Since launching in 2012, Accion Venture Lab has deployed more than US$10 million in capital across more than 30 startups in over 20 countries, and provided extensive strategic support to those partners as well.
Central to its operations is Amee Parbhoo, its director of investments, who supports the fund’s investments globally, leads deal activity in Africa, and manages new projects, including the Company Builder initiative.
Parbhoo started her career at McKinsey & Company, where she worked for large financial institutions and in international development.
“I’ve since worked with fintech startups advancing financial inclusion in India, Kenya, and the United States. I’ve found supporting startups in this space so fulfilling – there are incredible ways companies can and are leveraging technology to bring financial services to the underserved,” she told Disrupt Africa.
As a global non-profit focused on financial inclusion, Accion has a pioneering legacy in impact investing. It launched Venture Lab in 2012 to invest in early-stage fintech startups that are improving the quality of, lowering the cost of, and increasing access to financial services around the world.
“We saw, and continue to see, a gap in seed-stage funding for innovative companies in this sector,” Parbhoo said.
Accion Venture Lab has invested in more than 30 innovative startups globally to date, nine of which are in Africa. The Pula and Lumkani investments are just the two most recent for a busy fund.
“In addition, we have continued to support our portfolio companies, which include Lidya, an innovative small business lender based in Nigeria; Apollo Agriculture, a tech-enabled lender using satellite imaging, data science, and mobile money to deliver customised packages of seed, fertilizer, advice, insurance and credit to small-scale farmers; Lulalend, an all-digital small business lender in South Africa; and others,” Parbhoo said.
“We take an active role supporting our portfolio companies once we invest – both by serving on the boards of these companies and also through hands-on strategic support from our team.”
Accion Venture Lab plans to continue investing in innovative companies across Africa.
“We have closed two new investments this year in Africa – in Pula and Lumkani, two of our first insurtech investments. We’re excited to explore companies with innovative approaches toward a number of promising areas – like insurtech, neobanks, smallholder finance, and next-gen SME finance solutions,” said Parbhoo.
Accion is also working with aspiring fintech entrepreneurs to launch new fintech business models through a programme called Company Builder in Nigeria.
“We’ve been working with a talented group of professionals to define key challenges for underserved populations related to financial inclusion, go through a rigorous ideation process to define solutions that address those problems, and build minimum viable products and validate those solutions with customers in the market. We are now working with these professionals to launch their businesses with our continued support,” said Parbhoo.
Generally, Parbhoo is looking for innovative startups that leverage technology to improve the access, quality, and cost of financial services for underserved individuals and small businesses.
“We are looking for scalable solutions and strong founding teams committed to building their businesses for the long haul,” she said.
She said she sees exciting developments in the fintech space across Africa, but is most excited about the quality of talent Accion Venture Lab is starting to see its portfolio companies attract.
“While there is still much more to be done to achieve financial inclusion in Africa, we’re seeing a vibrant startup ecosystem develop and experienced tech and business professionals seeing the potential of building new companies that can reach the underserved,” Parbhoo said.
African startups, like startups across many of the other markets Accion works in, continue to lack financial and strategic support at the early stages.
“This is where Accion Venture Lab plays a role. In addition, I still see a significant need for more angel investors across markets in Africa. Like Venture Lab, these individuals play a role far beyond providing capital, and serve as important mentors and connectors for startups,” said Parbhoo.