Accion Venture Lab has always had a commitment to growing and supporting fintech startups that are advancing financial inclusion in Africa. Over the past five years, we have invested in seven ventures that developed innovative financial solutions for underserved customers on the continent, from SME lending in Nigeria to innovative agriculture finance in Kenya to smart credit scoring across multiple countries.
In 2016, we undertook an effort to dive deeper into the West African investment landscape. We launched a four-city tour to Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, and Dakar, meeting with startup teams, investors, and ecosystem players. We walked away even more excited about taking on the opportunities and challenges confronting the region.
In our work, it has become evident that while there are many interesting and impactful financial inclusion initiatives on the African continent, the track record for successful fintech growth is only just beginning to take shape. Venture Lab sees an attractive opportunity to become a pioneer as an investor and advisor, as we have the experience and network that can help startups achieve their missions. Doing this successfully requires more time on the ground and some front-end investment in more staff dedicated to the region.
Support from MasterCard Foundation has helped make our expansion into the region possible and allowed us to grow our team in Africa. Now we’ll be able to invest in more fintech startups, work closely with those companies post-investment, and explore new initiatives that further our mission toward a more financially inclusive world. We plan to share more on our work in Africa through a series of blog posts in the coming months, but to kick things off, here’s an overview of the work we’re doing now and the newest team members behind it all.
- West Africa investments. In 2016 we expressed our excitement for supporting ventures based in West Africa. Ashley Lewis, our new Investment Officer for West Africa, based in Nigeria, will be dedicated to leading the team’s deal activity and portfolio management in the region. She comes from a background of investing in and supporting social ventures across a number of sectors, including financial inclusion, energy, health care, and natural resource management. Says Ashley, “West Africa is where I began my career on the continent and I couldn’t think of a better place to be at the forefront of growth in the financial inclusion space. To me, Accion Venture Lab is filling a critical funding gap that many companies in West Africa face. It is an exciting time to be investing in and growing ventures in this region, and month over month, I am able to see improvements taking place in the sector.” Look for more from Ashley as she explores the rapidly growing fintech scene and digs deeper into the themes we see across both Anglophone and Francophone West Africa.
- Africa portfolio engagement. In addition, we continue our commitment to providing post-investment support to our portfolio companies through a dedicated Portfolio Engagement function. Corey Stout has joined us as Venture Lab’s Portfolio Engagement Manager for Africa and is already busy working with our companies on issues like pricing strategy, organizational design, and customer segmentation. She has experience scaling social ventures across a number of regions and is looking forward to applying her expertise to our portfolio companies on the continent. “Previously, I worked with companies in West and East Africa, and experienced first-hand the challenges that startups face,” she says “On the flip side, I saw businesses that were viable and driving change despite — and in spite of — the obstacles that exist. I am excited to be working for a company that closes the gap in financial and operational support and works directly with startups to scale their solutions across the African continent. I am inspired each day by our portfolio companies and entrepreneurs who are tackling complex problems with market-based solutions, services, and products, and I look forward to watching them scale and revolutionize positive change for individuals, communities, and our world.” She’ll be sharing more on learnings from her work going forward.
- Company Builder initiative. Lastly, Venture Lab is exploring new ways to start fintech companies in West Africa through a company builder model. After completing 30 investments and screening hundreds of deals, our fund has built deep learnings on business models across the world. At the same time, we continue to see markets that remain underserved and, in some cases, find there is a limited set of experienced entrepreneurs attacking these market needs. We will be launching the company builder in the coming months, and Averi Thomas-Moore, based in Accra, will be leading the initiative. Averi brings a great deal of experience from working with West Africa-based startups from the ideation to execution phases. Says Averi, “I find working in Africa interesting because there is still an opportunity to create the platforms that will become legacy systems, especially in the financial services and logistics sectors. The development of these systems requires a regional perspective as well as deep local knowledge, so I use my experience from working with entrepreneurs across the continent to help them realize how large the market available to them is, and to connect them with others tackling the same issues.”
We are all excited about the future of financial inclusion and fintech in Africa — we’re exploring models for better customer engagement; innovations in financing productive assets for consumers and small businesses; new thinking about how insurance products are designed, underwritten, and distributed; and much, much more. We’ll share more on our work on those themes in our future blog posts. We look forward to successful years of building, investing, and growing businesses across the continent!
By Amee Parbhoo and Ashley Lewis
If you are interested in discussing potential investment opportunities in West Africa, please contact Ashley Lewis. If you are interested in learning more about our Company Builder program, please reach out to Averi Thomas-Moore.