Whether the cryptocurrency boom and interests from FinTech, unparalleled potential and opportunity, or globalization driving the attention, 2022 is coming to a close with increasing focus on the African continent and what we all might do to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in a part of the world accomplishing incredible changes. From my neighborhood in the world, Austin, Texas, organizations like Tailwind, and people like Eunice Ajim with Ajim Capital, Larry Tabash at the Department of Commerce, and TTEC’s Neil Reid, keep turning my attention to Africa, but it was repeatedly being asked the same question, and then seeing the question considered throughout the world, that I was moved to explore how our work through Venture Development (building startup ecosystems) might help develop venture funding throughout Africa.
“How might we draw more venture capital to African founders?”
Of course, challenging everyone with a region of the world greater in size than any other is that the great variety of countries means varied cultures, disparate economies, and a garden of governments and regulations. Still, in much the same way that we can look to “LATAM” as the tremendous opportunity that it is, despite as much variety, we can look to Africa with the same exuberance.
Catherine Lückhoff, with her roots in Cape Town, planted the seeds in my brain when we met in Europe for Wallifornia, that it’s time for more attention to turn. Then Johann Ungerer finds his way into Austin’s Founder Institute program, working in our world here, MediaTech, with his passion for livestreaming and gaming. Victoria Yampolsky reached out to us as The Startup Station looks to Africa and just after connecting with Africa Investment Advisor, Aubrey Hruby, she writes, “As Africa becomes an imperative, investors must discard outdated risk perceptions.” Of course, our own Megan Botha is from there, and I have family in Ethiopia through Eyerusalem Assefa … yes, I am name-dropping a bit in my article thus far; that’s because building the community, networking, and connecting great people is one of the keys to unlocking this potential and supporting investor interests.
Is it hard for entrepreneurs to raise capital in Africa and if so, why — and what best can be done about it?
First, overcome uncertainty.
That, driven by insufficient marketing and communication, holistically, about the varied economies, politics, societies, risks, and opportunities throughout Africa. This is easily overcome.
With most venture capital (genuine VC, not just business investors) coming from the U.S., followed by Europe, and then from NE Asia, ask yourself what these regions of the world are comfortable and familiar with.
The first answer is, of course, one another.
And after that answer, you see Venture Capital flowing to Latin America, Australia, and Canada.
So why not Africa? Well notice, I also didn’t list India, Pakistan, the Middle East, Russia, or China.
The answer is NOT disinterest in Africa, the answer is uncertainty.
Developed markets are data rich. In North American or European economies, investing is governed by subsector experts who focus on niche industries and specialised asset classes. The internet economy of the 2000s and the growing importance of big data and AI-powered analysis has accelerated the specialisation — and the data reliance. In contrast to developed economies, African markets are defined by a lack of reliable data and strong interaction between political and economic realities. Cutting and pasting the data-dependent, specialist model in African markets leaves managers ill-equipped to understand and mitigate the operational, on-the-ground risks.
Success in African markets requires an understanding of the intersectional, long-term trends currently reshaping the continent.
- Guillaume Arditti and Aubrey Hruby with The London School of Economics and Political Science
Europe is familiar to U.S. venture capital. For example.
And no, not because of shared language or similar culture.
It’s familiar: we’re AWARE of the economy, the governments, the values, the opportunities, and the risks.
To put it deliberately, I KNOW Ukraine is under siege, I know S. of France because of Cannes Film Festival, and I know a lot about what’s going on in U.K. politics, lately.
Familiarity enables investment.
It is a horrific myth that Startup Investors are merely seeking a good investment in a startup
The fact is that overwhelmingly most startups fail, and we know that. “Startups” aren’t starting new businesses, not merely: if you have a good investment in a known type of business, that’s new, then great! Go talk to a bank. That’s not a startup.
Startups, we know, are very likely to fail. So, investors aren’t just seeking that standout founder who is sort of an anomaly where they are, in that they happened to get a fundable startup off the ground … investors are seeking ecosystems wherein we can be reassured a bit that the risks, costs, and challenges, are minimized for that founder, so that the startup there is less likely to fail, all other things being equal.
That, if I take your startup and drop you and in in Austin, TX, like it or not (agree with it being reality or not), you are more likely to get investor attention because investors know that Austin has the characteristics of an economy that supports startups. We can invest in you there, with a lot of * perceived* risks, or we can invest in the exact same thing here, knowing the risks.
Notice, I put perceived in bold. Why did I do that?
Because make no mistake, you might be in the ideal place for what you’re doing!
This is why I said the issue is UNCERTAINTY. The world generally speaking doesn’t KNOW that. It’s not familiar.
So investors, inundated with opportunities from familiar markets, are missing opportunities in unfamiliar parts of the world, but investors alone aren’t going to overcome that because, at the end of the day, investors have to make somewhat familiar and prudent decisions because investing in startups is already the highest risk deployment of capital the economy can make — should we expect it gets deployed where unfamiliar or can we appreciate why it’s pragmatic that is it deployed where familiar?
Notice, I’m not saying it’s right and I’m not justifying it. I’m explaining why it is.
It’s understandable that VCs, unfamiliar with a place, are less likely to invest in a startup there because startups don’t operate in isolation — what mentors are there?? Is the economy stable? Can you find sufficient local capital (because it doesn’t seem so if you’re struggling to raise money)? What are the politics? Are any of those things risks or benefits?
Those are rhetorical questions because I’m not literally asking you, I’m pointing out that in being unfamiliar, investors understandably focus more attention elsewhere.
Investing where unfamiliar requires more time, marketing, risk tolerance, trust, communication, and business development. Even IF a great investment, it’s handicapped by not being familiar relative to other regions of the world.
Here’s what matters, we can change that.
We can make Africa familiar. The challenge is it isn’t going to be accomplished by merely getting VC to pay attention. It’s a more holistic approach to developing the ecosystem.
It’s called Venture Development.
Entrepreneurs generate solutions, new products, innovative services, and disruptions that change the world. Startups are the embodiment of innovative and aspirational entrepreneurs with incredible ideas begging an apropos question in cities, governments, and economic development organizations:
How might we fuel that ecosystem here? In *our* city / country?
What creates entrepreneurial people is society and culture.
Startups are a series of lessons from failures, pivoted into new opportunities while avoiding mistakes.
While we can’t teach the personality comfortable with failures and pivots (that culture), we can develop a culture and society that inspires people to be entrepreneurial and enables entrepreneurs to take the risks involved in being founders.
Startup Development Organizations inspire entrepreneurship and enable entrepreneurs to take the risks involved in being founders. How can we better that *here*?
Venture Development is the work focused on the distinct risks and resources of Angel Investors and Venture Capital, the programs and Startup Development Organizations that capably and effectively foster founders, and the strengths of the regional economy and sectors of industry, to develop the venture economy.
“Startup ecosystems include the startups themselves and their founders, employees and contractors, the angel investors and venture capitalists who fund them, and the incubators, co-working spaces and accelerators that house them, along with business plan competitions, universities, educational classes, bloggers, community groups, tech meetups and other support organizations that help them,” David S. Rose CEO of Gust. “It additionally includes the professional service providers they engage (law firms, accountants, investment bankers, et al) and the larger corporations who serve as their customers, partners and eventual acquirers.”
Are these things in place there?
They might be! Again, I’m not say they’re not. I’m pointing out that the world is generally unfamiliar with that being the case, and why it’s so, and thus, uncertainty exists.
Venture Development helps a region put those in place but then we need to overcome the unfamiliarity.
Well, how do we do that??
- Real estate
Well-developed and communicated ABOUT THE REGION!
It looks like this, in a flywheel because we can start and push the flywheel from any point among those 5 things, and as we develop the rest, it spins faster, delivering great returns to capital sources.
But this model only works for startup ecosystems if the flower of Venture Development is in place and as that flower matures, we can spin a flywheel that overcomes uncertainty by making the region of the economy both familiar and meaningful to founders and investors.
Here’s an example of this, related to my previous point about Austin, TX: why it’s actually North of Austin, in Round Rock, where the greatest opportunity exists, despite Austin being the name / city popular and recognized. “Round Rock??” you might be thinking, “where is that?” You can see how being unfamiliar with WHY there, causes uncertainty for investors who would find it easier to just invest where they hear “Austin.”
The same issue is what we can overcome for Africa.
The associated risks with investing in the old Africa of twenty years ago when The Economist dubbed the region “the hopeless continent” are not those of the Africa today. Risk perception must be updated to reflect the increasing resilience, digitisation, and integration that now are taking hold in African markets. The investors who will succeed will work to understand market realities instead of coming with pre-defined investment strategies, will find the overlap between their internal requirements and market needs, and will embrace flexibility and intersectional approaches. The geopolitical and economic dynamics of this post-COVID-19 world make looking at African markets not a niche option but rather a mainstream necessity.
- Guillaume Arditti and Aubrey Hruby
How do we drive financial support to entrepreneurs in Africa? We just need to help investors understand market realities; tell them why, how, and where, by developing together the community and ecosystem.