The constant refrain from early stage African start-ups is that there is no funding for them. Nigerian-based Ventures Platform is part-VC and part-accelerator, offering support to those most in need. Russell Southwood talked to Ventures Platform Founding Partner Kola Aina,
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The idea for launching Ventures Platform came out Kola Aina's time building his own software company:"We were working with medium sized companies and Government. I realized you couldn't rely on Government to sort out everything. I had this thesis that if entrepreneurs were empowered to solve problems, they would stand a better chance of doing so".
It describes itself as "a start-up to enable start-ups." It does funding of tech-enabled start-ups across different business verticals. The businesses have to be scalable across several countries. They want start-ups that are beyond ideas at the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) stage:"If you need funding to scale faster, we're biased towards scale. We're also looking into how we can partner with SMEs.
It provides capital with mentorship and support:"We have a mentor network and we connect founders to this network. We're interested in how (for example) a healthtech start-up can go from 100 users to 10,000 users through growth hacking skills and communicating to customers. Our team consists of people who have experience. The start-ups send us quarterly reports. We also help them get talent from our deep networks".
Ventures Platform also operates Ventures Park, a physical space in Abuja that operates as a hub and hires space within it. At present, it's a hub for 150-200 entrepreneurs:"The physical space is there to help build a community so there's everyone from Uber to the guy who's just had an idea working in the space".
It has invested in 24 companies with sums of between US$20,000-100,000 through sourcing capital through local investors and institutions. Start-ups it has invested in so far include: Kangpe (health advice from doctors), Mobile Forms (crowdsourced data), PayConnect (mobile loans), Paystack (fintech), Proteach (home tutor platform), Wesabi (handyman platform), Accounteer (online accounting), Gerocare (subscription-based home healthcare for the elderly), ThriveAgric (supplying inputs to smallholder farmers), Printivo (design and print) and Wifi.com.ng.
A good example of a start-up it has helped to the next stage is Piggybank.ng, an online savings platform. At the end of May this year, it announced that it had raised US$1.1 million in seed funding from High Net Worth Individuals, led by Olumide Soyombo, Founder of LeadPath Nigeria, and with participation from international and Pan-African investors Village Capital and Ventures Platform:"It went through our accelerator programme. You could see the market potential of the product. There were clearly opportunities with the middle class and below".
"What we're looking for in start-ups is good founding teams, companies where we genuinely like the founding team. They need to have complementary skills including, technical, business and operational. We're always looking for entrepreneurs who have skin in the game. Most important of all: is this the best thing to solve this problem? Is it an imaginative solution? We're not carried away with digital products. We're still building the first layer of the digital economy: credit, identity, data and medical devices will all come before e-commerce".
Over its first eighteen months it raised all its own funds but it is now looking to "raise a large part of the funding and increasing the size of our cheques so we can back all the way to Series A".
And will Ventures Platform invest outside of Nigeria?:"We've already made an investment in Cameroon in Viva, a content distribution company with offline hardware. We're looking at Ghana, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya and the rest of francophone Africa. I truly believe that entrepreneurship will impact the continent and this is why we do what do".