The Kauffman Fellows (KF) program, a leading venture education program with a well-established network of venture capitalists (VCs), recently held its first summit in Africa. The program, known for its commitment to diversity, aims to enhance the representation of underrepresented groups in the VC sector. As part of its efforts, KF organizes yearly summits to promote cross-border investments in technology markets.
The Kauffman Fellows’ first summit in Africa attracted global and local investors, highlighting the growing interest in African tech. The continent’s digital economy potential and the impressive growth of its startup ecosystem have captured the attention of investors worldwide.
A Growing Interest in African Tech
With Africa’s digital economy projected to surpass $700 billion by 2050 and venture funding reaching $5 billion in the past two years, there is a growing interest among local and global investors in Africa’s tech ecosystem. The summit, held in Nairobi, Kenya, brought together over 300 investors from 45 countries, including prominent VC firms like Norrsken22, Helios Digital Ventures, CRE Ventures, Ingressive Capital, and Atlantica Ventures. The event featured interviews with seven international investors, shedding light on their perspectives on African tech and their investment activities in the region.
Perspectives from Global Investors
Phoebe Wang, Investment Partner, Climate Pledge Fund, AWS
Phoebe Wang, an investment partner with the Climate Pledge Fund at AWS, attended the summit with initial perceptions of limited capital availability and early-stage development in Africa’s startup and VC scene. However, after engaging in discussions with founders and investors, Wang’s perception changed. She recognized the immense talent, entrepreneurial spirit, and untapped opportunities in Africa. Wang highlighted the continent’s youthful demographic, rapid startup scaling, and commitment to gender equality in entrepreneurship as standout factors.
Jenny Fielding, Co-founder and Managing Partner, Everywhere Ventures
Jenny Fielding, co-founder and managing partner at Everywhere Ventures, had a positive perception of Africa’s startup and VC scene before the summit. She noted the founders’ global mindset and their ambition to dominate the global market. Fielding emphasized the presence of empathetic founders in Kenya and across Africa who are solving problems they have personally experienced. These empathetic founders bring resilience and determination to their ventures.
Adrianna Samaniego, Partner, Female Founders Fund
Adrianna Samaniego, a partner at the Female Founders Fund, acknowledged her initial recognition of Africa’s potential as an emerging market but admitted underestimating the maturity and diversity of its startup and VC ecosystem. However, after attending the summit, Samaniego was pleasantly surprised by the depth and maturity of the ecosystem. She cited the diversity within the startup scene, particularly the efforts focused on climate and sustainability, as noteworthy.
Alex Lazarow, Managing Partner, Fluent Ventures
Alex Lazarow, managing partner at Fluent Ventures, had invested in emerging markets, including Africa, for over a decade. He recognized the movement towards acknowledging Africa’s potential, with more mainstream funds considering investments in the continent. Lazarow appreciated the similarities and differences between startup and VC scenes in North America and Africa, emphasizing the challenges faced by female founders and the opportunities presented by Africa’s diverse markets.
Ebony Pope, Partner, Rethink Education
Ebony Pope, a partner at Rethink Education, expressed excitement about exploring investment opportunities in Africa’s education and workforce training solutions. She noted the market trends, such as the growing population and global talent shortages, that make Africa an attractive market. Pope was impressed by the tech ecosystem’s enthusiasm and the deep bench of empathetic founders in Nairobi. She highlighted the market opportunities in education and the government’s commitment to human capital investment.
Miriam Rivera, Partner, Ulu Ventures
Miriam Rivera, a partner at Ulu Ventures, had limited understanding of Africa’s startup and VC ecosystem before the summit. However, her discussions with founders and investors revealed impressive diversity within the African-focused funds and a higher proportion of female investors compared to the U.S. Rivera emphasized the mutual challenges faced by entrepreneurs and investors globally and the importance of understanding the local nuances and infrastructure in each ecosystem.
Sherman Williams, Managing Partner, AIN Ventures
Sherman Williams, managing partner at AIN Ventures, initially had a perception that the African startup and VC scene was mainly centered in Nigeria. However, attending the summit in Nairobi revealed the strength and abundance of talent in the Kenyan ecosystem. Williams acknowledged the similarities in entrepreneurial drive and innovation between his region and Africa while recognizing the differences in infrastructure and systemic barriers.
Exciting Sectors and Future Investment
Among the sectors that excite the investors, there is a focus on climate tech innovation, fintech, health, and commerce. While there may be trends within the fintech sector, the global reset resulting from the pandemic has created opportunities for active investors to deploy capital and make a difference. The investors expressed their commitment to considering future investments in African VC funds and startups, recognizing the potential and unique opportunities the continent offers.
The Kauffman Fellows’ first summit in Africa served as a platform for exploring Africa’s tech ecosystem and building connections between local and global investors. The event showcased the continent’s entrepreneurial talent, market potential, and commitment to diversity and inclusion.