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Sudan, where middle east is meeting Africa is a country with enormous potential for economic growth and investment opportunities. In recent years, the country has taken steps towards political and economic reforms, making it an attractive destination for investors looking to enter the African market. However, despite the potential, the country still faces challenges in attracting foreign investment and creating an enabling environment for startups to thrive including a lack of infrastructure and a weak investment environment. Sudan has recently seen a surge of entrepreneurial activity, particularly in the tech and startup space. Some of Sudan’s most successful startups include Tirhal, Bloom, and Alsoug/Cashi, all of which have attracted significant investment.  But can Sudan reposition itself as an investment minefield and generate unicorns, like many other emerging markets have done?

Tirhal, a ride-hailing app launched in 2017, has quickly become Sudan’s top startup, with over 80,000 drivers and more than millions of app downloads across the country. The app has been so successful that it has even attracted the attention of international players, with Careem reportedly were interested in acquiring years back. Bloom, a FinTech platform that graduated from Y Combinator, raised over $6.5 million in funding, highlighting the potential for Sudanese startups to attract investment from global players. Alsoug -Cashi, an e-commerce platform and mobile wallet, raised $5 million in funding in 2019, demonstrating the growing interest in Sudan’s fintech sector.

These success stories and the emergence of these support programs suggest that Sudan’s startup ecosystem is ripe with potential. However, there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that Sudan can fully realize its potential as an investment minefield. While investment in Sudan can be challenging as it is in most other low-income countries, the investment process is considered specifically difficult due to a wide variety of factors that are interchangeable and overlapping such as: the political and economic instability, low infrastructure capacity, scarce services and low-quality response. Thus, there are many contextual sides that play a huge role in the entrepreneurial environment development that either promote or hinder that process. One challenge is the lack of infrastructure and resources to support startups, particularly in terms of access to funding, mentorship, and technical expertise. Additionally, political instability and a challenging regulatory environment can make it difficult for startups to operate and attract investment.

These could be further broken down to:

  • Economic factors; macroeconomic stability which promotes investment is sparse in Sudan which has faced lots of economic setbacks such as the US economic blockade which worsened the relations with many other influential countries in the international business sector in Sudan. The investment environment is now nascent, even though Sudan possesses the key raw materials of success, including a youthful population, natural resource endowments and some aspects of economic stability. Which has positively influenced the facilitation of some of the entrepreneurial activities in Sudan recently. However, the instability of economic conditions has manifested itself into high rates of inflation and devaluation of exchange rates, negatively impacting small businesses.
  • Financial factors; which are generally of great importance in the growth of SMEs and startups, however, the issue of access to finance is gravely limiting to this and is believed to be the most recurring challenge entrepreneurs face. Sudan is a low-capital income country and most people have limited personal savings and lack the required capital, this in addition to difficulty in penetrating the investment and venture capital community is a major challenge. Emerging microfinance institutions and fund-raising programs are actively tackling these issues.
  • Political factors; Political instability generally shortens policy-makers’ horizons, creating volatile environments that affect macroeconomic indicators and productivity of businesses and business owners. Regulatory and administrative factors; where the inconsistent enforcement of regulations and other institutional shortcomings will impede business activity and undermine economic development. It is approximated that completing licensing requirements costs over twice the level of average annual income. Therefore, this high level of bureaucracy and complexity of the administrative procedures on both the federal and state levels constrain the ease of doing business. Additionally private investments are usually plagued with heavy taxes and custom duties.
  • Finally, cultural factors; as the entrepreneurs’ decision-making process is highly influenced by their cultural backgrounds. Unfortunately, the Sudanese culture is dominated by a culture that emphasizes “collectivism”, high “uncertainty avoidance”, “short-term orientation” and “low power distance”, which are all barriers to the entrepreneurial mindset. It is important to resolve and transcend the lack of confidence and fear of failure.

This has all caused lag in the rate of increase in startups and SMEs as well as their adaptability and sustenance in these difficult settings. Additionally, there is a lack of skilled talent and mentorship services, along with the many bureaucratic constraints to starting a business are hindering the development of a mature and mutually beneficial entrepreneurial ecosystem. Once these issues are individually resolved whether addressed by government, private or international stakeholders, the Sudanese entrepreneurial environment will be ready to take off. Therefore, the continued development of the entrepreneurial ecosystem has reignited a glimpse of hope in the hearts of Sudanese entrepreneurs and all stakeholders that are excited for and promote the environment.

The process of facilitating a more dynamic ecosystem for startups and businesses is already underway as there are a number of hubs that have emerged within the last decade, providing incubation and acceleration services, as well as other centers that host competitions and programs to drive innovative solutions, and have thus begun to stimulate the formation of an entrepreneurial community. The uniqueness of the Sudanese ecosystem could be a benefit and advantage in attracting new businesses and investors which makes a case for great business opportunities, Sudanese markets are an untapped chest-box full of keen resources, markets and very high potential.

Especially promising sectors include agribusiness, renewable energy and Digital transformation. Obviously, agriculture has been the most talked about sector in the Sudanese economy, showing the most potential on a macroeconomic level, having large markets on national and international markets. If efficiency is enhanced by introducing technology, distribution is improved by adapting better methods, scalability is available through gaining access to finance by penetrating the correct networks and so on. Once the appropriate studies are conducted and the correct markets are tapped into, agribusiness is the sector to be in!

However, other sectors have also shown impressive potential. For example, the renewable energy sector is incredibly auspicious to potential business owners and investors. Although it requires a heavy capital upfront, this market is heavily worth it. As the energy and electricity sector is greatly underdeveloped, it is ready for new opportunities and of course these opportunities are of improved quality and efficiency if they are green – renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydro based – providing sustainable and affordable energy. Only 47% of Sudan’s population has access to electricity. Therefore, improving access to modern and affordable energy is a development priority for Sudan. The most important input for this sector, that it is in lack of, is access to finance.

Digital transformation and financial inclusion is also one of the prime leading sectors that is somewhat favorable. No one can deny the necessity for digitalization in this age and time. Even though third world and low-income countries are a bit behind on that specific sector, possibilities and promise are born out of need and demand. Currently digital transformation including tech based and especially fintech based startups are of need in Sudan. This specific sector can penetrate delivery, e-commerce, ride sharing and e-payment. Which can mean many opportunities in but not limited to: B2B services, financial services, agriculture, healthcare and real estate.

To overcome these challenges, the government and private sector need to work together to create an enabling environment for startups. This could include creating policies and regulations that support entrepreneurship, investing in infrastructure and resources, and providing tax incentives for investors and startups.

In conclusion, Sudan has enormous potential to become a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in the region. With the success of startups  and the support of incubation programs like Orange Corners and other similar programs the stage is set for Sudan to become a major player in the global startup ecosystem. The new call for applicants to join batch 6 of Orange Corners Khartoum going to open during this month. Keep an eye on 249Startups channels in order to receive the application link.

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