A few weeks ago I attended a two-day national conference that invited some of the most prominent women in leadership, business and economic empowerment in both the private and public sector. The line up included the likes of Economic Advisor to the Republic of South Africa, Trudi Makhaya, World Champion and Human Rights Activist Caster Semenya and UCT’s incoming chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe. In bringing together these women under the theme of empowering an inclusive and empowered economy, the role of investing in women owned and led businesses quickly became an emphatic theme. And in this editorial, we’re going to explore not only the role of inclusion in Venture Capital (VC), but the consequences of innovation and discrimination that has lead to the future of alternative capital.
VENTURE CAPITALISTS ARE DEVALUING THE DATA
It is no secret that the more diverse your team is, the more likely that your business is to thrive, and moreover, when that diversity is lead by women. In a study conducted by Mass Challenge and the Boston Consulting Group entitled “Why Women-Owned Startups Are a Better Bet”, over 350 startups were interviewed and assessed to determine which enterprises were not only more risk averse, but who yielded better financial returns. The results determined that businesses founded by women deliver higher revenue (at that, more than two times as much per dollar invested) than those founded by men. To add to this, the study also provided insight of how much more VCs could’ve made (an additional $85 million over five years) had they invested more money equally into both women and men-founded startups. This is a global phenomena, not only unique to the United States. The growing equality parity in both entrepreneurship and venture capital translates to men being more than 92% of the Top 100 venture capital firms and as an impact investment correlation, female-founded businesses are only receiving 2% of total investments by these VCs. This underpins the essence of what we’ll unpack soon, of how the VC mind works, and later why individuals (both men and women) and organisations have to deal with the consequences of the VCs decisions to devalue and disregard the data.
But first, let’s bring the ball back to the continent for a moment, and frame not only the consistency of the return on investment statistics, but also the challenges that female entrepreneurs face in an attempt to acquire or raise capital.
According to the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2017, sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s highest growing rate of women-owned and led businesses at 27%, with Uganda (34.8%) and Botswana (34.6%) leading the pack globally. As great and impressive as these statistics are, what compliments this ideal is that while on the surface more women are entering and playing the field, the staying power doesn’t read quite well. The continental region also lists it as the community that has the most women-owned startups shutting down due to little for opportunity for growth and lack of access to capital and resources.
In 2016, Venture Capital for Africa (VC4A) disclosed in their ‘VC4A Venture Finance in Africa' report, which captured the performance of early stage, high impact and growth enterprises from Africa at their crucial stage of early stage investor activity. Some of the data that is based on data collected from 1866 ventures from 41 African countries and 111 Africa-focused investors from 39 countries around the world unveiled included that only 9% of startups have women leaders, and that there is a direct correlation to the success rate of the venture based on the gender balance of the entity.
So why, as revealed in the African Development Bank’s inaugural Africa Investment Forum in 2018 hosted in Johannesburg, South Africa, do women entrepreneurs experience a significant funding gap of US$42 billion annually even though the numbers, time and time again support that they are better yielders of seeded capital?
A thought leadership piece in the World Bank blog shared by Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s former Vice President for the Africa Region and now Vice President for Infrastructure, may help us in shedding some perspective.
BETTING ON THE HORSE, NOT THE STATISTICS
In his opening remarks, “Walk around a major city in Sub-Saharan Africa and you will quickly realize that women are a highly visible part of the economy, selling all manner of products and services. In some ways, women are powering the economies of the continent to a greater degree than anywhere else in the world; Sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.” Diop affirms what the many studies conducted and reports released say about not only growing but visible rate of entrepreneurial activity by women on the continent. He then textures this foundational introduction with a much more granular approach in partially answering why this is the case of stumbling growth in women-owned ventures.
“What this fact conceals, however, is that on average women-owned firms have fewer employees, and lower revenues, profits, and productivity. In many cases, women’s businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence. This limits the potential of women entrepreneurs and hinders economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.” he continues.
Is he incorrect in his statement? No. However, two ideas that I do want us all to be cognisant of which one he further explains in the article, is that the patriarchal systems which are still in place for African women across the border of the continent. Women do not, and lack the access to the collateral that is required to enable them to access the credit capital, like land and property, these policies and framework are things that need to change so that women can start or develop their businesses.
The other big elephant in the inclusion conversation of venture capital that is widening the investment gap, is that of not only who carries the capital, but why and how that capital distribution always ends up circulating amongst the same racial and gender recipients, call it intentional super inclusive circular and shared value economies of and that scale. In as much as VCs look at outliers and the business and investment cases of startups, it is no secret that they also bet on horses that mirror them. Men (whom we unpacked earlier comprise of 92% of the Top 100 VC firms) are much more likely to invest in men-owned businesses than female ones, and according to a study led by Babson College's Entrepreneurship chair Dr. Candida Brush, it found that startups lead and managed by all-male teams were “four times more likely to receive funding than companies with even one woman leader.”, even with the shocking discovery that gender diversity at the top improves a startup's performance.
If VCs are such risk takers, why not take the biggest risk of them all, women?
THE INNOVATION CONSEQUENCES OF EXCLUSION OF ACCESS TO CAPITAL
It’s happening, too slowly but surely. This gender investment gap has actualised innovative solutions and some, even going back to the basics of group economics to ensure that more entities owned by women are funded and grow to the scale of potential that they truly deserve. Let’s unpack some of these solutions:
· Using metrics like partnerships, capital investments, total number of companies invested in and the social and financial return on investment, Billion Dollar Fund for Women (TBDF) is committed to ensuring that its holding venture companies to investing in more women-founded companies. Implementing a self-funded, non-profit model, TBDF is a global consortium of venture funds that have committed to date (November 2018) $650 million to tackle the gender investment gap by pledging to increase their investments capital pools to women-owned companies, globally. The lobbyist approach has garnered some success stories like Rethink Impact, with continued increased investment in businesses founded by women.
· Group economics is an ancient economic practice that’s now positioned itself as one of the most pivotal ways in which to raise capital, for pre-seed and early stage investment businesses. Entities like The People’s Fund, UpriseAfrica, iFundWomen and Portfolia are some of the companies who are doing exciting things in the space of impact investing and creating not only diversity of opportunities for minorities, but also enabling entrepreneurs to tap into capital that they wouldn’t have otherwise, had the access to.
· The rise of the gender gap also gave rise to women-owned venture capital firms and venture networks who are intentional about investing in women owned businesses. Africa has provided great case studies and momentum to this with venture companies like Dazzle Angels, and Rising Tide Africa which is a group of women angel investors that are harnessing their power, network, passion and capital to positively impact and invest in an empowered and inclusive growing economy, and society.
· Startups and organisations have now had to become technology adjacent in understanding their customers, business model and particularly financial services company, HOW they deploy capital. In his book Tech Adjacent, serial technology entrepreneur and thought leader, Mushambi Mutuma engages on doing business in the future and the importance of constantly evolving with the exponential technology and innovation that’s also growing quite exponentially in business. “What would make you absolete in a day? What technology are you terrified your competitors will figure out? How would we run this company with 10 percent of our current staff? How would you monetise if consumers expected you products/services to be free?”. These questions are some of what, I believe, have influenced how capital and credit is becoming more inclusive for women to be able to bypass the archaic banking structures and enable them to get their food in the door. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Development Project has contributed to the rise of female-owned businesses in Ethiopia by providing women with an alternative to collateral. This is in the form of a 45 minute psychometric test that provides a reliable indication of whether an entrepreneur and whether you will be able to repay a loan without any collateral required. At present, the repayment rate is at 99.4%. Another example of how being technology and future adjacent has served the venture capital and investment ecosystem is through the constant data science application and introduction of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence to aid with decision making, and also democratising who can become an investor. The funds in magnitude still lie with the wealthy to invest in “lesser risk averse male-owned entities”, but the opportunities to value the data and tap into the industry with impact investing and seeding the billion dollar potential of the global economy is fair game.
With all the data on the table supporting why inclusion, and particularly why investing in women owned businesses is important for the current and future of the economy, and AfDP’s President Akinwumi Adesina’s call for increased support to for women to be active stakeholders in the economy, why are we constantly accelerating towards the opposite direction when it’s time to seed the capital? The answer may not be as complex as we may make it to turn out, however we can applaud the innovative strides being taken to drive inclusivity and capital returns on these investments. The future of venture capital and investments is democratized, technology and data science adjacent and inclusive of breaking down archaic, exclusive and oppressive systems to ensure that we build inclusive futures and shared growth economies.
A week ago, I attended in Cape Town, South Africa, the launch of the Southern African Venture Capital Association (SAVCA)’s 2019 Venture Capital Industry covering the 2018 calendar and its investment activity across South Africa. Since 2017, this is the association’s third consecutive year of publishing the survey, in previous years, the results would published every two to three years, which means that means that more growth is occurring in the industry and that coherently, more data has become available. Let’s unpack the landscape a bit, and understand what continues to make South Africa one of the primary hotspots for early stage investing in startups across the continent.
A total of 181 new deals were recorded in 2018, increasing by 13.8% from 2017; with the top five industries owing to deals invested mainly by value in manufacturing at 14.2% and food and beverage coming in 12.3%, medical devices and equipment at 10.5%, with energy at 10.2% and just missing the ten percentile at 7.2% is the business products and services sector. Manufacturing and energy still dominated in the market share of deals invested by number of deals, with consumer products, software and fintech specific portfolios joining them in the top five industries invested in. If anything, this shows the large investment opportunity in diversification of sectors outside digital and e-commerce, and also, brings to light the conversation around the harsh imbalance in and opportunities for other sectors like biotechnology and agriculture to break through.
The Western Cape headquarted investees dominate the pie at 48.2% of deals, with Gauteng coming in second at 42.5% and followed by Kwazulu-Natal at 6.8%, which has grown its activity and share in the ecosystem immensely since 2017. The rest of South Africa and non-South Africa firms total the transactions at 2.5%. The incremental growth that Kwazulu-Natal has shown, is a positive indicator of the diversification of location, from R13 million in 2015 of total deal investments to R71 million in 2018. Although the volume and value of deals increased in 2018 from the previous year, the distribution of equity preferences over the years is quite the opposite narrative. Expectantly so, due to the new deals being made, 74.5% of investors hold a 0-25% stake in these startup ventures, an increase in 2017’s results at 54.3% in equity. The second category of equity sits between 25-50% which has also subsequently decreased at 10.6% in 2018 as compared to 25.5% in 2017. The results owed to this data could either result in exits, new fund management firms created, new startup entrants who have no follow up funding and/or investors seeding a volume of investments in ventures that require much more startup and growth capital than other forms of capital post the growth stage – it’s also reported that a total of 79% of deals concluded in 2018 were for investments R10 million or less, with an average deal size of R8.3 million.
With the bigge deals concluded by Captive Government (funds primarily sourced from a government department or public body) and Captive Corporate (funds primarily sourced from a corporate entity such as a listed company) investors and amounting to R492 million (more than the five biggest deals in 2017 which totalled R315 million) who combined, make up 48.4% of fund management types. The rest of the types of management are fund sourced from family offices, independent funds and the smallest fund management makeup are angel investors at 4.2%. The composition of fund management also highlights something that the data doesn’t show, the gender and race that I’ve no doubt, through mechanisms like the introduction of the Section 12J tax incentive to introduce more players in the industry. As transparent and apparent as the situation of parity is in the ecosystem as investors and investees is, it’s important to highlight so as to better inform decisions made by the investors, as well as government’s role in introducing policy to level the playing field.
There’s much opportunity to diversify the industry, with not only location and sectors but also race and through gender as with the curated list that I created showcasing the data and campaigns geared towards listening to the gender of higher Return On Investment (ROI) in their capital. Repeat investments are a great indication of good faith in business, industry must afford transparency through these transactions beyond high-level number of exits and different types of investment activities that are great for panel-lead conversations, however, in order to bring true transformation, supporting the formation of firms like Dazzle Angels, AlphaCode and Africa Trust Group and SAVCA’s Fund Manager Development Programme are the kinds of mechanisms that we need to drive and actualise the opportunities that are untapped in the market.
Here’s to looking forward to results of accelerated and diversified growth of South Africa’s VC industry in 2019!
One of my earlier experiences of self-promotion was through a mentor (now turned sponsor) of mine who did It on my behalf, and it eventually led me to working with a multi-billion dollar global intelligence and media firm in their first innovation labs in an emerging market and being the first hire. A proud moment (and notice, this is also a showcase of my badassery) that will definitely stay with me for a lifetime. As I began navigating the world of work, never mind that of corporate, I noticed that both young and old professionals (especially women) have a hard task of talking about how badass they were and taking credit in the projects that they were involved in, something that bothered me much, because I definitely saw a part of me in this, and whenever I could, self-regulate.
“I think she sometimes forgets that she’s a junior executive, I feel like she would never work well with other people because she’s always talking about the work that she does.”, a comment reserved about me by a senior executive in industry a few months ago.
While for some cultural, and others religious or spiritual teachings and for another group, a cocktail of all these ways of learning and being, self-promotion is and has always been something associated with vanity. Even with the definitions below, sourced from Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary respectively, notice not only the structure of the definitions, but also the gender placement per definition.
noun: self-promotion; plural noun: self-promotions
the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one's activities, especially in a forceful way.
"she's guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion"
Definition of self-promotion
: the act of furthering one's own growth, advancement, or prosperity : the promotion of oneself didn't try to disguise his self-promotion
Because self-promotion is deemed more of a masculine exercise, when women do it, it comes across as not only trying to join a boy’s club, but also adopting a swear word. Weird, isn’t it? Or does this sound familiar? This means that we also incur a double cost, socially and professionally. Seen as less likeable, advocating too strongly when we raise our profile but also when we don’t do it, seen as incompetent leaders who won’t see their value and their worth and are passively getting by with their work. There’s also the esteemed professional proverb of “Let the work talk for itself” that cements these values around self-promotion. We’ve ironed out the semantics and politics around this matter, how do we now actualise it?
In her (revised and update) book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make to Sabotage Their Careers, author Dr Lois P. Frankel talks about the importance of taking yourself out of your sweet spot and highlights that “… It’s important to take yourself out of the women’s safe zone and toward the edge of the field where the winners are playing.”
In recognising that, let’s invest in the power of three, and start with these three marching orders to kickstart your journey to raising your profile and tapping into the badass that you are:
1. Leverage Social Media
Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, these platforms add value dependent on how you use them. Just like any conversation, it’s a give and take of listening and allowing your community and followers to talk about themselves, and an opportunity for you to talk about what’s relevant to the conversation or one that you want to drive. Share about your work win for the week, a speaking engagement that you participated in, sharing and congratulating the work of your fellow industry peers and/or friends and even a book that you’re reading with a mini review. These small steps and a strategy in place will definitely allow you to start thinking about how you can take the opportunity of the internet and its community to elevate your profile, and serve your community and purpose.
2. Tell your Truth - Authentically
When you have worked on a successful (or not so much) project and were the lead of a team, and post that on social media, that is the truth and whether you share the winnings or losses and lessons behind that, that is authentic content. However, if you’re taking all the glory in something that required the work of 2-10 other people, that’s you being an actual self-righteous and ill mannered non-team player. The only form of self-promotion that’s tactful, is one of truth and truth told authentically. And, as uncomfortable as sharing this may be with the world, remember that you did it and this is your opportunity to move towards operating outside your comfort and toward the edge. Career opportunities, and mentorships also arise from doing this, so if not for yourself, then from the other young and older people who gets inspired.
3. An Opportunity for Mentorship
It’s not always rosy, and as much as we share our successes, I’m a big believer that it’s also just as important to share your losses and challenges. This, because in as much as we may not want to admit it, whenever we have a platform or communities, we have a responsibility with how we use it, because people look up to you. How you drive and use that conversation and responsibility, that is completely up to you. Share your journey to connect dots, and information so that other may be empowered.
This won’t be easy, but I want you to try!
The comment by the senior executive, did it pinch? A little, however after I understood that the core of their reasoning was based on my self-promotion and not the lack of truth or authenticity about my actual work, I opened a bottle of wine and focused on how I could continue connecting the dots for other women, so that more magic and impact may be amplified and badassery be multiplied. This, is also important in the spaces that you allow yourself to thrive in, they become a catalyst in themselves. A recent experience of this was at the launch of The W Collective at the World Economic Forum on Africa. This is a lounge, a community of women who are focused on elevating the profile, high level discussions and networking of industry leaders who are focused on advancing career progression and personal development, and as it says in the name, we're more powerful as a collective. So ladies, get to your marching orders, and operate with what I like to call my "Personal Board of Directors", and cause a shift and change in the world with your badassery!
Images: The W Collective -
The narrative of innovation, Africa’s future and role in previous, present and forthcoming revolutions, and the function of exponential principles as it relates to growth within your business and daily life applications is what captured my special attention when the author, Mushambi Mutuma first broke the news about his book. The additional and relevant Africa case studies then sold me even more. What this book turned out to be was not a guideline on how to build a tech startup in 100 days, but rather a preparation toolbox on how leverage technology and think exponentially about the trajectory of growth for your business and what that means for the future.
Consisting of nine chapters divided into four main parts, the book journeys defining technology, to understanding innovation and disruption and going through a rigorously layered “Buzzword Boot Camp” that weaponises even the non-technically savvy yet visionary leaders wanting to intergrate into a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology like Internet of Things (IoT) or 5G into their solution. Tech Adjacent invites those with what the author, serial entrepreneur and technology leader, describes as a “billion impact mindset”, to participate in their business’ future success.
“Once we are adjacent to the accelerating pace of technology, we can better plan for what’s coming. Our minds can be far better prepared not to run away from change but instead to see the new opportunities ahead. The grandfather of exponential thinking and futurism, Ray Kurzweil, stated, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, it will be more like 20 000 years of progress.” How prepared are you for that kind of pace?”
Two strategies that the book engages and employs you to investigate is being rooted on “ … having a game plan rooted in the basics.”; i.e, the return on investment (ROI) per knowledge of your customer and the digitisation (technologies) of your business in the way in which technology rapidly grows in your business. This is so vital. It can be so easy to get carried away and lose focus with the fear of the coming of the singularity and of Ray Kurzweills’s predictions, the loss of jobs with the systematic integration of Robotic Process Automation (RPAs) and other forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and indeed would be amiss if the author dismissed or didn’t highlight the causes, effects and opportunities, and he does so in Chapter 5 entitled “Hearing the Footsteps - Where Future Tech is Going Next” , coupled with an exercise that speaks to the data, economics and the science in preparation of being tech adjacent.
“Today, tomorrow and 20 years from now, your survival will not depend upon how much technology you fully grasp, or can build immediately, but merely on your ability to be in its close proximity. Digital transformation is about casting your mind a generation ahead with enough resources and information until reality comes to life. What digital transformation is not, is just taking existing information and your current methods and converting them into digital form. ”
Even with the robots that are coming, and some, already here, Mushambi assures us that “you are going to be just fine:”. The final chapter has marching orders, not to go start a technology startup, but broaden the scope of what you think is achievable and become an opportunity seeker. To invest in a new way to create and shape change in the current way of thinking, so as to break the ceilings in how we define and implement (digital) transformation and plant the seeds of an exponential tomorrow.
Tech Adjacent is a wonderful, practical read that chronicles the excellence that the human mind is, showcases the futuristic brilliance that is currently taking place in Africa with true pioneers across all sectors of industry like energy and biochemistry and not just financial services, and invites you to question the current status quo in the processes and operations of your life and business, and doing it so in an agile and adaptable way to accommodate the exponential character that is technology for your business success!
A few Sunday afternoons ago, a friend shared an article written by a thought leader and known angel investor on the continent on the momentum that angel investing has been gathering on the African continent, and his hopes for the ecosystem in the near and far future. Once we’d both had time time to unpack the read, the conversation then triggered into the origin of this kind of investing and one of the major underlying themes of financial inclusion – collaboration, and in essence group economics. In Africa, the idea of group economics may be unfamiliar by English terminology, but the practice of accruing investments to enable financial inclusion is no foreign concept.
What is Group Economics?
Group Economics is a concept that explains how individuals engaging in economic and financial activities yield better value for their money at the expense of lesser resources in savings by sharing the cost. An example of this would be through carpooling or a lift club and what Somali informal shop traders in South Africa do to grow their consumer base (and more businesses) in townships by buying their stock in bulk for other shop owners in the network. In true Africa-is-not-a-country style, different African countries practice similar components of group economics but under different names and models. In Ethiopia it is known as Iqub, while in Kenya it’s denoted as Chamas and Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in Ghana. In this article, we’re going to explore what is called Vicobas in Tanzania and Stokvels in South Africa, informal savings clubs and how they are modelling financial inclusion respectively.
Banking on Stokvels in South Africa
According to the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA) there are more than 11 million stokvel members and the market is worth close to R50 billion (US$ 3.57 million) with over 820,000 stokvels currently in the country. In a recent study conducted by Nedbank, the most popular types of stokvels are savings, grocery and burial societies, with only 5% of stokvels focused on investment savings and 41% having bank accounts. While the profile of stokvels has always been middle-aged black women from low-income earning backgrounds convening and saving to buy groceries in December, the landscape is gradually introducing younger and middle class audiences who are using the model to generate wealth through means of property, investment and travel stokvels.
It’s not only banks that are wanting a piece of this inclusion pie, but so are financial startups like Stokfella who are bringing in a data and financial management piece to the puzzle. The platform is a management tool that enables members to facilitate their payments and claims, and grow their savings through investment channels, also enabling safety and transparency with all the members of the society. With over 9000 registered users who personally registered or were registered by stokvel executives, this application is an example of how the sector is unhurriedly being optimized both in revenue and the level of sophistication in formalising it.
Venture Capital with Impact through Vicobas in Tanzania
With a much more elevated and flexible approach from stokvels, vicobas carry out the mandate of empowerment through a model of micro-financing with economic, socio-economic and environment impact at the backend of it. Coined and conceptualised in September of 2002 by major organizations Social and Economic Development Initiatives of Tanzania (SEDIT), CARE International and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), VICOBA is an acronym for Village Community Banks.
So, how does the model work and how is it different from stokvels? And, how are the societies sustainable investment opportunities for the vicoba members and the wider communities at large?
It begins with members forming five unit groups and each of these groups and then joining each other to make a vicoba group of 30 members. Once the rules and regulations of the group have been set and amount of resources to subscribe is agreed upon, the members contribute their savings (shares) and social protection and then begin what can be a year long training and follow up cycle with financial institutions. After the financial education from a field trainer is completed, the vicoba members can start to support their own startup enterprises with each loan is then returned to the group basket account with added value.
The premise of the vicoba model is to stimulate low-income earning citizens by equipping them with the tools and finances to develop and manage income generating activities and catalyze developmental initiatives much like the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) through their economic empowerment programmes.
Investments Accrue when Sustainability is Optimized
Much like PWC, the heart of the group savings model was aimed at women enabling themselves to participate in the economy actively due to the systematic (and still very nimble) patriarchal society. Group economics has licensed gender and socio-economic empowerment to greater access to education and general participation from citizens otherwise not permitted because of their economic standings. And, don’t get me wrong, not all vicobas or Stokvels work out or are rosy, in fact, most of these savings groups fail at the stage of infancy due to lack of accountability, late payments, theft and lack of transparency within the members. However, the optimist and intrapreneur in me believes in these financial models of inclusion and their opportunity at optimization of exponential empowerment to accrue more investment, and to create more impact.
I truly believe that the future of financing businesses and impacting communities lies in the power of group economics, and next month, I’ll be unpacking this ideology in “Group Economics in Africa: Part 2, Impact Investing is no foreign African Concept”. Whether you’re a startup, a technology or financial expert or a citizen with money and an idea or a dream, this is definitely an idea worth betting on.
Do you belong to any savings and/or investment groups? If so, what do you and your members save up for? Let me know in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!
So it’s been quite a first six months of 2019, which meant closing a couple of chapters, stepping up into a few and the start of new blossoming ones. As my journey with the global intelligence and media firm, Thomson Reuters came to a close in March of 2019, a new one began in June of 2019 with a pan-African investment and advisory firm Impact Amplifier. The career change has been an overwhelming and energizing experience so far that allows one’s creativity and expertise to be stretched at the opportunity to turn industry upside down through the business of ideas and impact acceleration.
I'm in a new industry, which is quite an interesting, exciting and intimidating to say the least - that of the behind the scenes outlook at creation in private equity and venture capital investments. The firm looks at Social Enterprise Acceleration, Impact Ecosystem Strengthening, Impact Investment Services and Entrepreneur, Investment and Ecosystem Research which all have their particular sub-categories that respectively look at elements like investment readiness, new funding mechanisms, deal sourcing, advisory and so much more. The essence of these capabilities are all rooted in the working with enterprises who are committed to actively and intentionally do business that is impactful through the socio-economic and environmental lenses.
My role as an Associate in Impact Acceleration includes unpacking impact assessment coordination and management, coordination and participating in primary and secondary market research activities, driving internal and external investment/grant readiness and capital raising acceleration process for investment readiness programmes, building a new pipeline for business development and supporting the partners in investment readiness deals. Now I should warn you, no day is the same, and that’s what’s not also rewarding but allows for practices like deep mind when you’re focused on research on one day and being in the field with the customer and unpacking their theory of change. Now, in any workplace setting, one cannot mostly achieve anything on their own without the collaboration with an incredible team and colleagues. What’s really cool about the space that I’m in is that everyone comes from different backgrounds with a diversity of ideas, which when challenges arise, continue to push creativity and solutions envelope.
The impact investment and advisory ecosystem is an industry quite in its infancy globally, and moreso due to the costs associated with the processes and metrics in measuring impact. Stakeholders see the value in impact assessment - investees for their investors, investors for their boards, businesses for growth and organisational strategy etc. I'm really excited to deep dive more into the space, there is a lot of intelligence that exists, and moreso the value added to profits greater than economical. Here's to measurable and accelerated inclusive development, and learning and doing work that matters.
Would you be interested in a Day of the Life of An Associate later in the year? Let me know in the comments section and we’ll make it happen J
What is Innovation Capital?
In a few weeks I’ll be delivering an address at one of South Africa’s universities upon the invitation of the Director of Technology, Innovation and Commercialisation on some key innovation practices in the country, this will be to the regional campus’ staff and students. Last week, I addressed an audience of over 225 women on leveraging their capital (in trusting themselves) through innovation tools. Apart from the innovation addresses in common that these two invitations carried, it’s how I was contacted and made visible to these two entities that will touch on what we’ll be unpacking in this article. Through amplifying my work and thought leadership engagement, and many other properties that I’ll get into in in the coming paragraphs, my Innovation Capital banked on these opportunities.
A concept coined by Marc Benioff who is Salesforce’s Founder and CEO, Innovation Capital is (to paraphrase) the accrued capital and impact to influence and fund an idea and the resources needed to actualise it. Have you ever wondered how Elizabeth Holmes successfully raised millions of dollars for Theranos, despite its failure? Or how Elon Musk continues to build and bankrupt ideas that are bankable, yet seem incredibly ludicrous? Innovation Capital is not only exclusive to individuals, but to brands like Apple who continue to incrementally innovate and elevate their standard to a point where their customers become their brand advocates? Or how recently listed UBER continued being funded by investors even though it was a blood-sucking investment? Some have it, and some can still raise it; so how do you ensure that you have it? You build it, and you do so patiently, because Innovation Capital cannot be wired into your account, you have to earn it. Let’s unpack this a bit.
The Characteristics of an Innovation Capitalist?
As with any capital, no matter who or what brand you are, it accrues in volume over time before it can be of value, innovation capital is no different. To be an inspired gamechanger like an Oprah Winfrey and building a school for girls in South Africa, not only do you need to be the self-made billionaire with multiple businesses and have a direct line to a Nelson Mandela who can make political calls to get your idea into a proof of concept. Are you getting my drift? The characteristics of an innovation capitalist are dependent on who you are, the strong ties that you have with the right network, the work that you’ve done and the stages and platforms that you employ to amplify your work. Now, even with all these characteristics in mind, as is the process of innovation, there is no guarantee that it’ll work out, proof of concepts aren’t always proven. This, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs will tell you, but that’s the beauty of innovation, there’s no guarantee but through the research and development, there’s always a lesson or few to be learnt. Having worked in corporate innovation for the past two years and being at the nucleus of product management and development, I cannot tell you how many ideas were killed (in their respective stages) in as much as that we launched. But in this, the true value became not in how many times we failed, but how quickly we did so and did it so with an accrued value for my manager (with incredible visionary leadership – another key component) to continue getting these ideas funded.
How do you Build Innovation Capital?
So, whether your ideas take off or not. How do you begin to build Innovation Capital? If you’re not an Oprah, a Mandela or even a Hitler (dark, I know, but his capital funded Nazi Germany) and you’re a student, entrepreneur or working professional who wants to create or accrue their innovation capital, where do you begin? First things first, you acquire the knowledge of where you’re wanting to be an innovation capitalist in – in order to play the game, you need to know it. The skills that you’ll acquire from this will enable you to not only set yourself apart, but then have the expertise and confidence to be able to find the platform to share these ideas. These are the makings of a leader. Becoming a leader in your industry is a key component in building trust in your shared ideas, as this garners visibility, which catapults the effectiveness of a personal brand that people trust with their capital.
An amalgamation of many accrued capital, innovation capital requires human, social, intellectual and other forms of capital in order to yield momentum and/or return on investment, nothing is guaranteed. Now that you have the knowledge and the tools of the term, how will you put it to practice and ensure that it get funded? May the best idea win, and the capital odds always be in your favour!
Images Supplied: The Corporate Canvas
Entrepreneurship, it’s far beyond meetings at coffee shops, sleek silver grey PCs and colourful socks, it’s a design that’s a function of human-centred solutions and banking on the market in the gap. And, in most emerging markets like Africa and Asia, small and medium businesses contribute a large portion to not only a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but also in alleviating social ills like unemployment and limited access to affordable healthcare. And no business can operate as an island; access to markets, capital investment and capabilities are just some of the tools needed to operate and scale a business, something that the Entrepreneur of the Year® (EOY) Awards offers and enables.
What is Entrepreneur of Year Awards?
Proudly sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, the Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards is an annual competition that recognises and honours small and medium enterprises in South Africa who are innovative in their businesses, and create not only profitable businesses, but enterprises of social and economic impact. The competition invites esteemed entrepreneurs, investors and veterans in business like Matsi Modise and David Morobe to judge this notable competition, and uses various filtering processes to mitigate bias and error.
So, what’s in it for Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS in investing in such a platform? “We’ve been in business for over 38 years and understand that entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey. As such, we created the competition as a platform to acknowledge the efforts made by business owners to assure them that they are on the right track and to link them with other entrepreneurs for networking and business opportunities,” says Gugu Mjadu, Spokesperson for the Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS.
Gugu adds that the awards were also introduced with the aim to contribute towards stimulating entrepreneurial activity in the country. “We want aspiring entrepreneurs to look at the EOY award winners and believe that it is possible to achieve success and wealth via entrepreneurship,” she adds.
What Access to Market?
With so many competitions, events and awards in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, it can be difficult to track the impact and progress of the capital that the entrepreneurs receive from these organisations. According to the SME Landscape Report An Assessment of South Africa’s SME Landscape: Challenges, Opportunities, Risks & Next Steps’ 2018/2019, it was revealed that almost 52% of entrepreneurs care and prioritize about access to market than anything else for their businesses and also need assistance in access, especially small and medium business, using this is a springboard to enabling their companies to scale.
But what is Access to Market? And how does it enable small and medium businesses to thrive? Market access is the conditions and measures set by countries to enable or to restrict transactions and trade of their products. These conditions for small and medium enterprises are also upheld by the bureaucracy that exists in both public and private sectors, at times making it difficult for the smaller players to get a piece of the market share. This is why, more than ever, it’s important for big players like Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS to enable market access, through either their own market or with the financial capital that is up for grabs in this year’s awards.
EOY's Strategy for Entrepreneurship Access in South Africa
“Take 2017 Innovator of the Year® winner and owner of Pimp my Book, Mpodumo Doubada – he says the direct spin-off from the EOY awards was a far more positive reception from various universities and corporates – who had heard about their company through the media and became a little more open to trying their innovative approach. Post winning, he also opened a new store in Pretoria, signed on more than 1000 new bursary students to their bursary division. The best part is that their revenue has grown by 40% since winning the award. ” says Gugu.
Through the awards and its objective to get the entrepreneurs to build and grow a successful business, the entrepreneurs get an opportunity to leverage social networking and capital, this, with fellow entrepreneurs and credible business experts who carry insights in industries of interest. Winners also have the added advantage of receiving formal mentorship or technical assistance as one of their prizes which they can use to develop tactics for accessing markets.
Adoption Strategy for your Business
So, whether it’s the prizes to the total value of R2 million which include cash prizes of R500 000, expanding networks, receiving media and mentorship exposure, it’s important that not only you just enter the EOY Awards, but to also enter it with clarity of why and how it can benefit the scaling of the development of your business.
Entries close on 31st of May, so don’t forget to submit your applications by visiting www.eoy.co.za
There is no better time in developing markets and the current industrial revolution than right now to contribute to the discussion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the alarming PR messaging that it has, some well-intentioned misdirection and the other half split with an overflow of information of which skillset to prioritise and which technology to employ. The job losses, the new technology and the illiteracy to name a few of this incoming era can indeed create a barrier of intimidation on entry, and what adds to the complexity of the situation is that the data lies.
Exploring Data Bias
You should be familiar with the notion of data being the new currency, at least in comparison to oil as an infinite resource that can empower economies. And data, having been undocumented, raw and undigitized has always been around, it is rather the scramble for the science and technology of it, and who gets access to it first that impacts the narrative and gets an opportunity to score some points for their industry, economy or group of privilege that they belong to. It’s the data scramble, it’s the data rush. This is what’s caused, I believe, the insurmountable backlash and inaccuracies, the product bias towards chatbots or products otherwise, whether its towards gender, race or access. The question that then follows up to this statement would be where the data is, and exploring the intentional bias and opportunities for solutions to the bias, and what stakeholders can do create inclusive economies.
The Impact of Bias Practices …
Machine Learning which is an application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that studies the sciences of how machines can automatically learn and improve from experience by learning from themselves, is learning from the bias of the producers of the algorithms, and these makers of algorithms are largely white males as can be seen in an example of this through facial recognition products created by IBM, Microsoft and Face Plus Plus. That means that, so is the (informed) data, which breeds much room for prejudice.
A recent example of a sector that informed this bias is financial services, mostly with credit, and is now building the intelligence tools to either enforce or break away from this. In South Africa, usury expert Emerald van Zyl, claims that Standard Bank (including banks like First National Bank), which is Africa’s oldest bank is currently under hot fire for billing its black customers at a higher interest rate in financing. This is not the first time this occurred with Standard Bank, as in 2012 they were also charged with violating the National Credit Act where eventually customers were refunded by 2013. Now, if the machine learns these algorithms and continues to grant the same product bias, the discriminatory practices are more than likely continue.
This is kind of problem is also consistent in the health sector. In a New England Journal of Medicine article published on 15 March 2019, researchers of the Framington Heart Study showed the risk and capability of AI algorithms to demonstrate bias. The research used AI to predict the risk of cardiovascular occurrences in non-white populations and the results demonstrated bias in both over- and underestimations of risk.
People's lives are at stake through the products of 4IR. And, beyond the glitter of Sophia The Robot and the New Generation Kiosks at companies like McDonalds, there is a community that is not being intentional about being inclusive and rather duplicating structural socio inequalities that implicates another.
Data bias does only one thing, it mirrors what is socially ingrained, which means that it lies and tells a partial truth, of which is not meant for consumption by those who produce it.
Dismantling the Structural Bias
The call for inclusive economies goes beyond teaching young, black girls how to code and having strictly women only data science clubs. Practices like hiring more diverse teams leads to impactful and informed product creation and is a good contribution to mitigate prejudice algorithms and encourage more accurate data on a model. A sub-division of AI, Natural Language Programming (NLP) is a study that is concerned with the processing of computers and human natural languages, and can be used as a great example and opportunity for the necessity of the inclusive call in the sector. Translating open source of data sets in different parts of the world requires an understanding of the language being translated so that we can not only have Siri being able to understand my instructions in English but also the opportunity to preserve and digitise languages like the Khoi which are diminishing, mostly because, especially with African languages, the impartation of language happens orally. A great example of this opportunity is Ajala Studios, which a Nigerian startup that builds natural language and speech processing applications for African languages, which means that they can too synthesize speech from African languages presented as digitized text, a gap that’s mostly recognises Western accents, voices and names.
The responsibility of creating these opportunities is also a shared responsibility, especially with the public sector. Governments in both developed and developing markets need to invest more in Research and Development (R&D) and in the social concept of open innovation (engaging the public with the data) especially as the impact of this investment is quite telling. And although it is a long term investment, the return on this investment is worthwhile. Researchers from the United Kingdom (UK) and Saudi Arabia looked at 40 Asian counties and how their spend on R&D lead to the production of quality research publications across sciences and social sciences; and with more research in the UK showing the positive impact that public investment has in the increment of private sector investment and in attracting foreign direct investment. Through this R&D investment and its impact in the knowledge economy, it also presents an opportunity to lead to more computational intelligence and feeding it the missing data, and the greater economic impact through the indicator of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The next solution is not only costly but risky, but if there is one thing that I’ve learnt about being in the innovation space, whether the product is out to market or still in the proof of concept phase, no matter how good it looks on paper, it’s that it is never too late to take the product off market if it doesn’t serve its purpose. A great example of this is Vodacom South Africa’s failure, thrice to launch its sister Kenyan network SafariCom’s M-Pesa to the South African market. Factors like an onerous regulatory environment, the competitive advantage that the larger and established banks have with their products to low-income consumers, and some have also argued due to the mixed messaging upon launching, from introducing it as a mobile money wallet to a platform that is linked to your VISA card. This case study is also an example of the danger of wanting to copy and paste a one-size fits all product into an Africa that is not a country.
At the end of the day, it's about investing in the visibility of the communities so as to include better, impactful and innovative products and profitability for all ecosystem stakeholders a part of the operation chain.
The data samples ARE there. And unfortunately (or an opportunity), so is the bias. But all is not lost, not with the desire of visionary stakeholders to operate in a transformative world that uses the enabler of technology for sustainable good business.
On LinkedIn, I recently uploaded a post that had a graphic recording themed on the discussion of mobile banking unpacking challenges, opportunities, the pillars of the ecosystems and the key stakeholders in the markets. It was a piece of art and knowledge that was created about 4- 5 years ago, and however powerful the discussions in the room, the micro-themes still echo the non-silver bullet industry that’s catapulted Africa’s invitation to the global seat of innovation, and particularly financially inclusion. Although the hotbed of the financial inclusion conversation is mobile money in Africa, in this article we’ll explore and propose ways to continue enhancing the distribution mechanism of mobile to employ an economically inclusive society.
Exploring Mobile Money Mission
It was not so long ago when MPESA launched in Kenya, and successfully so that not only did it grant Africa the opportunity to drive the mobile money conversation and allow the unbanked to access financial products but, for some, create and enhance digital footprint, and a chance to be economically active.
Traditional banks notoriously have, for a long time created financial products that were only accessible to the middle class and above, those who were already economically empowered. In the exclusivity of these financial products, the role of startups, data (open or big) and technology became important in leapfrogging the traditional banking industry and getting credit right. The rise of the living standard in emerging markets also created an opportunity for the mobile economy to continue to thrive, whether with an Android phone or if you’re living in the townships.
Who Gets to Participate?
According to research by the PEW Research Center, in emerging economies, the population in some of the poorest communities do have access to a mobile phone, even though the ownership is not of a smartphone. What this does, is that it gives rise to Opening Demand so that the non-digitally savvy citizens may participate, and Supply Inclusion for manufactures, such as now, the new smartphone manufacturer in Africa with the Mara Phone Project.
Mobile money products bank on the vision of a society where the individuals are economically active and visible, from women owned businesses who in some economies didn’t have access to credit to spaza shop owners and the super paranoid cashless user. And in doing this, it is also giving them a digital footprint, and an identity that is tailored for edifying their lifestyles as well as their businesses and financial products.
However, the cost of this inclusion also comes with its own price for the service providers, which includes finding ways to enhance the user and experience centric for the customer.
The Cost of Digitisation, for the Supplier
The high level of customisation to operate in data-lite countries, where data is not enriched and infrastructure is needed to augment results is quite costly. At this moment, this is where the call to government to participate in the market is quite loud in knowledge sharing spaces like conferences and roundtable discussions – an opportunity to serve its citizens better, create more competitive markets and empower lessening the digital divide.
Looking at creating cheaper solutions will cost spend of engineering and predictions analytics, investing in more talent, having the processes to refine the data in order to have more value, the urgency to transform through infrastructure and the list goes on to be an enabler. The return on investment in this cost is not in just the adoption of more products, but also in customers being better informed and better buying customers.
What’s In It For Me, the Consumer?
For a customer like myself, I’m constantly looking for ways to continue leaving my credit and debit cards at home and having my own money market on my phone. The question of “What’s In It For Me?” is what’s constantly at the back of a consumer’s head, whether one has a mobile phone that’s a smart or feature phone – all phones matter.
For the smartphone user, products like Whatsapp, Google Suite, UBER, Booking.Com and BiNu or Facebook which states that 94% of its 170 million African users access the platform via mobile, and with even 100% of the Nigeria population accessing it through mobile. And for feature phone users, products like Mobile Banking, Bwenzi Lathu, JUMO, Kopah Doh or Telecommunications Services are also what make this particular phone a market of the present and future.
While we wait on the digital divide to close and for an all inclusive society, let’s be mobile and invite stakeholders to continue creating enabling ecosystems and environments to innovate for a thriving present and future mobile market.