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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.

Visit Aruwa Capital Management

 

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Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health

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Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.

 

How It Started

I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.

Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.

Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.

The Problem

Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.

Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.

The Solution

The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services  provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant  popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth. 

Data Product

Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to: 

  1. Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response. 
  2. Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.

Telemedicine Product

Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following

  1. Increase practice revenue by 12% 
  2. Reduce administrative costs by 30% 
  3. Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.

Prepaid Cover Product

HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.

Benefits include: 

  1. Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
  2. A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
  3. Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.

B I O G R A P H Y 

Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.

Other Current Responsibilities;

His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.

 

 

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The Story of Nigenius and why teachers love it – Kelechi Uchenna

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Nigenius Founder, Kelechi Uchenna

Nigenius is a smart website that works with teachers, parents and educators to quickly generate well researched, vetted lesson plans and quality teaching resources. Kelechi Uchenna, the Founder and Application Manager of Nigenius, shared with Business Africa Online the story of Nigenius, this is how it began, and where they are now.

 

How it started:

So, in 2015, in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, while waiting on an employment offer which wasn’t forthcoming, I decided that I needed to start a business, solve a problem, and get paid for it. So, I started my first legally registered company called Innovative Digital Learning. Having been good at creating presentations and having been taught extensively with technology during my masters in Cyprus. I noticed a gap in the schools in around me, and that was the fact that schools were not harnessing the power of technology in the classroom. Innovative digital learning was created to train teachers with technology in the classroom to improve student performance and learning outcomes. We started with my neighbours’ primary school, and by 2017 we had trained over 6 private schools in Port Harcourt, with over 300 teachers in teaching with technology in the classroom.

In June 2017, I moved to Lagos and our first training for a school was at Lekki Phase 1. Two important moments, led to the idea of Nigenius. During the 5-day training program for the school, an admin asked me a question and said “Mr Kelechi, what will you be leaving with us after this training? We want more than just the training, we want content, we want resources”. In that same year, Innovative Digital Learning got selected among the Top 50 startups in the BET 7 program sponsored by Diamond Bank (now Access Bank) in partnership with the Enterprise Development Center of the Lagos Business School. During the programme, a fellow female entrepreneur in the programme asked me a very important question, and she said “ Kelechi, how can you prove that you have impacted these teachers, how can you prove that you have transformed the way these teachers teach”.

The Motive:

With those questions bothering my mind, and the resolve to build a solution, I set out on a journey to find out from the teachers if the training had impacted them. We visited all the schools, and we found out that only 2 out of every 10 teachers had actually applied what they learned in the training and actually taught with technology in the classroom. We wanted to find out their reasons for the low adoption and they listed their challenges. Two major problems stood out amongst all the others, the teachers were overworked because they spent so much time creating their lesson plans, and also some lacked the knowledge on how to access these teaching resources online even after they had been taught in the training.

The Idea:

Sitting on a couch one evening, I had a eureka moment, and decided to build a smart digital assistant for teachers. An application to work with teachers, reduce their workloads, and give them access to online teaching resources. We knew that to reduce the workload of the teachers, we had to remove something that took a lot of their time and effort, i.e., lesson plans, and as for the teaching resources. What better way to give them teaching resources if not to give them the resources based on the four components of Innovative Digital Learning of which some of them had been trained. At that point, we called it the “Innovative Digital Assistant for teachers” IDAT. A few days later, in the shower, the name “Nigenius” struck me, build something that can help Nigerian teachers create geniuses. This was the ending of 2017, Nigenius was born.

The Bumpy road:

At the beginning of 2018, I was lucky to have come across some money from family, which I was going to use to invest in my future. We started building Nigenius in January 2018. A friend of mine introduced me to Samson Odele, a web developer, as a contractor at the time, who would go on to later become a co-founder. I pitched the idea to him and we went to work. Building Nigenius involved two things, the application, and the teaching content. We launched Nigenius as a mobile app on the Google store on the 1st of October 2018, Independence Day. Though it had just a few lesson plans, but we launched nonetheless. We started getting downloads, users were growing, but we still needed to get more content in because we believed that only with enough content, we could get people to actually pay for subscriptions.

The Pilot:

After launching in October 2018 as a mobile app, it took us 10 months after to generate enough content to be able to hit the market and offer value to teachers and schools. We were able to fund our content generation and uploads from another of my businesses. We worked with graduate interns, trained them, and set them to work on a pay as you deliver model, that way we were able to get value for the money invested. Our lesson plans and teaching resources were also sent to schools for subject teachers to vet and approve before we upload on our database. One of the biggest challenges in building Nigenius was being able to create a lesson plan which could be easily used and understood by a cross section of both private and public schools.

Before we hit the market, a mentor advised that we do a free pilot with schools as a means of getting feedback on our solution, and to understand our customers experience first, before jumping into the market. At this point, luckily, we had been selected into the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship 2019 session.

The Take-off and experience:

During the pilot, we collected the feedback data from the teachers and analysed it carefully, some of it was negative and some it was positive. Some of the negative feedback was that most teachers wanted Nigenius on their laptops which was where they went to create their lesson plans and to look for teaching resources, not on their mobile phones. We also discovered a need to make our search algorithms smarter because teachers were searching for content, which we had on our database but they weren’t getting results. Armed with the $5000 dollars from Tony Elumelu, we set out to build the new Nigenius Version 2, which would be on a website, no longer a mobile app, accessible to any one on any device. The new version went live in August 2020. We also added a feature to our admin end that helped us see the searches and the download that our users were carrying out on the website.

The new Nigenius ran on single and multi-user subscriptions. We offered users a free one-week trial, after which they would have to subscribe. However, 6 months after launch of V2, we didn’t have a single subscription payment. We discovered lesson plans and teaching resources were valuable to our users, but they weren’t enough pain point for our users to pay for. So, we decided to pivot our model. We made Nigenius free to use and launched the Nigenius Home tutor service. We already had over 500 teachers on our platform as at March 2021. And were going to sign up our teachers as tutors, connect them to parents who were looking for tutors for after school lessons for their kids, charge the parents a monthly fee, pay the tutors and collect a commission.

The Nigenius home tutor service had a unique selling point, we are not just providing highly trained, and qualified tutors, our tutors also leverage online line digital resources from our application to give kids the best learning experience.

We were also lucky to receive an investment from Aidi ventures as we joined their group of portfolio startups. With the investment, and immense expertise and mentorship from Aidi we are now charting a new course as we add amazing new features to our business model.

We are building a vibrant ecosystem of teaching and learning where teachers can access free lesson plans and teaching resources, parents can request highly qualified home tutors from top schools across the country. Teachers can create, and host group online lessons and parents can sign up their kids for these lessons.

 

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OceanHub Africa, Cape Town-based Ocean-Impact Catalyser Disrupting the Growing Blue Economy in Africa

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Oceanhub Africa Team

OceanHub Africa, founded by Alexis Grosskopf and Stéphanie Canac is an organisation based in Cape-Town, South Africa that aims to accelerate the development and adoption of ocean-minded innovations, to unleash the power of African ocean innovators and place Cape Town at the forefront of a more sustainable ocean economy. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Alexis and Stéphanie shared their journey and vision to be the movement that inspires more ocean-conscious entrepreneurs and form the tribe that demonstrates the commercial viability of an ocean-minded economy. Excerpt.

 

OceanHub Africa OHA and problem its solving:

OceanHub Africa was launched in July 2019. It is a non-profit ocean-impact catalyst initiative, supporting ocean-impact ventures in Africa through online acceleration programs and leading an international ocean-minded ecosystem. The organisation is a response to pressing ocean challenges. Having realised that there were B2C organisations in the ocean impact space raising people’s awareness and shifting individual behaviours, some B2G organisations lobbying policy-makers to regulate for ocean conservation, but limited to no B2B organisations helping ocean businesses reduce their impact and support their transition towards a sustainable ocean economy (or Blue Economy).

This, combined with the fact that Cape Town – where OHA was initially launched- sits virtually at the crossroads of three oceans, has good business and entrepreneurship support, strong Marine Science universities and an appeal for sustainable development. It appeared highly relevant to launch OHA.

Set milestones, achievements and impact:

Our mission is to inspire and assist innovative impact start-ups and nurture an environmentally conscious and profitable economy that would effectively mitigate the oceans’ over exploitation, pollution as well as the effects of global warming on the oceans. The first acceleration programme was successfully completed in 2020 despite the challenges and saw 6 startups of different stages (prototyping to growth stage), technologies (digital and hardware) and industries (aquaculture/fisheries, shipping/ship-building, marine renewables/biotechnologies, coastal tourism/ocean-sports, awareness/education) graduating during the Ocean Innovation Africa Summit in Nov 2020.

Our second cohort started earlier in April with 6 new promising African-based, ocean-minded, impact-for-profit innovative businesses.

OHA is supported by a range of partners such as WWF, Mission Blue, 1% for the planet, Dassault Systèmes, Amazon, Sigfox, the V&A Waterfront, French and African Diplomacies, and International Universities. It is a founding partner of the 1000 Ocean Startups coalition to accelerate Ocean Impact Innovation, bringing together the global ecosystem of incubators, accelerators, competitions, matching platforms and VCs supporting startups for ocean impact. Our objective is to scale at least 1000 transformative startups by the end of the Ocean Decade to restore ocean health and achieve SDG14.

Challenges:

Oceans are a common good which means that we need all stakeholders onboard to achieve and sustain our impact. Bringing organisations together and setting common objectives has proven challenging at times but that was the reason for launching Ocean Innovation Africa, a platform bringing authorities, universities/research centres, investors/entrepreneurs, foundations/NPOs and ocean industries together with the objectives to  inspire more entrepreneurs, entice more private investors and catalyse more partnerships, and ultimately to accelerate the development and adoption of new sustainable technologies and policies to place the African continent at the forefront of a decidedly more sustainable ocean economy.

Funding:

Self-funded from the start, we are client-funded through consultancy projects and success fees on fund raises or commercial contracts for the startups we accelerate. That being said, we are looking for funding to support our growth.

COVID-19, business and survival strategy:

Initially, OHA was supposed to be an in-person program – enabled by the support of the V&A Waterfront. But our first cohort started in April 2020 when lockdowns were gradually placing our global economy on hold. We had to pivot in a matter of weeks to a fully online, more localised (SA) program and review our financing model. Indeed, regarding the latter, we had hoped to raise marketing and open innovation sponsorships from corporations to finance our activities but these two budgets were frozen in the face of the uncertain future of the then recent outbreak.

At that stage, we started our first consulting project – thanks to the support and trust of our partners, in particular the V&A Waterfront and WWF South Africa.

On current projects:

We are currently accelerating 6 startups from Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa, as well as continuing our support in the form of an Alumni Program to our first cohort of 6 (all South African startups). In parallel, we are delivering on a couple of consulting projects to promote and support coastal community projects in the South West Indian Ocean region, as well as another one on plastic pollution.

Finally, we are working on setting up an African Ocean Impact Fund – but still a long way to go.

Ocean economy development in Africa:

Oceans are the life support of our planet. They drive our climate, provide food and water to all living things, and connect our continents. The annual value of the global Ocean’s Economy (formal and informal) is estimated at $2.5 trillion and is expected to grow substantially, doubling by 2030. However, our societies are already generating tremendous stress and strain onto these ecosystems and this vast untapped economic potential needs to be addressed in a radically more sustainable manner. We believe it is down to businesses to implement that change and up us to promote more Oceans-conscious innovative businesses: innovations led by science, technology and entrepreneurship will provide the necessary leverage points to address the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), at the right pace and scale.

Africa offers a particularly high potential in terms of Blue Economy developments, paving the way to ocean community-based resource management and offering an ideal ground to test and scale impact innovation. Africa’s ocean economy – three times the size of its landmass – is on top of the continent’s political agenda and seen to be a major contributor to continental transformation and growth of industries such as fisheries and aquaculture, marine renewables and bio-technologies, boat building and shipping, coastal tourism and ocean-sports, etc. The development of the Blue Economy is an immensely important first step towards creating Sustainable Development pathways and this is what OceanHub Africa (OHA) and the Ocean Innovation Africa event (OIA) do.

The future for OHA:

Growing our network of partners in African coastal cities to support our pan-African growth and impact. And of course, setting up our accelerator fund.

 

F O U N D E R S   B I O G R A P H P Y

Alexis Grosskopf is the co-founder and CEO of OceanHub Africa. His desire to build this startup incubator, specializing in technologies that have a positive impact on the ocean, was born out of his entrepreneurial and technological skills, his determination to tackle issues related to environmental protection and his identification of a real need to develop solutions that support blue growth.

Alexis holds a degree in mechanical engineering, business management and environmental engineering from the Universities of King’s College and Imperial College in London. His career has revolved around the themes of innovation and sustainable development, starting with research on solar hydrogen production, then moving on to consulting in environmental engineering and management at Bureau Veritas before joining Bouygues Construction as head of Research, Development and Innovation in the renovation sector.

His activity then turned towards the development of innovations through entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship. In 2017, he moved to South Africa to take charge of the activities of the French South African Tech Labs, an incubator with social impact in the field of information technology, before diving into the oceans with OceanHub Africa in 2019.

Stéphanie Canac is the co-founder of OceanHub Africa. Stéphanie co-created and implemented the acceleration program (content, tools, partnerships, mentors, application and selection process, etc.) and she has a mentoring role with accelerated startups. She participates in consolidating the local and global ecosystem, having in particular co-created the first international coalition of entrepreneurial support organizations focusing on ocean impact innovation (incubators / accelerators and VC funds) and representing the initiative in front of various institutions, such as the United Nations.

Stéphanie has former experience as portfolio manager at Silvertree Holdings, Cape-Town based VC fund (1.5 yr), supporting management teams on strategic decisions, setting up/ scaling operations and raising funds and as strategy consultant at A.T. Kearney (3 yrs), working across industries on strategic, operational and organizational projects as well as strategic due-diligences. She is a graduate from a MSc in Economics and Strategy for Business from Imperial College London and from a Master in Corporate Finance from Dauphine university in Paris.

 

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