The startup scene in conflict-stricken Sudan: An insider’s perspective

Nour Tawfig, Renew Capital’s investment and project manager for Sudan

Opposing sides in Sudan began fighting earlier this year, uprooting nearly 3 million people. Almost 700,000 have fled to neighbouring countries according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). In this interview, Renew Capital’s investment manager for Sudan, Nour Tawfig, who was born and raised in Sudan and is currently based in Egypt, shares his perspective on the current situation in his home country.

Briefly share your background and how you came to investment management.

I have a finance background and have worked in the corporate finance sector, focusing on investments in startups and SMEs. Over the past five years, I have raised funds from angel investors to support startups and SMEs in Sudan mainly through profit sharing models, primarily in agriculture and healthcare industries. I have also been involved in the startup ecosystem by working with accelerators and a Y Combinator-backed startup. Currently, I am pursuing a more structured and institutionalised path in investment management.

What industries have been standing out in the local Sudanese ecosystem in recent years?

Fintech is a particularly active sector, with startups developing innovative financial products and services such as mobile banking apps and online payment platforms. Agritech is also growing, with startups working on solutions to improve crop yields and promote sustainable agriculture. In addition, ride-hailing, e-commerce, and logistics startups have seen success, capitalising on the absence of major players like Uber and Careem due to previous sanctions. While the Sudanese startup ecosystem shows great potential due to its young population and abundant resources, more work is to be done. The ongoing war and economic instability also pose challenges to its growth and stability.

Describe the current state of the investment scene in Sudan

Before the war, the investment scene in Sudan showed signs of growth with active investors, including local angels, Sudanese venture capital funds, and international venture capital funds, focusing on the startup ecosystem. Fundraising activities had seen significant increases, with some startups raising millions of dollars from various investors. Currently, amidst the war, the agricultural sector is one of the most active areas for investment in Sudan. Efforts are being made to raise funds for agritech startups that can improve crop yields and harvesting, particularly in areas unaffected by the war.

What is something that you want people to know about Sudan?

Sudan has a rich history and culture and holds the potential to become a great nation. However, realising this potential requires unity, and setting aside divisions that hinder progress. With 68% of Sudan’s population being under the age of 30, recognising the potential of young people and investing in their education, skills, and leadership capabilities will not only contribute to their personal growth but also enable them to actively participate in nation-building processes.

What is one principle you live by that guides your work and life?

One guiding principle that shapes both my work and personal life is the commitment to always do what is right, even in the face of difficulties. This principle serves as a compass for making tough decisions, upholding my beliefs, and living a life that fills me with pride. While it may not always be the easiest path to follow, doing what is right is crucial for maintaining personal integrity and cultivating a deeply fulfilling existence.

I strongly resonate with the idea that “easy choices, hard life; hard choices, easy life”, as it underscores the importance of embracing the challenges that come with making the right choices. By adhering to this principle, I strive to navigate both professional and personal circumstances in a manner that reflects my values and contributes positively to my overall well-being.

This article has been slightly adapted from an interview originally published by Renew Capital.