Originally from Colorado, with no familial ties to Africa, and a background in the advisory business, it has been a circuitous route to becoming an Africa-focused investor for Aubrey Hruby.
Hruby has spent her career helping investors find opportunities, develop partnerships and make investments in African markets, working across more than 30 countries and in sectors as diverse as agribusiness and financial services.
It was in 2000 that she first became passionate about doing business in African countries, after visiting Egypt.
“I came to believe that global growth was going to come from emerging markets. I have spent my entire career focused on helping to bring additional capital to African opportunities,” Hruby told Disrupt Africa.
It was this experience that led her to investing herself.
“Having worked with large multinationals and funds, I became frustrated by their lack of nimbleness to take advantage of opportunities in African markets,” said Hruby.
The advisory firm she had started with Eliot Pence in 2014, the Africa Expert Network, connected investors with operational experts working across African markets.
“Many of those experts are entrepreneurs and as we spent more time with them, we got very excited by the opportunities we were seeing,” she said.
They subsequently founded a PR and capital introductions firm in 2017 called Insider, which works with leading African entrepreneurs, and finally began investing in B2B startups in Nigeria in 2018 through their firm Tofino Capital.
“We invest in African companies that are B2B because that is where we can add value given our relationships with local and multinational corporates,” Hruby said.
Tofino invests with institutional and family money from a single LP. It is flexible when it comes to ticket size, but so far has taken part in a number of seed rounds in Nigeria, notably those of Gloopro and SeamlessHR. Hruby said it plans to make several larger investments in 2020, in Nigeria and Egypt, as well as in pan-African platforms.
The company prefers startups that have an exit target in mind at the time of investment, are led by experienced entrepreneurs, and align with “mega trends” on the continent.
“Young, mobile and video first consumers will need fintech solutions, entertainment solutions, data infrastructure… We invest in the companies that fill the gaps created by a lack of retail banking. Traditional businesses, historically vertically integrated, will begin to trust B2B services such as logistics, software and professional services,” said Hruby.
Aside from capital, Tofino also assists its portfolio startups with access to its deep connections with global and local corporates, experience in market entry across the continent, relationships with local banks, and deep knowledge of African markets. Hruby believes the continent’s tech space is at “take-off point”.
“Overall, investor interest is low. Lower than 2014 or even before due to global uncertainty and slowing global growth. However, the startup space is the one bright spot, and VC is growing year-on-year at rapid rates,” she said.