Together with colleagues we launched a pan-African association to promote Angel investing and accelerate early stage entrepreneurship.
In the past few years business angel networks have been created across Africa, including networks like the Lagos Angels Network (LAN), Cameroon Angel Network (CAN), Cairo Angels, Ghana Angel Network (GAIN), and Silicon Cape. Of course we continue our work at Venture Capital for Africa (VC4Africa) and we expect many more to emerge the next few years. To facilitate this growth of investor networks for early stage entrepreneurship on the continent, and with support from the European Business Angels Network (EBAN), a group of us have come together to establish a pan-African network of networks called the African Business Angels Network (ABAN).
The idea of such a pan-African network was first discussed at the 5th EU-Africa Forum held in Brussels in February 2014. This is where VC4Africa hosted the Venture Capital roundtable with our colleagues at Sovec. One of the outcomes was the decision to organize an Africa Angel Investor Summit that would bring together the various African Angel investing networks to explore the creation of a pan-African network. In September 2014, VC4Africa and LAN hosted the first pan-African Angel Investor Summit as part of the DEMO Africa 2014 event in Lagos, Nigeria. Participants at the summit included business angels, impact investors, venture capital funds, and corporate venture capital managers. Participants at the meeting expressed the need to connect with counterparts across the continent and around the world through an organized structure. At the recently concluded EBAN 2014 Conference held in Helsinki, Finland the official launch of ABAN was announced.
With over 20,000 angel investors in Europe, many who consider opportunities in Africa, the timing for local African angels to rise couldn’t be more critical. Indeed, foreign capital can only engage when there are local investors willing and able to lead the way. At the same time, African companies increasingly look outside the continent for expansion or follow on capital. So there are many cross border opportunities to be had.
But first and foremost, the association looks to bring together the existing angel investing networks already active on the continent. There is a need to share our experiences and best practices. For example, LAN has spent considerable time looking at both equity and debt financing options that would work for the Nigerian context. This is analysis that could be useful for colleagues in Cameroon or Ghana. Why invest in these resources independently when we can do so more efficiently together?
And we know there are many individuals out there working to set up their own networks. We know many groups are in their formative stage and should have a resource where they can tap into the best ideas, tools and models. Here ABAN can work to accelerate their efforts needed to grow the angel investing community across the continent. Bottom line, this is an effort focused on growing the pool of available capital and for one purpose only….. to ensure the top innovators get the support they need to realize the potential of their ideas.
Our launch was made as part of Global Business Angel Week, a global event where angels and entrepreneurs around the world celebrate a culture of angel investing. And for ABAN and partners the focus this year is on African innovation and the central question ‘How do we multiply investments in African startups over the coming year?’. Already more than 2,500 members of the VC4Africa community will join 45 events that will take place Thursday the 20th of November.
At VC4Africa, we are excited to support this initiative and see ABAN as the next step in building a healthy and robust ecosystem for powering startup entrepreneurship on the continent.
It is clear Small Medium Sized Enterprises are the backbone of every economy: they are the engines of employment, income generation and economic growth. Yet the conversation at high level forums fails to break down beyond a discussion concerning traditional venture capital and large private equity. The word startup is hardly ever used and there is no focus on building the entrepreneurial community from the grassroots.
Doesn’t the conversation start here?
The VC4Africa community and investment firm Sovec co-chaired the Venture Capital Roundtable at the 5th EU-Africa Business Forum in Brussels. This was a unique opportunity for our 15,000 members from 159 countries to express their concerns, a common voice calling on both EU and African leaders to recognize the entrepreneurial movement coming up across the continent.
Specifically, studies indicate that SMEs account for around 80% of job creation and over 55% of employment in developing countries. Emerging African economies looking to produce quality job opportunities for their youth are no exception, and policy and public sector work should focus on achieving similar levels of contribution. It is estimated there are 2 million registered SMEs in Africa and maybe 8 million operating in the informal sphere, but so how do we better support their growth and development? How do we open the doors for others to follow? And then more importantly, how can we shift the conversation to give a much needed focus on the micro and small as opposed to the medium and large? And where we talk about existing businesses active in traditional sectors, where is the space for talking about startups at the forefront of the new economy?
The VC4Africa chaired roundtable proposes that there are a number of complex constraints that are keeping entrepreneurs from realizing their full potential: we are talking about 1) skills shortages, 2) inadequate infrastructure, and a continued 3) lack of financial resources. And where many argue capital is not the issue, the efficient distribution of capital to the micro and small enterprises (and then to scalable startups specifically) remains a critical issue … combined with the need to offer hands-on support to develop the managerial, financial, and technical skills required.
Common perception aside, private sector investors are actually willing to support early stage companies when the risks are understood and parts are in place to manage them effectively. For example we reference the USD 12 million raised by 70 ventures listed on VC4Africa. And for good purpose, because these companies are growing rapidly. 64% had revenue by their second operating year and the same set of companies generated 1800 new jobs. Furthermore, these companies have the potential to redesign our societies and bring about massive efficiencies.
Again, tip of the iceberg stuff.
The argument is not to say that progress isn’t happening, but that there is so much more that can be done. Investors hesitate to engage difficult countries, sectors or client segments because of the perceived risk of investing in these segments is too high – and they are not able or willing to absorb it. At the same time we know that investments in VC4Africa entrepreneurs could be quite sustainable and that they have a significant development impact.
Key areas where the market continues to fail:
1) There are very few investors willing to assume the high risks and uncertain returns associated with investing in socially impactful early-stage businesses, particularly in geographies and industries where sector risk is perceived to be high;
2) One of the additional reasons why investors shy away from financing early stage companies are the high transaction costs involved compared to the invested amounts. New efficient, innovative mechanisms to reduce costs are needed;
3) Lack of ecosystem actors. Too little support for building platforms essential to creating a quality entrepreneurial base, producing a steady supply of investible pipeline, and acting as a trusted interface to the investment community;
Governments have an important part to play and the roundtable proposes a number of areas where we require additional focus and support. It is critical to invest in the development of entrepreneurial networks at a grassroots level where the VC4Africa community and roundtable participants propose to:
1) invest in community hubs, incubators, and accelerators that offer front line support to entrepreneurs, connecting ideas and resources;
2) friends, family and fools aside, introduce funding mechanisms that give entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop traction at early stages. Guide and support entrepreneurs through this process to secure a compelling investment case;
3) launch a regular series of programs, business plan competitions, demo events and other platforms to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship and for showcasing the community’s best;
4) nurture mentor capital. engage local investors in supporting local startups. Support the formation of high net-worth individuals as angel investing networks;
5) look at the process for company formation, intellectual property protection, and tax legislation;
6) support the growth and development of the service sector (admin, legal, fiscal, marketing), highly specialized entities designed to support the startup ecosystem;
7) consider capital restrictions and benchmark with best practices as they exist across the continent. Consider status of the stock markets and to what extent they offer a viable exit path;
8) invest in the education of both entrepreneurs and investors to improve the understanding and dynamics of the angel investing, venture capital and private equity models;
9) introduce co-investing schemes and first loss/guarantee mechanisms to further incentivise private sector investors. subsidize transaction costs where necessary;
10) create an environment that celebrates both failure and success, maintain a long-term vision and cultivate a culture with this shared vision.
These are only a few of the suggestions that came from the EU-Africa Business Forum discussion. Please feel free to comment on these and/or make new suggestions. For example, what role do you see for micro-finance institutions or banks?
As a community we will continue our efforts to push the conversation forward and to seek out the support of both government and private sector actors.
The Lagos Innovation Hotspots is an initiative of the Co-creation Hub aimed at mapping hotspots representing clusters of emerging high growth and competitive businesses across Lagos. The current map, which has more than 170 listed businesses provides information on each cluster, businesses and location-based support services and illustrates exciting developments now underway in Lagos.
As the local community of entrepreneurs grows, a growing number of organizations and investors are looking to engage them. This was highlighted by the announcement of EchoVC, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm. The new fund aims to invest $30 Million into Sub-Saharan Africa Start-ups and the team is comprised of former Intel Capital director, Eghosa Omoigui, early-stage technology investor, Shadi Mehraein and former VC Finance at Founders Fund, Amber Fowler.
This news was followed by the recent launch of the ‘Lagos Angel Network,’ a platform that brings together individuals and organisations seeking to invest in and mentor Nigerian technology start-ups. LAN is an initiative of Wennovation Hub. Founding Partners include the World Bank, InfoDev, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Alitheia Capital. The initiative is headed by VC4Africa member Tomi Davies and currently counts 15 Angel investors. Members of the network are expected to commit at least $6,000 a year to a common investment pool.
The time to start a new technology venture in Nigeria couldn’t be better!
My first trip to Cameroon was in the spring of 2011. Amazing to see what kind of progress is being made only a year and a half later. It is exciting to see the ranks of technology entrepreneurs grow in the country. Also the quality of startups has greatly improved and I noticed a serious focus on business models. Several teams have gone through multiple iterations of their product before refining concepts that have real potential to gain traction.
In fact, a recent visitor from Nairobi remarked that the Kenyan entrepreneurs have something to learn from their Cameroonian counterparts. Indeed, it might seem that the constraints placed on entrepreneurs in the country forces them to focus – working faster with less resources. It was also noted technology entrepreneurs in Nairobi are sometimes hesitant to close their computers and speak with actual customers, when most of the teams in Cameroon spend a great deal of time and effort on market research.
Almost not a week goes by that we don’t read about the launch of another fund in Nairobi, an accelerator in Ghana or a competition targeting startup entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Its herd mentality with everyone piling into the same plane. Maybe Cameroon doesn’t get the same attention because people are less familiar with the operating environment or the government has done less to bolster its image. Certainly there is less sector support. That said, the quality of innovators we know in Cameroon are on par with any we have met.
There should be a podium for technology entrepreneurs in every country, and the Cameroon Startup Challenge 2012 is another step for the community in Cameroon. These individuals, in every community, are critical if we are to solve difficult social, economic and environmental problems. They are an important part of our future. Their path is not an easy one and it is important to take a step back and to recognize the progress being made.
It is hard work and these guys are blazing a new path for hopefully many generations to come. Already we see new teams of entrepreneurs staking their ground. These are still the early days of many exciting times ahead. Congrats to the team at Djoss.tv, KingMaker and Agro-Hub!
The Gaurdian has been working to ramp up their ‘Data Journalism’ efforts and some of their insights are quite impressive.
For example, the elites of many sub-Saharan African countries have accumulated so much secret offshore wealth it could pay off their countries’ external debts many times over as visualized here.
A challenge moving forward is to see how this money can rather be diverted into investments locally.
When Bill Zimmerman (my co-founder at VC4Africa) approached me with the idea for the Cameroon Startup Challenge, it took me about 3 second to make my decision….this is just something we just have to do! The competition offers a cash prize of USD $5,000 for the most innovative web, mobile or hardware-based business venture in Cameroon. Sanaga Ventures, a joint seed stage investment company between Bill and myself, puts up the prize money.
My first trip to Cameroon was about a year ago. Bill and I were working intensively on the launch of VC4Africa and had decided to build most of the site with colleagues in Buea, a student town at the base of Mount Cameroon (or what the local techies like to call Silicon Mountain).
The trip was a chance to meet people like Helen, Valery, Fua, Mohamed, Fritz, Al, Churchill and many others in person. Much of this community was connected through ActivSpaces, an upcoming tech hub that is now the country’s leading platform for tech entrepreneurship. On this trip we facilitated a business model workshop with some of the ActivSpaces members and hosted VC4Africa meetups in Buea and Douala. Needless to say, my time in Cameroon convinced me there is talent capable of innovating on a continental (Njorku is widely claimed as the continent’s first Job search engine) and global level. See a video for an impression.
Since this trip we have only increased our activities. Now VC4Africa is for the most part developed and maintained by Zinger Systems, a local software firm. We have also developed other projects including the VC4Africa mobile website with two developers Mohamed and Ebot. And as a community (people like Al Banda, Valery, Fua, Rebecca, Bill, myself and many others) we work to support the development of ActivSpaces as the leading platform for tech entrepreneurs in the country. Finding support hasn’t always been easy as Cameroon is not often ‘on the list’ in the same way support is channeled to Kenya, Uganda or Ghana. Exceptions are enterprising organizations like Indigo Trust. But step by step, these various pieces are coming together and a lot of progress is being made. We learn of new projects and promising ventures every day. Now we have a chance to build on these foundations and to extend our efforts to new networks of entrepreneurs in the country. If anything this challenge is a precursor to what is possible and to show the world what kind of innovations are coming from this space.
See the details for the competition and we look forward to announcing the winner in July.