Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.
Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?
Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.
According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.
Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.
Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.
Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?
Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.
So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.
Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?
Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.
So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.
In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.
We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.
These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.
Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?
Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.
The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.
The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.
So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.
Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?
Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.
Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.
Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?
Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.
For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.
Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?
Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.
However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.
Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.
Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?
Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.
Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?
Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.
Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!
P R O F I L E
Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.
Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.
He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.
In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.
Up Close & Personal with Phillip Scott, Founder of YouTube’s Most Watched Black News Channel
Phillip Scott, Founder at The African Diaspora News Network (Source: Kellen Coleman)
Kellen: You started YouTube as a hobby and for free for years while having a job and a family. Did you ever imagine it would have blossomed into being what you have now?
Phillip: No, it wasn’t in my mind that our platform would grow into what you see today. I knew we would grow if I would be open to new ideas but not at this level.
Kellen: Numbers show you are the most subscribed to Black News network on YouTube, does YouTube give you any special privileges or awards?
Phillip: We have received a Silver Play Button award for obtaining 100K subscribers and a Gold Play Button award for obtaining 1M subscribers. Anyone that hit those levels of subscribers can obtain those awards. But an award directed at being a successful Black platform. No, I haven’t had that type of recognition.
Kellen: With your new app and website it appears your messages are more direct and uncensored did you feel you were being silenced on other social media platforms?
Phillip: Social media platforms aren’t what they used to be. Back when I started as long as you didn’t use racial slurs, post violence or do something bad to children, you were fine online. Today social media companies are heavily censored and at the end of the day it’s their platforms. I felt we need our own place to speak where no one can remove our opinions.
Kellen: It’s said your content can be seen on various networks including Roku, Itunes, and others around the world, how do you keep track?
Phillip: We try to keep up by checking our various networks for the analytics just to get a scope of what countries and demographics are consuming our content.
Kellen: Why do you think your channel is so successful, and what do you do that others aren’t?
Phillip: I believe our success comes from taking many risks. Some people aren’t willing to invest money or risk failing. I also believe our success comes from having the proper team as well. As you grow your team is very important in helping you achieve the goals at hand. We also made sure to dedicate to a daily show and being at the same level as mainstream media platforms.
Kellen: African based news networks struggle to get the audience you have, what advice would you have for them and would you consider partnering?
Phillip: I would say for African channels to target a younger audience. The African continent average age is 25. Younger people are more on smartphones and care about modern Africa. Young African people care about foreign nations taking the resources for free, they care about their politics and want to live no different than the rest of the world. You can’t get a young African audience focusing on what the older generation cares about.
Kellen: You have come a long way from filming in the bathroom and kitchen table, you have a beautiful studio setup would you encourage others to invest in their studio?
Phillip: I always say that no one will invest in you until you invest in yourself first. Always be willing to take a risk by investing your time, money and partnering with others. I felt that having a studio similar to what you will see on television would bring our platform respect. I have achieved the respect due to our reporting and efforts.
Kellen: How has your message been received by Africans in the states and Africans on the continent?
Phillip: Yes our message is received on both continents. We made sure to also employ our sisters and brothers from the continent as well to help us.
Kellen: What can Africans on the continent do to support your network?
Phillip: The best way to support us is to watch all our content and share it with 5 people they know.
Kellen: Your company is registered in Kenya, but you have Kenyan and Nigerian in your DNA any plans on having a company in Nigeria, and what can Nigeria do to help you with that?
Phillip: I plan on visiting Nigeria when international travel opens back up. I would also consider having a studio in Nigeria if everything works right with a great team in place.
Kellen: You have several contributors from around the world, more than some larger networks twice your size, how do you recruit and manage not just personalities but payroll?
Phillip: I can’t give our secret to picking people. But I will say I have a great idea on who would fit well for our platform. Some people could be great but not for our platform. We select people based on previous work and work ethic.
Kellen: Do you see yourself living full time in Africa, and if so which country(s)?
Phillip: My goal is to live on the African continent at least 80% of the year. Having business I will still have to travel to the US. As for country, I’m still deciding at the moment.
Kellen: What impact do you think cryptocurrency and NFTS will have on your business?
Phillip: When it comes to cryptocurrency it’s new so for us we will always move with the times. Maybe with time we can use cryptocurrency as a payment method.
Kellen: How important is it to have a great wife in doing business?
Phillip: I can tell you from experience that a woman can take you high as the heavens or take you to the pit of hell. As a man a wife that’s a blessing also will help you be successful. Having a supportive spouse makes the hard jobs easy and also help come up with ideas for growth.
Meet Riaan Rautenbach Changing the Future of moving Cargo, using Cloud-Based and Machine Learning Technology
Riaan Rautenbach, Founder & CEO at LIVE FR8™ (Source: Riaan Rautenbach)
Riaan Rautenbach is an entrepreneur, founder and CEO of South Africa based tech startup LIVE FR8™. A disruptive game changing cloud based App that gives solutions to existing problems in the transport and logistics industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Riaan shares his entrepreneurship journey, challenges, impacts and successes of the App. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you us briefly tell me about LIVE FR8™ and the problems it’s solving?
Riaan: LIVE FR8™ is a South African start-up that offers Cargo Suppliers and Transporters improved low cost logistics services using Cloud Technology. The App can be used on any Smart Device. Cargo Suppliers add loads and Transporters find loads on the App. Cargo Suppliers and Transporters connect using the Cloud. Cargo Supplier lists the loads by weight, category, source address and destination, on the database. The algorithm helps Transporters to search for specific loads in the specified area, thereby turning empty loads into full loads. The Transporter nominates the price to move the cargo to the destination. The Transporter only pays a small fee to LIVE FR8™ once a load has been obtained successfully. The Supplier and the Transporter transact directly with one another, and rate each other. The continuous rating system will remove dishonest, corrupt, non-performing and non-competitive role players. Transparency will drive improved performance and cost effective logistics operations.
Alaba: Why did you start your business?
Riaan: After 30 years’ hard work and experience in transportation of goods by road, sourcing return loads, making deliveries on time, determining whereabouts of Cargo in transit in 5 African countries, I came up with this idea. With my experience in cost accounting, as a marketing manager, financial manager and general manager, I have identified problems in the transport industry. I have spent a lot of time thinking of and finding a solution. I developed an App that addresses the various problems and challenges in the Transport industry: improved communication; finding Cargo geographically in real-time; monitoring and managing dispatch staff, controllers, drivers and Cargo in transit. Reducing communication costs; no expensive programs; no costly servers; no monthly fees; no broker fees; no bidding platform but a closed quotation system. Reducing empty trip costs that results in expensive transport rates, reducing transport pollution and a rating system indicating the performance of Cargo Suppliers and Transporters.
Alaba: What has been the impact of leveraging technology in running your business?
Riaan: The business runs remotely, from any location with internet access. The business model has immense scalability and flexibility. Within 7 months, the App was active in 57 countries. Overhead costs are drastically reduced due to the technology LIVE FR8 App utilises, with no offices or expensive servers required. Technology is the future and using disruptive fourth industrial revolution technology which is Cloud-native and functional is exciting and will lead to transformation of the transport industry.
Alaba: What is one of the biggest lessons you have learnt on your business journey?
Riaan: We have learnt that our product, as a world first “Cloud Technology” App for Logistics is more difficult than expected to market in an existing resistant market. Training is an essential part of our marketing.
Alaba: Kindly share of the impact and success of the App?
Riaan: LIVE FR8™ empowers entrepreneurs in Africa and is available in 19 African countries. It levels the playing field for smaller Transporters anywhere in Africa, lowers operational costs for established businesses and empowers them to compete on equal footing. It transforms anyone with access to an electronic device, into a logistics manager. The App brings a huge competitive advantage to everyone who uses the App. It also empowers isolated communities in Africa to put food on the table by coordinating their logistics on their mobile phones. Though there have been many challenges I believe we will soon make a breakthrough in the market and more people will comprehend how much they can benefit from using the App to improve logistics processes, reduce costs, increase vehicle utilisation and drastically reduce pollution from carbon emissions.
Alaba: What’s the future for LIVE FR8 in terms of its expansion to other African and International markets?
Riaan: Africa: LIVE FR8 will be available in all African countries by July 2021. LIVE FR8 is currently available in 19 African countries: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius (Including Reunion), Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
International; LIVE FR8 is available in the following countries outside Africa; America, Australia, All European Union countries, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada, The United Kingdom.
Alaba: Could you share your thoughts on the current state of Logistics in Africa, and where you see it in five years?
Riaan: Logistics face many challenges in Africa such as: Inadequate communication; Border congestions; inadequate road and rail infrastructure; old technologies; trade relations between countries. In five years most of the above, I believe, will be improved by Africa. I am positive, because there are already projects, led by African governments, authorities, entrepreneurs and private sectors to improve all of the above mentioned challenges. LIVE FR8 can play a vital role with its low cost communication between Cargo Suppliers and Transporters. Loads are exposed for free to Transporters, and Transporters can find loads with a geographic search using little data.
Alaba: How can South Africa support small businesses now and beyond?
Riaan: Smaller businesses help to create and sustain jobs. Support is vital to help businesses gain revenue and stay operational. Small-business owners value relationships they have with their customers and need the support of local consumers. As it may be more of a challenge for small businesses to stay relevant, they continuously need to work on adding new products/developing their products and providing new benefits for their customers. This is good as it generates healthy competition with their larger competitors. Small businesses tend to be more innovative as they constantly need to find new ways to sell goods and service. By supporting small businesses you are also supporting your local community to stimulate the economy.
Alaba: Any advice for young African entrepreneurs in tech and logistics?
Riaan: All young African entrepreneurs must believe in themselves and never give up. You can find solutions, keep asking questions about current affairs, search and find answers on how current affairs can be improved. Believe in Africa with all its valuable resources. All economic activities can be improved by young entrepreneurs who seek and find solutions using technology to improve supply chains, transport, more efficient low cost ways of communication and moving goods to people, factories, markets and harbours for export. Africa is the future!
B I O G R A P H Y
Riaan Rautenbach started working as a clerk, then became a learner coder, thereafter I was an Accountant. I then started part time studies at Unisa while working. I was later promoted to Financial Manager and for 4 years I was a Sales and Marketing Manager. I worked as a General Manager in Maize and Wheat Mills and a Poly woven bag factory. I lived and worked in five African Countries: Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. I traded with Angola, DRC, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi.
Visit LIVE FR8™
Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes: Changing the face of investing in Africa
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.
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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