Q: Please tell us about yourself, educational background and the path that led you to VC4Africa?
White: My name is Ben White. I was born in the deserts of New Mexico but quickly found the urge to travel. I have spent several years working and living in different countries across Europe, Central/Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. At some point along the way I discovered my love for kicking around with starting projects. It's always about the bold ideas doomed to fail:) There is something in the process of starting a new business that I love and at the same time I see the potential entrepreneurship has to change the world. A lot of my work is Africa related. It's not something I planned but more something that just happened. If I spend more than three hours anywhere in Africa I discover an entrepreneur doing cool things. I can't help but want to be involved in building new businesses in beautiful yet challenging climates. It might very well be the entrepreneurial struggle that drives me most and Africa where I see the most potential. There are always new projects. At the moment I work on VC4Africa, Sanaga Ventures, ActivSpaces, African Business Angels Network (ABAN) and AfriLabs. Check out my website http://www.zia505.com or follow me on twitter at Zia505.
Q: Tell us about VC4Africa: Why VC4Africa? What programs and services do you offer? Who do you serve?
White: VC4Africa.biz (Venture Capital for Africa) seeks to connect Africa's most promising entrepreneurs with the resources (knowledge, network and capital) they need to realize their potential. VC4Africa is the largest online community of venture capitalists, angels, mentors and entrepreneurs dedicated to building businesses on the continent. The ventures on VC4Africa are early stage and require investments between USD $10K and USD $1 million. The primary sectors include web, mobile, clean tech, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, education, food, housing and health care, amongst others. Each venture is screened for social and environmental criteria. Thirty percent of the registered ventures have an explicit social mission and could be qualified as a social enterprise.
Listed entrepreneurs have access to free online tools, mentorship opportunities and private deal rooms. Accredited investors registered as part of the VC4Africa Investor Network are able to see which screened ventures are fundraising, track their progress and review private documents. The community has members in 159 countries and informal networking meetings that have been hosted in more than 50 cities around the world.
Q: Can you please share a few words about your investors, partners and the process for a startup to be funded by VC4Africa?
White: VC4Africa maintains a network of 1000 early stage investors of which 82% have already invested in an African based company. Half of the network is comprised of business angels, while the other half consists of accelerators, venture capital funds, impact investors, family officers, foundations and SME financiers. We see an increasing number of diaspora engage as angel investors and a growing number of funds coming from within the continent. VC4Africa is also a founding member of the African Business Angels Network (ABAN), the first pan-African association for African business angels.
Entrepreneurs that want to register a fundraising campaign with VC4Africa are asked to follow the 5 steps to fundraising: https://vc4africa.biz/fundraising.
Q: What are the most common weak points or areas of weakness exhibited from most startups seeking your support? What are the keys steps you recommend for startups to achieve and undertake before they contact VC4Africa?
White: Investors want to see team and traction. In fast changing markets with many unforeseen challenges, it is critical to have a strong team and network of advisors in place. Investors want to see that a company has all of the required skills needed to implement effectively, and advanced expertise on hand. Traction is the other area critical for investors. They are less interested in plans and projections, and would rather see what the team has already been able to accomplish. The more the team can prove the model works the inherently less risky it is for the investor.
Q: Finally, in your opinion, what is the importance of STEM education, innovation, technology, entrepreneurship and investment as well as infrastructures and the rule of law in the socio-economic development of Africa?
White: VC4Africa was started as a networking group in the spring of 2008 and has grown organically into what is now a thriving community dedicated to a world of inspired entrepreneurship. We believe entrepreneurship is a key driver for the continent’s continued development. Entrepreneurship should be a main driver in Africa’s economic growth, in particular the high growth high potential ventures that introduce important innovations and disruptive business models. This new breed of company offers a significant source of employment and provides an important source of income for future generations.