VC4Africa, igniting Africa's brightest ideas

VC4Africa, igniting Africa's brightest ideas

Netherlands
a
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

VC4Africa aims to be the Facebook of Venture Capital in Africa connecting 1.9 million African based entrepreneurs. We are working to pioneer a crowdsourced venture capital movement on the continent (connecting hundreds if not thousands of startups). We seek to do this by lowering barriers to investing in the continent’s most promising entrepreneurs. We strive to connect people, promote ideas and simply inspire action.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Some entrepreneurs we support: - The Uganda Medicinal Plants Growers (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/uganda-medicinal-plants-growers-ltd/) , a venture posted by Teddy Ruge. UMPG is a commercial farming initiative based in Masindi and is designed to assist farmers commercialize their medicinal crops internationally. This is important work considering Uganda’s economy is agriculture based, with agriculture employing over 80% of the population and generating 90% of its export earnings. - In Kenya we support the social venture Recycling plastics and Empowering Youth. (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/recycling-plastics-and-empowering-youth/) Kenya has a great need for low-cost housing and productive waste management. This recycling company will operate in the interest of the local community employing collectors using bicycle with trailers to bring various grades of plastics to processing units for ecologically-sensitive, efficient sorting, granulating and moulding (under low heat) into panels to be used for cheap housing. Not only is this an innovative approach that addresses a growing need, they are clearly taking the steps to embed the program and design it in a way that makes it socially sustainable and thereby economically viable. - A Nigerian based venture is eHealth (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/ehealth-nigeria/) . This project supports the management of health facilities in Nigeria to influence health-related funding and policy decisions, and provides doctors with the patient information needed to improve decision-making before, during, and after care. This is not only a support service needed in Nigeria but I can imagine there are needs for their products in other African countries too. But given there are at least 85 listed hospitals in Nigeria there is plenty of work needed to get the company up and running. - A fun and promising venture in Cameroon is Hot Ice ( http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/hot-ice/) . Hot Ice is a fashion company that specializes in supplying affordable African-styled fashion accessories for trendy suburban women. Hot Ice really looks to differentiate its brand and seeks to build a fashion culture that local consumers can identify with. - Finally Bongo Live (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/bongo-live-208809165/) , CamVista (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/camvista ), SawaMarket (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/?s=sawamarket), Agro-Hub (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/agro-hub/) GeoFeed (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/geofeed/) and Hizonotes (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/hizonotes/) offer a nice sample of the web and mobile related projects we have in our network. Our aim is to make these projects visible and to connect then with the community, knowledge, network and resources they need to achieve their goals. Their success is our bottom line.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

VC4Africa is the only true peer-to-peer platform. VC4Africa differentiates itself through its focus on Africa, Small & Medium Sized businesses and Venture Finance. VC4Africa is not re-inventing the wheel but builds on ideas that have already proved successful elsewhere. Currently we see lots of innovation and continued growth in the online platform space and look to continually tap this innovation. Many platforms similar to VC4Africa try to get in-between the investor and the entrepreneur. They make such an effort to connect people they feel they should be part of the deal. VC4Africa doesn’t take this approach. If our mission is to connect people why would we want to slow down that process by getting in the way? We trust our members to connect with the individuals they need to do business with. We seek to support them in this process but we don’t want to get involved. It’s not our job to do so and we keep our focus instead on building a healthy and nurturing environment for our members. We make use of open source software and focus on building tools and information everyone needs to move forward.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

An overview of our activities: Sustainability: Core to VC4Africa is the belief that the best business ideas are the ones that harness the potential to change the world. Good business inherently adds value and improves people’s lives. We seek to promote this ethic in all of the work we do and pro-actively seek to educate both entrepreneurs and investors on the principles of sustainability, triple bottom line thinking and the associated metrics. We do this by integrating sustainability into our web based tools and by introducing a series of badges dedicated to issues of sustainability, green entrepreneurship and social impact. We also plan to introduce a group dedicated to these subjects. At the same time, in the interest to reach the entire community we incorporate these issues into our network wide communication i.e. profiling entrepreneurs, investors and projects that serve as leading examples and offer all members access to dedicated information resources, networks and tools that help both entrepreneurs and investors integrate these issues into their own work. SME Pipeline: We make use of a plan cruncher to create a standard one-page summary of a business plan for a start-up company looking for external partners or investment. Entrepreneurs crunch their venture by choosing icons that represent some of the standard answers that a business plan must provide. Members can vote for ventures and their input is used to rank the projects per country, stage of investment and sector. The output is a dynamic Digg.com style feed that sees the best projects rise to the top of their respective field so we can connect them with capital. See the VC4Africa Ventures section and registration (http://www.vc4africa.biz/ventures). Matchmaking: Organizations and individuals interested in investing in African businesses are able to register their investment profile with VC4Africa. Once registered as an investor we offer tailored matchmaking tools i.e. an investor dashboard and facilitate targeted e-mail updates with 'high potentials' that match the registered investment criteria. This is currently a manual process that we look to automate in the next phase of development. See the registration process (http://vc4africa.biz/register-investor). Member initiated networking events: Second to networking online, VC4Africa makes use of the Barcamp model for events and organizes its own VC4Africa Meetups. These are informal networking events initiated by any member in the network interested in bringing together members in their own area. These events are organized without a budget, agenda or speakers. It is exactly the community initiated format and informal structure that allows for effective networking. Members build an important sense of ownership and are crucial to making the VC4Africa networks accessible locally. These events also establish future points of contact. Meetups have already been hosted in Kampala, Nairobi (2x), Kigali, Johannesburg, Lagos, Abuja, Douala, Buea, Tunis, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris and Leuven. See a video about a VC4Africa Meetup (http://vimeo.com/12694635). Open Source Approach: VC4Africa is an open source project built on open source software (WordPress + BuddyPress). Anyone can contribute or access code to the VC4Africa platform, download or install their own version. We are also working on an open Application Programming Interface (API) that would allow anyone to access VC4Africa data and repurpose it for their own use. See the VC4Africa Developer’s Wiki for the community wish list and concept notes (http://wiki.vc4africa.biz/doku.php/start). VC4Africa content and network are also open to anyone who wants to join the community and we do not require any fee to participate. That said, interaction or direct engagement with the network requires registration and an obligation to abide by the community established rules. See the Terms of Reference (http://vc4africa.biz/terms-of-service). Officers Program: The VC4Africa community also initiated an ‘Officers Program’ used to engage active members in running and building the network. Officers take on different tasks in managing the community and are responsible for specific functions i.e. someone that manages the blog, someone that invites new members on LinkedIn or is responsible for growing the network on Facebook. These individuals are instrumental to the vitality of the project and help spread the word virally through their own networks. Moreover, they bring in new ideas and make valuable contributions that help define the scope and focus of the project. To this extent VC4Africa only builds what members demand. Given the current structure members are well empowered to interact, find and share information within a network dedicated to building innovative businesses in Africa.
Sustainability

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Entrepreneurs building promising companies in Africa.
About You
Organization:
VC4Africa
About You
First Name

Ben

Last Name

White

About Your Organization
Organization Name

VC4Africa

Organization Country

, NH

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

The information you provide here will be used to fill in any parts of your profile that have been left blank, such as interests, organization information, and website. No contact information will be made public. Please uncheck here if you do not want this to happen..

Innovation
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

Microcredit is too small. It’s great for buying a goat, but then what? What comes after? What happens when you need an office space and need to hire employees? When you need to grow and scale your business? When you need investors who understand the business and can help you work through really tough decisions? On the other end of the spectrum you have the banks and larger financial institutions but they are looking for big deals with as secure of a return as possible. For entrepreneurs starting out, often times with minimal track-record or little in the way of assets, it’s a feat just to get a meeting… let alone having to swallow the absorbent interest rates and unfair terms if the meeting actually goes well. For the venturing space, where a lot of risk is involved, other forms of capital and support are needed.

One of the biggest challenges for investors is finding good entrepreneurs with solid ideas who actually have the ability, infrastructure and network to implement i.e. the cost of due diligence alone leaves a lot of really promising projects on the sideline. At the same time there are many entrepreneurs ready to take the next step but need help in their business plan preparation. They also need guidance and support needed to navigate the investment process. It’s in these spaces that I continue to see a need for a true peer-to-peer network. VC4Africa is a community of like-minded entrepreneurs and investors that share the same mission; simply build great companies in Africa.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

VC4Africa is the largest and fastest growing social network for investors and entrepreneurs dedicated to building businesses in Africa. Our business is connecting people and ideas: we are the only open and accessible platform dedicated to the subject and our network already consists of over 10.000 entrepreneurs and investors from more than 250 countries.

We facilitate 364 active forum discussions, 157 events focused on business in Africa, 38 Incubators and 886 community generated blog postings. We have hosted self-organized VC4Africa meetups in Kampala, Nairobi (2x), Kigali, Johannesburg, Lagos, Abuja, Douala, Buea, Tunis, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, London, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris and Leuven.

Central to our mission is the business of connecting entrepreneurs (and their powerful ideas) to the networks, expertise and capital they need to grow successfully. This year we not only saw the re-branding of VC4Africa but also the launch of our new matchmaking platform VC4Africa.biz. We currently have more than 124 ventures from 30 African countries open for funding. Today, with our existing infrastructure, we are making concrete steps to achieve these goals. Our entrepreneurs are securing funding and finding partners needed to grow and scale their business.

Rick, the founder of Market-fleas.com (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/www-market-fleas-com/), an online craft market similar to the more renowned Etsy.com, closed his first investment round via VC4Africa.biz. He writes, “Hi Ben, We finally finished our investment round and once again, thank you for the great platform. It really is the best out there, as we found a lot of fraudulent sites on the web claiming to help angel investors and entrepreneurs connect.” He goes on to explain, “As web entrepreneurs, we found the going tough as a startup and tried a lot of avenues to get initial investment including venture capital firms in South Africa, other online investment platforms and more with absolutely no luck. The problem was that 1.) we we’re a startup so a venture capital company with a minimum mandate of R50million was never going to look at us and 2.) every investment platform that we found (paid) would send (the guaranteed) connection via a random yahoo or gmail account which gave us hope, only to crush it again later. VC4Africa helped us connect (for free) to an investor we found within 3 days of being on the site, and created a platform where we could connect easily and without hidden agenda. Thank you VC4Africa, you are the only true investment platform.”

Other members don’t require funding and are finding the strategic partners they need to expand their business instead. Brian, the founder of Next2.Us (http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/next-2-us-africa/) writes, “Your website has been very helpful to me. I was able to connect to a company that wants to represent Next2.Us geosocial sms network throughout Africa. We have executed a Framework Agreement and are finalizing a relationship with a SMS provider that will allow Next2.Us Africa to offer our geosocial network service in Kenya.”

We are just scratching the surface of what is possible and already we have more than 100 ventures online from more than 25 African countries. The reach of VC4Africa is suprising. Our network extends well beyond existing hot-spots like Nairobi. For example we recently connected with the leading network of Angel investors in Mali. Even in these areas we see a hunger to partner, connect and support local entrepreneurs. Djigui, the founder of the leading Malian business angels club, and also founder of the first business school based on entrepreneurship in west Africa, writes, ‘Is it possible that you organize a meetup at Bamako, the Malian capital? The entrepreneurial scene is increasing more and more..,because unemployment is growing each year, ie: each years we have more than 60,000 students and even 0.001% do not get job. So entrepreneurship is the only key to promote SMEs to reduce unemployement. I think that VC4Africa can help entrepreneurs here to build businesses.’

This is just a sample of the entrepreneurs, the ideas and the networks that already come together in VC4Africa. Now with the right partners and dedicated resources we believe we can greatly expand on our existing infrastructure and vibrant network that will further realize African success stories.

The new VC4Africa.biz matchmaking platform has now been live one month. Some of our first testimonials:

1) “Hey guys, http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/www-market-fleas-com/ already has a potential investor, so big ups on the platform. We tried many different platforms and none of them even gave us a response, but after only three days we got a response here. Keep up the good work and i’ll be spreading the word.” Rick (Rick has since secured funding)

2) “Being an entrepreneur, I've been around the block when it comes to sites of this nature. And I must say; awesome! If you are able to attract investors successfully, this will become the one-stop shop for African business development. The site is easy to use and best of all, unique. All the best and thank you!” Louis

3) “Your web site has been very helpful to me. I was able to connect to a company that wants to represent Next2.Us geosocial sms network throughout Africa. We have executed a Framework Agreement. We are finalizing a relationship with a SMS provider that will allow Next2.Us Africa to offer our geosocial network service in Kenya in the coming weeks.” Brian (Brian is currently launching his Kenya pilot and testing the system with local techies in Nairobi).

4) "That sounds great Ben, I believe that through this platform (with its business plan crunching) is going to help many entrepreneurs." Wikins

5) “Please let me know how to support your work with the "Start-up Tool Kit" for entrepreneurs in Africa, perhaps including intellectual property and creativity content, templates, etc. and also by providing feedback to investors about valuation, due diligence, strategic guidance and advising, etc. for innovation and IP-based companies started in Africa, whether they're planning on being a regional or international business.” JiNan.

6) " Thank you for your kind welcome and above all for being one of the the founders of this medium. I believe it is going to be a very useful tool for entrepreneurs from everywhere who have the best interest of Africa and Africans. I will look forward for more interactions in the future.” Kebede

7) "Hi Ben, thanks for the thumbs up. Great platform you have founded here! Looking forward to meeting up with those interested in getting involved in my business with either funding and/or mentoring." Nicolette

How many people have been impacted by your project?

More than 10,000

How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?

More than 10,000

How will your project evolve over the next three years?

We seek to connect with 1.9 million African based entrepreneurs.

We seek core funding for 2011 - 2013. More specifically, VC4Africa has been built on an initial investment of EUR 50.000 in cash, thousands of hours of sweat equity and in-kind contributions from members and dedicated professionals. To realize the potential for this project, further grow and scale this business, it is critical we are in a position to pay for staff and the hired services we need to successfully grow and scale our activities.

Sustainability
What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Internal Weaknesses:

- The community is growing faster than we can handle at the moment. We don’t have the support structure in place to manage all of the incoming requests i.e. from entrepreneurs looking for help, investors asking for businesses that meet their criteria, members who want to organize a VC4Africa meetup or join the officer’s program
- We have some potentially powerful tools we have not had the resources, time or team to develop. We are still working with a bare bones infrastructure. .
- We don’t yet have a mentorship program. Many entrepreneurs lack a track record, the knowledge or experience to go the investment process alone and need considerable support from our organization
- It is not always east to identify and communicate success stories. For example, many valuable connections are made via Facebook every day but its not often a user takes the time to send the Facebook team an e-mail to tell them.
- Initial financial resources were invested in building the initial community platforms and tools. We currently lack the manpower and financial capital needed to grow and scale the initiative
- It is important to secure the right partners in the field who have access to investible Small and Medium sized enterprises. These partnerships take time to develop and communication can prove a challenge when working from long distances. This process could stall eventual deployment.
- The platform has to prove its worth before some entrepreneurs will be willing to step forward. Entrepreneurs don’t always see the benefit in sharing their ideas openly on the Internet and worry about the protection of their idea
- Managing an entrepreneur’s expectations i.e. that starting a business and attracting investors can sometimes take months. Trust takes considerable effort and time to establish.
- The system and network are open, building on the idea that the less structure, process and rules we have to put in place the more effective the networking. That said, as a site we are forced to give up elements of control
- The community is only as valuable as the sum of its parts and the projects/ideas it presents.

External Threats:

- Africa fails to translate increased interest in the continent into action
- Current progress is stalled or digresses to former levels
- As with any social community there is a risk of being targeted by opportunists, scammers
and fraudsters. We have worked to mitigate these risks with both technical and social strategies. We run awareness campaigns, facilitate discussions and encourage open sharing. In the end an active healthy member base is the community’s best protection
- Investing in Africa is still risky. The threat is that several investors lose out financially and scare off other potential investors. We leverage our data and information in the interest to mitigate these risks and to help educate both entrepreneurs and investors in as far as that is possible
- There is a risk that our platform and tools will be copied by a competitor. In fact our open source approach encourages this and builds on the idea that our open approach will generate more progress than we could achieve alone. We need to invest in building a critical mass in entrepreneurs and investors and build up our name as protection.
- The deal after matchmaking will not be made online but offline

Tell us about your partnerships

We work with ActivSpaces, a technology incubator for young tech entrepreneurs in Cameroon. As part of their learning and development they provide the technical support for the VC4Africa project.

Explain your selections

We seek core funding for 2011 - 2013. More specifically, VC4Africa has been built on an initial investment of EUR 50.000 in cash, thousands of hours of sweat equity and in-kind contributions from members and dedicated professionals. To realize the potential for this project, further grow and scale this business, it is critical we are in a position to pay for staff and the hired services we need to successfully grow and scale our activities.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

- Identification financial partners
- Formalize mgmt. team, board of advisors & working groups
- Develop Management Dashboard (see above)
- Implement mentorship program
- Implement content strategy
- Expand our technical platform

Challenges
Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.

PRIMARY

Lack of access to information and networks

SECONDARY

Lack of visibility and investment

TERTIARY

Restricted access to new markets

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

VC4Africa works to break down the barriers to entry. Anyone is free to join our network. We seek to unlock the knoweldge, network and capital entrepreneurs need to grow and scale their powerful ideas.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.

PRIMARY

Leveraged technology

SECONDARY

Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

TERTIARY

Grown geographic reach: Multi-country

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.
Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?