Meet the Investor: Boldewijn Sloet, Africa Tech Ventures

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Boldewijn Sloet has built up quite a track record of angel investments in Kenya, having been an early backer of startups including Twiga Foods, Pezesha and Zumi.

A trained lawyer from the Netherlands, who became involved in business in Africa through an early-stage investment in solar energy company Barefoot Power. In 2008 he moved to Kampala to set up the company’s first Africa office, and two years later he did the same in Kenya. After six years in management he left the company and went into early-stage tech investing.

This brought him to working with Eline Blaauboer, with the pair managing the Safaricom Spark fund, which did six deals. In parallel he was active as an angel investor in a host of businesses. Now, the pair, are working on closing Africa Tech Ventures, a US$50 million venture fund focused on early-stage tech businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sloet says he hopes a first close will take place in the third quarter of this year, though Blaauboer had originally hoped for last year.

“We currently have some good traction, but ultimately are at the mercy of LPs’ timelines,” he told Disrupt Africa.

When it does become active, Africa Tech Ventures will have a broad technology focus, investing in strong teams that have a demonstrated understanding of the market they operate in. Sloet says he also prefers to see some kind of entrepreneurial track record.

“The initial focus is East Africa, as this is where we are based and are most knowledgeable. We will also look at West Africa in light of expanding businesses from East Africa and West African businesses that want to enter the East African markets,” he said.

After what he said was a “false start” with the declaration of “Silicon Savannah” back in 2010, when he said people believed they could turn Africa into the next Silicon Valley, Sloet feels there is more optimism around the space now, with people aiming to do more than launch tech products as the basis for a business.

“In fact, for mature entrepreneurs the question around business viability comes first, and the tech follows. In addition there is more and more money available for technology companies with new funds entering the scene. The biggest gap is probably at seed-stage, where capital is still very scarce,” he said.

Aside from this lack of capital, Sloet feels African tech startups also suffer from the lack of access to a wide talent pool. Yet all this is changing as more money comes into the sector.

“It is still small, but growing and I believe will continue to grow. Besides “Western” capital, the “Eastern” capital is also coming, even in the venture space. Chinese, Japanese and Indian venture capital players have started to set up offices in Africa,” he said.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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