Saskia Reus-Makkink, VC4Africa: Now Is The Time to Invest in Africa!

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Saskia Reus-Makkink is Head of Investor Relations and Mentoring at VC4Africa.biz, the largest online platform for investors and entrepreneurs in Africa. Before joining VC4Africa Saskia worked for The Boston Consulting Group and Canon in various strategic and marketing roles. She set up her own company to support entrepreneurs in Africa and got involved in VC4Africa from the start. She is now also part of the Advisory Board for the Dutch government and NGOs with regard to doing business in developing countries.

We spoke to Saskia about her interest in African entrepreneurship; about the switch from a corporate career; and the success stories VC4Africa has helped to facilitate.

TNW: Tell us a bit about your interest in African entrepreneurship.  

SRM:

It is great to work with entrepreneurs. I am a very enthusiastic person and the energy involved with people starting up or expanding their business activities is great.

At the same time I feel this is my way of giving back to the community. I’ve been very lucky with the opportunities I had in my own career and I think it is time to share and give back; help others improve their lives. By supporting entrepreneurs setting up new business in Africa, I support job creation and help people  increase their life standards in the way they want. 

TNW: You changed from a corporate career with Canon & BCG to supporting entrepreneurs. Why? 

SRM: I enjoyed working for these companies, but I made the decision to leave the corporate world before I ever joined it. For example, after I finalized my studies I supported a development project in Indonesia. I enjoyed this project and especially the learning opportunity it was for me.

I decide that I would build up relevant expertise in the corporate world and one day make the step to focus on emerging market entrepreneurs.

This was an interest I have developed from the start of my career through today. 

TNW: Can you generalize about the entrepreneurs in Africa? In what do they excel, in what do they need support?  

SRM: That is a hard question to answer. All entrepreneurs are different and all countries are different. That said, all of the entrepreneurs I work with are working to start or expand a business in an emerging market context, meaning there are great opportunities to be had but also some difficult challenges they need to overcome.

The opportunity is that your product/service might not be available in the local market and the entrepreneur will have a first mover advantage by offering it and/or there is less local competition than in developed markets.

Challenges for example include irregular power supply/internet connection, time it can take to register a business and open a bank account, etc.

All kind of practical issues that take more time and make it more difficult than say for example in the Netherlands. So dedication and persistence to set up a new business is really key. Also creativity in adjusting models that work in other markets to work in a local context is a great asset. Marketing is (generalizing) not the strongest part in most of the plans I see.  Partly due to the fact that there are fewer successful models entrepreneurs can follow.  

TNW: What type of businesses are currently succeeding in Africa? Some success stories? 

SM: The increased connectivity via the undersea internet cable, creates opportunities for local entrepreneurs. We see a lot of entrepreneurship in the technology sector. For example, the Kenyan based m-Kazi run by Nancy Wang and Lino Carcoforo. The team has developed and marketed a mobile job search application for connecting blue collar workers with job opportunities. They leverage USSD technology meaning their service is almost universally accessible, and thereby unlocks a market segment previously under-serviced. When we met them they were fine tuning their plans and over the course of 2012 we have provided feedback on their efforts and introduced them to multiple investors. One Angel in particular now supports the company and is helping lead their next round of funding. In addition to business support and investor introductions, we also help create exposure.

After we facilitated an introduction to the BBC, their story was picked up by Africa Business Review and they made it in to the cover of the magazine. Wow!

ICT Training CentreAnother project, I was involved in on a personal title, is the set up of an ICT training center in Somaliland. Quite a challenge. No grants were available and investors are reluctant to invest money in a business in early stages of development. It was a frustrating situation knowing there is a real need to create jobs and provide youth there a better future. I facilitated a joint venture with South African based Rlabs. On this foundation Indigo Trust and the members of the 1%Club joined to support the initiative and the training center is open since November 2012. The first 40 students follow classes now. We are working on finalizing funds to fly over a group of ICT trainers from the US to provide a full entrepreneurship program.

TNW: If you were advising an investor to invest in Africa, what would you tell him/her?  

SRM: Mark Mobius, a global investor with over 40 years of experience in investing in emerging markets says about Africa: ‘Africa is expected to grow more than 7 per cent annually in the next 20 years, due to an improving investment environment, better economic management and developed as well as emerging markets rising demand for the continent’s resources, all of which offers a compelling proposition to global investors.’

If you are an (angel) investor from abroad or part of the African Diaspora, now is the time to get involved.

For people new to investing in Africa, I suggest to co-invest with local partners. They can help deal with practical issues as needed, and going through the process will yield many insights and learnings for the future. 

TNW: Tell us a bit about VC4Africa, your role and how European or US entrepreneurs or investors can get involved. 

SRM: VC4Africa.biz (Venture Capital for Africa) seeks to connect Africa's most promising entrepreneurs with the resources (knowledge, network and capital) they need to realize their potential. VC4Africa is the largest online community of venture capitalists, angels and entrepreneurs dedicated to building businesses on the continent.   

More than 1000 entrepreneurs have been screened from over 30 African countries. The ventures on VC4Africa are early stage and require investments between USD $10K and USD $1 million. The primary sectors include  web, mobile, clean tech, energy, agriculture, education, food, housing and health care, amongst others. Each ventures is screened for social and environmental criteria. Thirty percent of the registered ventures have an explicit social mission and could be qualified as a social enterprise.  

Listed entrepreneurs have access to free online tools, mentorship opportunities and private deal rooms. Accredited investors registered as part of the VC4Africa Investor Network are able to see which screened ventures are fundraising, track their progress and review private documents. The community has members in 159 countries and informal networking meetings that have been hosted in more than 35 cities around the world. Join the movement and lets change the world. 

My role is to handle investor relations, screen business plans of high potential ventures and make introductions between investors and entrepreneurs according to the investment criteria and preferences of both parties. One of the programs I developed to support entrepreneurs is the Free Feedback Friday. The next one I'll dedicate to female entrepreneurs in Africa, so if you have questions, please contact me February 8th between 13.00 and 15.00 CET via this link

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