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Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes: Changing the face of investing in Africa

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Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes is the Founder and Managing Partner of Aruwa Capital Management, one of the few women owned and led growth private equity funds closing the gender gaps in Africa. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Adesuwa shares her career-path from working with leading global financial institutions to becoming an investor, how she’s  closing the investment gender gap with Aruwa Capital, challenges, impacts, as well their plans for 2021. Excerpt.

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about your journey up till now?

Adesuwa: I was born in Lagos, educated in the United Kingdom for most of my school years and worked in the City of London for some of the leading global financial institutions including J.P. Morgan. I moved back to Lagos, bringing back the skills I learnt to help rebuild and impact society. I am the founder of one of the few women owned, led growth equity and gender lens funds in Africa, Aruwa Capital Management. We invest in early stage growth companies in rapidly growing sectors that are scalable and relatively untapped. I am one of the youngest female private equity fund managers in Africa at 31 years old. I am an entrepreneur, CEO, mother, investor and women’s empowerment advocate.

My journey has been one of focus, determination, purpose, impact and resilience and I hope it can inspire and motivate others to go after their goals.

Alaba: At what point did you decide to launch Aruwa Capital? Tell me more about the fund and its focus?

Adesuwa: Having spent the last 12 years in investment banking and private equity at firms such as J.P. Morgan, TLG Capital & Syntaxis Capital Africa. I launched Aruwa Capital Management with my own money in Lagos in July 2019 and left the comforts of a six-figure salary, in order to make an impact in society with my skills, track record and change the narrative for women and small businesses in Africa. For me it was important to step out and launch something on my own. I wanted to make sure that through launching a fund of my own, I would be able to provide female entrepreneurs with access to capital where they otherwise traditionally wouldn’t have access due to the structural barriers that exist for any woman raising capital let alone women and people of colour. I also wanted to change the narrative for other female fund managers who may have struggled to raise capital despite their track record and expertise, by using what we achieve at Aruwa as a success story to motivate, inspire others and also make the business case to investors for investing in women.

Aruwa Capital Management is an early stage growth equity and gender lens investment fund that invests into established and rapidly growing businesses in Nigeria and Ghana that are currently overlooked by other private equity funds. Aruwa invests in businesses that either provides goods or services that cater to the untapped $15 trillion female economy or businesses that are founded or led by women or employ women in their workforce or value chain due to the increased profitability of gender diverse teams. Due to our focus on the early stage growth segment that is free of competition and our focus on showcasing the increased returns that can be generated when investing in women as consumers and entrepreneurs, we can successfully combine outsized financial returns with long lasting positive socio-economic development and women empowerment outcomes in the countries we invest in.

We not only see our gender lens investment strategy as the moral thing to do given the role women play in society and the multiplier it can have in terms of poverty alleviation for families but also because investing in women and for women has been proven to deliver outsized and superior returns. The data shows that gender balance within organizations improves profitability, reduces risks, brings diversity of thought and decision making. McKinsey estimates that if the gender gap is bridged there could be an additional $28 trillion in global GDP and shows gender diverse executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability.

BCG found that for every dollar of funding invested, start-ups founded and co-founded by women generated 2.5 time more than male-founded start-ups. The data supports that investing in women and for women, is good business and we see it as an immense, untapped opportunity that will enhance our fund returns, providing us with a competitive edge due to the limited competition. Our mission is to showcase the business case and success stories, so that other women don’t have the same challenges in raising capital that I had.

Alaba: Was it always your goal to go into investment management?

Adesuwa: Yes, I have always been interested in the financial markets and their impact on the global economy and vice versa. I studied economics in school which piqued my interest in investment banking. After graduating at the University, I landed a job in investment banking and also in private equity. During my time at the private equity firm, I made an investment in a Ugandan drugs manufacturer, which was a very attractive investment but also very significant to the country’s self-sufficiency in producing genuine medicines, a huge social impact. After this experience, my interest was cemented into impact investing and private equity and the rest as they say, is history.

Alaba: What are the challenges you face in the investment space?  Have you found it particularly difficult to succeed in this sector as a woman?

Adesuwa: One of the biggest challenges one faces in the African investment space is fundraising. On average it takes an African private equity fund 2 years to successfully raise their fund, which is ridiculous. Private equity and venture capital funds unfortunately must rely on foreign sources of capital which means there is sometimes a misconception regarding the perceived versus actual risk on the continent. When you combine this with the fact that firms owned by women and/or minorities manage just 1.3% of the $69 trillion under management by the industry, as an African woman raising an inaugural fund for Africa, it’s a steep hill to climb.

I am proud of what we have been able to achieve to date at Aruwa Capital Management despite these challenges, rather than being discouraged by the status quo, we are challenging the status quo and using our fund as an example and case study to make the business case to invest in women as fund managers, entrepreneurs, consumers and stakeholders in society. Aruwa aims to provide some concrete datapoints from its fund to showcase the immense opportunity, with the hope that other female founders within the industry have an easier fundraising journey than we did.

Alaba: Male led PE & VC firms get much more funding than their female counterparts. Do you think this is an active discrimination?

Adesuwa: Yes, I think there is bias and discrimination in the industry. Women make up just 9% of senior positions in private equity, only 2% of private equity funds globally are owned by women. Women are significantly underrepresented among the investment decision-makers at private equity and venture capital firms globally. There are not enough women as capital allocators. As mentioned above, white men control 98.7% of AUM in the industry when women make up 50% of the population, this is not right. Aruwa is one of a handful of women owned and led private equity funds in the whole of Africa with 1.2 billion people across 54 countries.

The International Finance Corporation released a report investigating the effect of gender balance in private equity and venture capital.  One of the key findings of the report is that private equity and venture capital funds with gender-balanced senior investment teams generated 20 percent higher returns compared with funds that did not have a gender balance. So, even though gender balanced teams with women investment managers outperform and generate more returns, there is still this imbalance amongst capital allocators.

Alaba: Why do you think it’s so much harder for women to raise funds?

Adesuwa: Women face several systemic issues that prevents them from raising capital and scaling their businesses. Women make up half of the population but only represent less than 40% of GDP. I believe that there are unconscious biases female entrepreneurs face, they are often underestimated and not taken seriously despite their track record or abilities. Access to capital is real challenge for female entrepreneurs. Africa has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world but only 2% of them have access to capital due to these unconscious biases.

Research has found that there is deep seated unconscious bias within the finance, venture capital and private equity industry. The language used to describe male and female entrepreneurs is significantly different and these differences have immense consequences when women are seeking capital and for society in general. For example, research from the Harvard Business Review showed that a male entrepreneur can be described as “young and promising” but a female entrepreneur is described as “young and inexperienced”. London Business School also showed that female founders were far more likely to be asked “preventative” questions about their businesses that emphasized risk and downside.

The men, on the other hand, were asked more “promotion” questions focusing on the “upsides and potential gains” of their businesses, a line of questioning that resulted in six times as much funding on average for men versus women. In 2018, Boston Consulting Group (“BCG”) also found a clear gender gap in business funding, finding that investments in businesses founded or co-founded by women averaged $935,000, less than half of the average of $2.1 million received by men.

These unconscious biases are a fundamental cause of the gender gaps we see in male versus female entrepreneurship.

Alaba: Despite these challenges, have you had any successes so far? How does your company measure its impact?

Adesuwa: Yes, we are proud to be deploying capital from our $20 million fund investing in Nigeria and Ghana. We have managed to mobilise private commercial capital into our fund both from Nigeria but also globally. We have also made a very successful investment in Nigeria which is a local manufacturer of personal hygiene products for women and girls, babies and over 65s. We can showcase from our existing portfolio the seamless intersection of strong financial return, social impact and women empowerment through this investment.

In terms of impact, we are very intentional about measuring social impact from our investments in terms of jobs created. We think private equity investment can be a huge driver in helping to improve employment within Nigeria and across Africa. In addition, in line with our gender lens mandate, we also measure the impact our investment has in terms of increasing the number of women in senior management, in the workforce, in supply chains and on the board. Before we make an investment, we incorporate our standard ESG and gender questions into our due diligence questionnaire to understand what is the basis that we’re starting from across these aspects. We work with entrepreneurs that are willing to institutionalise their businesses and incorporate best in-class governance, ESG standards, and their willingness to address gender imbalances within their companies if there are any.

Alaba:  What is the future for Aruwa Capital? Any project in 2021?

Adesuwa: The future for Aruwa Capital is to continue to showcase the untapped potential that exists when women are capital allocators. Showing through our investment strategy the seamless intersection we have between a strong financial return, social impact and women’s empowerment. In 2021, we are focused on deploying more capital so that we can have more success stories in our portfolio. We are working on attractive investments in agribusiness, technology and health care.

Alaba: What is your take on Cryptocurrency and its regulation in Nigeria?

Adesuwa: I think cryptocurrency is a great invention, it’s a new type of money and a store of value that has been working for the last decade or so and is gaining significant popularity. Bitcoin is up almost 400% since the rally in October 2020 and is proving more and more popular as a digital currency. The lack of regulation and government control is what has made bitcoin popular, building on the fact that it cannot be manipulated or controlled as a currency.

The ban on cryptocurrency in Nigeria was surprising as we haven’t seen any similar moves anywhere else in the world by any other government. I think the CBN’s position in 2017 whereby it warned financial institutions transacting in bitcoin that they were doing so at their own risk, was a better position than an outright ban. We can’t be seen as a country that bans innovation or disruptive technologies, we need to have a free market to innovate and thrive in order to continue to attract foreign direct investment.

Alaba: How do you manage your work-life balance? How do you relax?

Adesuwa: There is never a balance, as a wife, mother, CEO, investor, entrepreneur and a woman on a mission to change the face of investing in Africa, there isn’t much time to relax. However, I think it’s important to have a supportive family, my husband and immediate family make it possible for me to juggle everything successfully. I also enjoy cooking, playing sports and travelling whenever possible.

Alaba: Describe yourselves in three words? Why?

Adesuwa: Driven, resilient, intentional.

I don’t take no for an answer; I am very focused on achieving my goals and I am also intentional about having an impact on society and being the change, I want to see. It would have been much easier for me to continue working in a big institution, having the security of a monthly pay check and all the associated “luxuries”, but I wanted to make an impact on society and I will, by God’s grace, see my mission fulfilled which will impact many lives and leave a legacy my children can be proud of.

Biography

Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes is the Founder and Managing Partner of Aruwa Capital Management, one of the few women owned and led private equity funds in Africa investing into untapped investment opportunities in West Africa in the small to lower mid-market. She has over 12 years of investment banking and private equity experience from top global institutions. Prior to founding Aruwa Capital, she spent five years as Managing Partner of Syntaxis Capital Africa, a provider of growth capital to SMEs in Nigeria and across Sub Saharan Africa. Syntaxis Africa was part of Syntaxis Capital, a private equity fund active in other emerging markets with $300 million in AUM from global institutional investors. At Syntaxis Africa, she led transactions totalling more than $200 million across SSA.

Prior to co-founding Syntaxis Africa in 2014, Adesuwa was in the Leveraged Finance and M&A teams at J.P. Morgan in London, where she was involved in $5.6 billion worth of transactions across emerging markets including Nigeria. Prior to J.P. Morgan, Adesuwa worked in Africa-focused PE fund, TLG Capital as an Investment Professional, involved in transactions across Anglophone Africa including a very successful investment in Uganda, where she personally invested and generated a very attractive return which enabled her to launch her own investment fund. She was named as an Agent of Impact in 2019 by Impact Alpha and recognised as one of the Top 35 Women Moving Africa Forward for her commitment to gender equality in private equity and across the society through Aruwa Capital’s investments.

She started her career at Lehman Brothers and holds a BSc in Economics from the University of Bristol. She currently sits on several boards in Nigeria across agriculture, manufacturing and hospitality sectors. She is married with a son and enjoys cooking, tennis and travelling.

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Defendis, a Moroccan startup launches its cyber threat intelligence platform at GITEX Africa

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Defendis Co-Founders (Image: Supplied).

Defendis, a Moroccan cybersecurity startup with an innovative approach to Threat Intelligence, emerges from stealth with the launch of its AI-powered platform, enabling organisations to proactively contain data leaks and neutralise cyberattacks.

Defendis’s approach goes beyond traditional IOCs by providing Banks, Government Agencies, and Businesses the capability to understand what cybercriminals are doing before an attack. The platform taps into AI to identify credentials and payment Cards leaks, asset vulnerabilities, phishing attacks, fraudulent domains, and online brand impersonation attempts.

“Our mission is to provide organisations, especially those with limited resources and capabilities, with advanced cybersecurity solutions to adapt to the ever-changing threat landscape and regulatory requirements,” says Amine Bajeddi, co-founder and CEO of Defendis.

Defendis is founded and led by a team of talented young Moroccan entrepreneurs passionate about cybersecurity:

Amine Bajeddi, Co-founder and CEO: A graduate of Al Akhawayn University in Morocco and the University of Sussex in the UK, Amine Bajeddi has extensive experience in product development and business strategy. He is now dedicated to Defendis to develop cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions.

Charafeddine Nassiri, Co-founder and CTO: Passionate about cybersecurity since the age of 15, Charafeddine Nassiri is a brilliant self-taught individual. Having identified and fixed over 1,114 vulnerabilities through bug bounty programs, he was able to launch his career as a cybersecurity consultant in 2019. Today, as CTO of Defendis, he leads the development of new solutions capable of transforming the cybersecurity landscape.

Marouane Sabri, Co-founder and CMO: A graduate in communication from Al Akhawayn University in Morocco and a master’s degree in digital marketing from the University of Southampton, Marouane Sabri has extensive experience in marketing and business development. He has held key positions at Avito and Garena before joining Defendis to lead marketing and communication efforts.

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RevUp Women Initiative Awards $100,000 In Grants to 10 Female Entrepreneurs

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The RevUp Women Initiative hosted its highly anticipated Business Showcase, themed “Investing in Women, Inspiring Futures.” The event, organized by AfriLabs and Visa Foundation, brought together a diverse array of stakeholders committed to fostering inclusive economic growth through the empowerment of women entrepreneurs.

The Opening Ceremony, guided by Nanko Madu, Director of Programmes at AfriLabs, commenced with a warm welcome address, setting the tone for the day’s proceedings. Attendees were treated to a visual journey through the accomplishments of RevUp Women’s First Cohort, showcased in captivating highlights.

A highlight of the event was the Keynote Address delivered by Mrs. Ifeyinwa Ighodalo, Co-founder at WIMBIZ, who passionately spoke about the importance of investing in women and the transformative impact it can have on communities and economies.

‘It is my distinct honor and privilege to stand before you today as we gather to celebrate the remarkable achievements of women entrepreneurs and to rally behind the RevUp Women Initiative. This initiative not only celebrates the indomitable spirit, resilience, and determination of women in general but also highlights the importance of investing in women and women-owned businesses as a means of building and inspiring a future that is inclusive, diverse, and prosperous for all,’ stated Mrs. Ifeyinwa Ighodalo, Co-founder at WIMBIZ.

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Following the keynote, a thought-provoking Panel Discussion ensued, moderated by Nanko Madu, focusing on “Fostering Inclusive Growth Through Women’s Economic Participation.” The panel featured esteemed personalities including Ms. Lilian Olubi, Judge at The Next Titan Nigeria; Ms. Hajara Pitan, Wealth Coach & Business Strategist at Audacity to Soar; Sherifah Balogun, Director of Strategy, Funding, and Stakeholder Management at LSETF; and Annabel Angwenyi, Founder at Ziada. Their insights illuminated pathways for enhancing women’s economic empowerment across the continent.

Engagement continued with a lively Question & Answer session, allowing attendees to interact directly with the panelists and delve deeper into key issues surrounding women’s economic participation. The pinnacle of the event was the much-anticipated Award Ceremony, where the top ten finalists of a comprehensive selection process were announced as winners each receiving a grant of 10,000 USD:

  • Baby Grubz (Lagos, Nigeria).
  • Queen Amina Medical Integration (Abuja, Nigeria).
  • Ecokud Limited (Kisumu, Kenya).
  • Ziada, Kele Makgale (Pty) Ltd (Nairobi Kenya).
  • Ndiqala (PTY) Ltd (Johannesburg, South Africa).
  • WaziEats (Douala, Cameroon).
  • V’s VitaLife (Yaounde, Cameroon).
  • Mali Food (Lubumbashi, DRC).
  • P.aktion (Kinshasa, DRC).

The awards celebrated the resilience, innovation, and dedication of these trailblazing entrepreneurs.

“Investing in women isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s a strategic decision with far-reaching economic benefits.  As we strive for inclusive growth, it’s imperative that we recognize and harness the potential of women as drivers of economic development,” emphasized Nanko Madu, Director of Programmes at AfriLabs.

“Despite the challenges women entrepreneurs face, they demonstrate an unparalleled tenacity and determination to succeed,” said Najada Kumbuli, Head of Investments, Visa Foundation. “Supporting the growth of women-owned businesses is crucial for fostering an economy that works for everyone, everywhere.”

The RevUp Women Initiative Business Showcase not only celebrated the achievements of women entrepreneurs but also served as a catalyst for driving meaningful change and fostering a more inclusive and prosperous future for all.

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Link Me: Revolutionising Ride-Sharing for Gen Z In South Africa

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Link Me Founder, Sean Murefu.

In today’s fast-paced world, convenience is key, but consumers are also seeking more value from the services they use. Enter Link Me, a ride-sharing app tailored specifically for Gen Z in South Africa. Founded by 21-year-old entrepreneur Sean Murefu, Link Me is not just another ride-sharing app but a lifestyle brand on a mission to redefine urban mobility and offer an unparalleled experience to its users.

Link Me recognises that we are in an era where people expect more in return for the services they use. With a focus on providing value-added services and fostering a sense of community, Link Me aims to go beyond simply getting users from point A to point B but it’s about delivering an experience.

“At Link Me, we understand that consumers want more than just a ride,” explains Sean Murefu, the driving force behind the app. “They want value, they want convenience, and they want to feel connected. That’s why we’ve designed Link Me to offer more than just transportation. We’re offering an experience.”

One of the key features that sets Link Me apart is its user-friendly interface, making booking a ride quick and easy. With just a few taps on their smartphones, users will soon be able to access a network of reliable drivers and track their journey in real-time. Safety is also a top priority, with thorough background checks for all drivers and in-app safety features ensuring peace of mind for both riders and drivers.

But Link Me doesn’t stop at transportation. As part of its mission to become a lifestyle brand, the app will host public and private events for its users, fostering a sense of community and belonging. Additionally, Link Me will provide its drivers with a bimonthly lottery as a bonus on top of the money they earned, offering them the chance to win exciting prizes and incentives.

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“We want to give our users more than just a ride—we want to give them an unforgettable experience,” says Murefu. As Link Me prepares for its official launch, anticipation is building among prospective users eager to experience its unique blend of convenience, community, and value. With a commitment to providing exceptional service and fostering a sense of belonging, The app is poised to revolutionise urban mobility for Gen Z in South Africa and beyond.

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