What happens when a University of Chicago – Booth School of Business graduate meets the daughter of one of Africa’s richest men? They start a company. The AWP Network meet with founders of She Leads Africa to learn more about the organization, the services they provide, and what they are doing to support women entrepreneurs.
There is more to the African woman than what you see in the media – both Western and local. While the Western media is content with the limited portrayals of young African women as victims, in the local media young African women are absent unless they are in the entertainment, fashion, or music industry. While this coverage is partially accurate, as Chimamanda Adichie said “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are false, it is that they are incomplete.” What about all of the other young women who don’t fit into this mold but instead, want to become business moguls and technology pioneers? Where are they supposed to turn to for advice?
She Leads Africa will uncover extremely talented female entrepreneurs and give them the resources they need to succeed. It will be these women entrepreneurs who go on to create the inventions that transform the way we live, build the businesses that employ thousands, and lead our economies to greater prosperity. This is the vision that we are investing in and we believe young women will take us there.
What inspired you to start this idea?
We started this company because we noticed a critical gap in the market – a lack of investment focus on high growth African female entrepreneurs. Policymakers, governments, and other development oriented institutions readily acknowledge that entrepreneurship will be the broad-based driver of economic growth for Africa with the potential to create jobs for the more than 200 million young people between ages 15 and 24.
However, when it comes to the issue of supporting female entrepreneurs, the majority of focus is almost exclusively on low-income, bottom of the pyramid women who are supported in creating micro and small businesses. While this is certainly an area of need, we have identified a gap in products and services for female entrepreneurs looking to create scalable and high-growth enterprises. Limited attention is paid towards investing in these entrepreneurs and we believe that they will be an important source of economic growth, innovation, and public leadership for the next phase of Africa’s development.
She Leads Africa is a platform that provides the most talented female entrepreneurs across the continent with access to the knowledge, networks, and financing needed to develop, build, and scale strong businesses. Our goal is to jumpstart female entrepreneurs from SMEs to pan-African industry leaders.
Who is your target market?
We recognize that many stakeholders benefit when female entrepreneurs are engaged in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, so we have identified three (3) target markets:
- Aspiring high-potential female entrepreneurs who have the capacity, determination, and ambition to build and scale strong businesses;
- Institutional investors who are looking for quality talent and want to invest in the next generation of high growth African start-ups;
- Sophisticated investors and high net worth individuals looking to invest their personal funds and take advantage of the unique opportunity for private ownership that exists in Africa. High interest rates across the continent (30% in most countries) results in many entrepreneurs seeking private investors to raise funds. This is a unique opportunity to buy into and thus share the dividends of fast growing companies.
How have you financed this idea?
As a start-up ourselves, we recognize the importance of finding partners willing to invest in your idea so we have financed She Leads Africa through personal funds, private investors, and sponsorships from leading companies including GTBank, IHS Towers, Google, and FSDH Capital.
We have also received in-kind sponsorship from notable organisations including Etisalat Nigeria, africa practice, Tech Cabal, Tiab Design, Capital Square, Bella Naija, and Genevieve Magazine.
What is your competitive edge?
- Our profile: As ambitious entrepreneurs, we are uniquely placed to understand the challenges facing female entrepreneurs on the continent. When we speak with potential customers, we let them know that we are not doing it for charity. We see the value in this market, believe this is an innovative solution and see the financial potential.
- Our team: Our team of eight (8) highly competent, highly qualified young Africans bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the startups that we work with. Team members have worked in a variety of industries including investment banking, private equity, management consulting, hospitality, journalism, law, technology, accounting and education. In areas where we lack expertise we are able to leverage the broad networks that we have cultivated having attended some of the top institutions in the world.
What is the long-term plan for this idea?
She Leads Africa plans to become the 500 Startups of Africa and aims to become a staple of the African investment community. We already have VC funds seeking access to our database of curated female entrepreneurs and plans are underway to hold networking events for African female entrepreneurs in major global cities, create an entrepreneurship education platform, and raise an investment fund.
What five key things have you learnt since starting this idea?
1. Done is better than perfect; be 80:20 – The startup scene moves quickly and relentlessly. Instead of waiting to design the perfect product, entrepreneurs should be 80:20 and strive to create a product that is 80% perfect. Get this product out quickly and iterate as you go. This strategy will force you to get feedback from the market quickly and features that customers need instead of those you think are nice to have.
2. Do your homework – Getting to market quickly is one thing, jumping in without any prior research is foolish. Entrepreneurs need to learn to how to listen for, rather than guess what the market wants. You may have a hypothesis about what the market wants and when you test the idea, it becomes a little more than your gut feeling. One of the first things that we did was to create a survey which we sent out to 250 female entrepreneurs. The responses from this survey gave us excellent insights into what female entrepreneurs wanted and needed. In many cases, our initial hypothesis were right and this gave us the confidence to forge ahead. In other cases, the responses surprised us and forced us to rethink some of our initial assumptions.
3. Think bold and dream big – When we initially started She Leads Africa we thought it would be a one-off pitch contest. In essence, we limited our own dreams. After a period of self-reflection and many long conversations with mentors, we were encouraged to think bold and dream big. Our ambition is to become a household name amongst African female entrepreneurs who see us as their one stop shop support system as well as shrewd investors who are looking for lucrative and exciting investment opportunities on the continent.
4. Build a solid team – We see Dangote as the force behind the Dangote group, Tony Elumelu as the force behind Heirs Holdings but thousands of individuals drive the success of those organizations. When building your company it is critical to build a team that will challenge each other, think creatively, and dig in to get the hard work done.
5. Learn what matters to investors. When engaging with investors all start-ups need to have a basic understanding of key operation and financial concepts such as lifetime customer value, cash flow, and ROI. This business literacy will make you more appealing to investors. Investors are looking for opportunities to invest their capital – that is their job but many of the companies floating around the continent are interesting ideas or cool products instead of businesses with an understanding of customer needs, plan to reach the market, and operational structure to achieve scale over time. Understanding how investors are evaluating your business will help entrepreneurs focus on the right metrics to judge performance and drive their business.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
We need to give each other opportunities to shine and strive to collaborate with each other. At She Leads Africa, we feel that we need to take chances on newer companies rather than just go with the big names – the same way you would want someone to take a chance on you. For example our web designer, TIAB was started by two young Africans looking to make their mark on creative digital communications industry. Like everyone else we had the option to outsource these tasks to lower costs environments however, we made a decision to trust in and support them.
How has technology enhanced your business?
Technology is critical and is a key enabler for our success.
- It helps keep our team connected. We are a virtual team and most members of our team travel regularly. In fact, in the last 6 months we have not had a single meeting in which all team members were physically present. Email and video conferencing are indispensable for us to keep our communication channels open.
- It helps us keep our costs down. Using tools such as Wix, Google apps, free conference call, Asana, and Mailchimp – we have been able to start this idea with minimal investment possible.
- It keeps us informed. There is so much knowledge being created all around on how to work smarter and be more effective and technology enables us to connect to entrepreneurial ecosystems all around the world. Just last month 500 Startups, the Silicon Valley seed fund and accelerator hosted a conference on accelerating growth within your startup. Despite being 5000 miles away, we were able to watch the livestream sessions and follow along with the presentations shared on Slide Share.