Angels in Africa

Angels are like diamonds. They can’t be made, you have to find them. Each one is unique.
– Jaclyn Smith

Here is a story from the early days of the Angel investor movement in Africa… it is a lose narrative of events pieced together from first-hand accounts narrated by key players.

Once upon a time (in September 2013 actually) there was a magically gathering of high net-worth individuals for the prestigious Art Logic event in in Sandton, Gauteng – Johannesburg – South Africa and two wise sages finally saw the perfect opportunity to swing the conversation in the direction of Startup funding. These two sages were Eric Osiakwan & Jamie Cylde, both of whom have pioneered various ground breaking occurrences on the African continent and beyond. Eric & Jamie called this latest orchestration “Angel Fair Africa” (AFA). The goal of AFA was to bring Africa’s brightest startup founders into the same room with Africa’s foremost angel investors so as to see what deals would result and how the continent could advance because of it. The event was supported by an array of tech hubs and platforms (e.g. LAN, VC4Africa, iHub etc) from across the continent. These hubs recommended their best start-ups to pitch at AFA, therein providing some more of quality assurance for the pitch event. Dimeji (my co-founder) represented our Nerve team at this maiden event and it was our first real exposure on the international scene. It was a great learning experience for us and for the Angels as well as this was the first of its kind event on the continent. One of the Angels that attended this event was Mr. Dotun Suleiman.

Let’s talk about Mr Dotun Suleiman… he is indeed another sage whose name is tied to some of the greatest tech company success stories in Nigeria (like Interswitch). Mr Suleiman, along with the legendary Tomi Davies and other visionary people all came together to set-up the Lagos Angel Network (L.A.N.) in Nigeria. It turned out that LAN conducted the 1st Lagos startup pitch event just about the time of AFA. Members of LAN include successful CEOs like Chams, MainOne and a few others. And so it was that Mr. Dotun Suleiman came and took part in the AFA event and hence the connection was made with Eric, which in turn sowed the seed for the next event in Lagos – Angel Fair West Africa.

Angel Fair West Africa came to be a reality on March 30th-31st 2014… and like AFA, AFWA was scheduled at the same time as the African Venture capital & Private Equity conference in the Intercontinental hotel, Lagos. The best Startups were again selected via hub/platform recommendations. The event started with a prep session at the blow fish hotel where Tomi Davies dropped the bomb shell that there will be no slides used (this was quite unprecedented in the ecosystem at the time). This prep session was anchored by “Lord Banks ” of TechCabal with the teams coached by Eric Osiakwan. The pitch prep sessions were judged by a panel made up of great people from the Tony Elumelu foundation & other accelerators…. It was a good day!

D-day arrived at the intercontinental hotel, and the day began proceeded with the perfected pitches given by from start-ups from across the West African sub-region. Between the pitches there were insightful discussion panel sessions given by the Angels and founders of successfully funded companies. One session that I found particularly insightful had a panel consisting of Mr Sangu Delle of Golden palm investments, Femi Akinde of Slim trader & other notable people. This panel was generally bullish on the West Africa start-up scene and reiterated their commitment to its success in the long term.

Something the Angels couldn’t quite address was the unstructured nature of start-up valuation in Africa as well as the shortage of skilled talent in the ecosystem.

When the time finally came, Nerve took the stage and gave a stellar pitch delivery (if i don’t say so myself).

Me, pitching Nerve at Angel Fair West Africa.

 

This event awoke us all to the fact that Angels have indeed stretched their wings but they have really not yet began to soar in Africa . I haven’t read of any consummated funding deals that originated at AFA or AFWA.  LAN recently made her first investment as written about here.

No doubt that a lot of progress has been made by angel movements across the continent, however, Angel events have to become at least a quarterly affair with regular deals being made. Africa must frog leap into the 1st world at a greater pace, an so there is no time for mere arithmetic progression… soar angel’s soar!

 

PS : later in 2014, organization like MEST in Ghana and Andela in Nigeria came boldly on the scene and are helping to bridge this skills gap…however, start-up valuation remains an issue in Africa.

Note : If I have gaps in my narrative, please let me know :)

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