Africa’s high net worth individuals huge pool of untapped funding – panel

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Africa’s high net worth individuals could provide a huge pool of funding to ventures on the continent, however, they currently are not informed about or interested in investing in the tech startup space, according to panelists at the Africa Startup Summit.

The inaugural Africa Startup Summit took place in Kigali, Rwanda, last week, bringing together over 400 stakeholders in the tech startup space from around the continent, for a range of engaging panel discussions and presentations; as well as the Pitch Live startup showcase – with 10 startups pitching on the main stage -, and an expo hall.

Considering how to encourage more home-grown investment into African tech startups, speakers on the “Funding the future” panel session agreed there are a large number of high net worth individuals on the continent who could provide an alternative funding source.  

Emilian Popa, principal at DiGAME, believes this source of funding is starting to open up to African startups, as wealthy individuals start to engage with tech ecosystem.

“I see a lot of wealthy people in all of those markets who become more and more interested in technology, and now there starts to be money.  Previously, five years ago, typically a Nigerian industrialist would not put money in technology, they would go to London and buy property. But I feel this change now, where Africans are starting to invest in Africa.  Together with foreigners, together with US funds, together with impact money. But it’s more and more, and I think that’s very, very positive, because finally, we need to invest in the continent that we come from,” Popa said.

However, other panelists took a different view, citing various reasons why high net worth individuals can not be relied upon as a new source of funding for tech ventures in the near term.

For Uche Ogboi, principal at EchoVC, a lack of understanding of the tech startup ecosystem is holding wealthy individuals back from investing in the space.

“There are a lot of high net worth individuals here, but I don’t think that the majority of them are aware of what’s going on in the tech space.  That’s perhaps because we haven’t had any break-out champions, any break-out success stories. That’s probably something that’s missing. We probably need to be able to point to one or two great success stories or exits, to essentially educate them about the space,” Ogboi said.

“There is a big pool of money there, it would be great if we could unlock that.”

Many of the solutions emerging in Africa may not hold much interest for high net worth individuals, who prefer to concentrate on innovations which directly disrupt their own area of operation and expertise, said Ido Sum, partner at TLCom.

“I think one of our realisations is that while these people exist, I don’t think they invest in funds, and I don’t think they will invest in funds in the next decade, which is unfortunate for us but it’s the reality.  I think they do invest in stuff they understand,” Sum said.

“So, just investing in a really cool app, or in something that already happened in China or the US, they couldn’t care less about it; but they will invest in their sector, when they see how this disrupts their existing asset or portfolio of investments; or this has to do with what they have been doing for the last 30 or 40 years, digitises it or makes it more efficient – that makes them very interested.”

To access funding from high net worth individuals, startups need to understand what problem exactly they are solving, and who this might be of interest to, Sum advised, then, these conversations “become much easier”.

“These conversations where companies were able to add such investors in the last year, were always with people who had expertise and experience in their spaces.”

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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