Born in Rwanda, a citizen of Switzerland and the United States, Pauline Koelbl’s background is in international development and catalysing innovation, and she is applying those skills in the field of female-focused venture capital.
Koelbl is founder and managing director of ShEquity, launched last year to help reduce the US$42 billion gender funding gap in Africa. The VC firm combines cash investment, structured technical support and access to high value networks.
So far it has invested in three companies – Kenyan insect-based feed manufacturer Ecodudu, Kenyan data and AI startup Superfluid Labs, and Zambia’s WidEnergy, a last mile distributor of clean, reliable, and affordable energy solutions – and it plans to scale its impact in 2021 by launching a West Africa VC Fund and an associated accelerator, SHEBA.
Koelbl comes from a varied professional background.
“My work experience spans from international development, working with NGOs and UN bodies in Africa, Europe and USA, as well as catalysing innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa and through my own angel investing,” she told Disrupt Africa.
“When I led the Innovation Prize for Africa, I connected with African entrepreneurs and innovators across the continent in a very deep way. It was a time when I saw how incredibly important entrepreneurship and innovation is in unlocking the potential of African people – and indeed the continent as a whole. Then, driven with the wish to make a real, lasting impact, I began angel investing in 2017.”
This eventually morphed into a dedicated fund – ShEquity – and a dedicated focus.
“For several years I have been aware of the very specific challenges that African female entrepreneurs and innovators face while running the Innovation Prize for Africa. I witnessed how hard it is for female-led startups to access capital and other structural support opportunities that are needed to benchmark, grow and scale their businesses. I launched ShEquity to address these challenges,” Koelbl said.
“The time I spent working with entrepreneurs and innovators across Africa and also angel investing helped me understand that to have the kind of impact I wanted as an investor requires establishing an African female-focused investment vehicle, which provides more than cash investment. This is why the ShEquity strategy combines cash investment, structured technical support and facilitating access to high value networks.”
Koelbl launched ShEquity with her own capital, but she is currently onboarding other angel investors who are driven by achieving a triple bottom line through their investments – financial, social and environmental. She is proud of the company’s investments so far.
“They are all addressing important challenges with a diversified impact. Also, the stories behind the female co-founders are very inspiring, and we hope these will serve to inspire young girls to consider becoming entrepreneurs as a potential career path,” Koelbl said.
“Many African startups lack access to capital but women even more so. They also lack access to technical and venture building support, and networking opportunities to secure their growth and scaling up partners. Overall, they lack a holistic ecosystem support along their business value chain and in line with their startups journeys.”
In general, ShEquity is interested in innovative, sustainable and impactful businesses that can generate revenue within one year. It focuses on the following sectors – natural resources, the digital economy and fintechs, the hospitality and service industry, agriculture, healthcare and FMCGs. It invests in Sub-Saharan African countries, with an initial focus on Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Zambia.
“We are also currently setting up the ShEquity West Africa VC Fund, which will focus exclusively on countries within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS),” said Koelbl.
“Because many African countries have weak entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystems, with not enough support to help female-led startups cross the “Valley of Death” and achieve business growth, ShEquity is there to fill the gaps.”