE firms.
“Information technology increased from the ninth most attractive sector in 2021 to the tied top sector in 2022,” the report states. And this is all for good reason. Between 2020-2022, technology companies recorded the most revenue growth, with 52% of portfolio companies registering a “rapid growth” in revenues. However, 29% of tech companies also recorded a decline in revenues.
Over the years, compared to its VC counterpart, South Africa’s PE sector has raised substantial amounts from pension funds, government, aid agencies and DFIs, with 2022 total assets under management totaling R213 billion (~$11 billion). For comparison, VC funds only raised $555 million in the same period.
Will private equity cushion the VC downturn?
With venture capital inflow into South Africa having declined over the last few years, the fact that PE firms are paying attention to the sector is promising. Additionally, most PE investments go to expansion and development stage companies, a demographic that has traditionally struggled to attract VC investment.
Over the years, although VC firms like Knife Capital have made efforts to avail late-stage capital into the ecosystem, there is still large room for more investments, making this focus by PE firms perhaps a welcome development. “Despite the increasing availability of deal-flow, there remains a significant follow-on financing gap for high-growth local startups with proven traction,” Keet van Zyl, partner at Knife Capital, told TechCabal.
Sometimes, this lack of late-stage capital has led startups to exit too early as they face the doom prospect of running out of runway. “Late-stage venture capital has always been hard to come by in South Africa. For most founders, if you cannot raise, it might be better to sell before you run out of runway,” says Clive Butkow, former CEO of VC firm Kalon Ventures.
With the country’s private equity market projected to assume a positive growth trajectory over the next few years, tech companies will be hoping that fund managers continue to pay attention to and write cheques for the sector, especially at a time when the VC market is going through a decline.