Seeking New Markets: Venture Capital Fund Leaving London, Moving To East Africa. Here’s Who’s Already There

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Written by Dana Sanchez

London’s startup ecosystem is flooded with early stage funding for tech startups, so one of the city’s best-known venture capital funds is planning to move to a much less crowded neighborhood — East Africa — and become an angel investor there, BusinessInsider reported.

Federico Pirzio-Biroli, founder of London venture capital fund Playfair Capital, is closing his co-working space in London, handing over control of the business to staff and preparing to become a limited partner.

Playfair owns Warner Yard, a coworking space in East London that has been home to several tech startups. But Pirzio-Biroli says that the co-working market in London is too competitive so he’s closing the space for startups. The fund will keep the top floor, but the rest of the office will be rented to a single tenant.

East Africa’s angel investment scene is rising, but slowly. Venture capital is all about early-stage, high-potential, high-risk, growth startups. East Africa’s venture capital scene mostly consists of a mix between a couple of local firms and international non-profit impact funds, according to an October VentureBurn report.

Here are some of the angel investors and venture capital firms already doing business in East Africa, according to VentureBurn:

Some heavy-weight individual influencers include Hilda Moraa, who co-founded Weza Tele, a tech distribution company that recently got acquired by AFB. Sam Gichuru is the co-founder and CEO at Nailab, investing in digital jobs platform Kuhustle.

Based in Kampala, the Angels Initiative Uganda provides solutions that optimize enterprise growth in Africa. By leveraging the support of its partners, the initiative has been backing companies such as Angels Hub, ViOffices, Care SMS and Sise Works.

African Business Angel Network (better known as just ABAN) describes itself as a pan-African non-profit association founded to support the development of early-stage investor networks across the continent and to get many more (early-stage) investors excited about the opportunities in Africa. The organisation recently completed a successful tour from Lagos to Nairobi and Cape Town, to help mobilise the pockets of angels across the continent.

Prior to becoming a tech investor, Pirzio-Biroli worked at non-government organizations in Africa. Africa is logical move for him, he told BusinessInsider. Angel investing in Africa can make a big difference to economies there, he said.

“I … have always been personally excited by frontier markets, and feel like there is a real opportunity to move the needle there for the better,” Pirzio-Biroli  said in a statement.

These are some of the other venture capital firms investing in East Africa, according to VentureBurn:

  • The US-based Accion Venture Lab is a nonprofit active on four continentsthat works to alleviate poverty by offering micro-enterprise loans and business training. Investments in East Africa include Kenya’s mobile payments provider Kopo Kopo and lending company Umati Capital.
  • Acumen Fund invests in companies tackling poverty. In East Africa it has invested in Miliki Afya which provides affordable healthcare in Kenya, data analytics company First Access from Tanzania and Uganda-based SolarNow.
  • Intel Capital in 2015 launched the Intel Education Accelerator in Kenya which aims to provide guidance and a potential Intel Capital investment of up to US$100 000.
  • Village Capital finds, trains, and funds entrepreneurs solving global problems. In 2015, in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, DOEN Foundation and Duncan Goldie-Scot, it launched the Village Capital FinTech for Agriculture: East Africa 2015 accelerator program which invested US$100,000 in two local companies, Farmline and Atikus Insurance. Kenyan agricultural business Ojay Greene won a US$100,000 investment prize in an investment competition.
  • The Mara Foundation is behind the Mara Launch Fund — a venture capital firm which provides financing for  high-risk, high-growth-potential startups. It is designed to respond to challenges young Africa-based entrepreneurs face raising capital.
  • Fanisi Venture Capital focuses on Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda, with a US$50-million fund that invests in businesses with potential for substantial growth.
  • Clifftop Colony focuses on private and non-liquid assets in emerging African markets.
  • The Savannah Fund is a seed capital fund, specialising in US$25,000-to-$500,000 investments in early-stage, high-growth tech startups in sub-Saharan Africa. It was initially focused on East Africa, and aims to bridge the early stage and angel and venture capital investment gap.
  • The Omidyar Network, founded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, is a leader in intelligence and advocacy in the region’s startup ecosystem. Notable East African investments include Off Grid Electric from Tanzania and online news outlet HiviSasa from Kenya.
  • Nest, based in Hong Kong, expanded to East Africa in 2015 to connect local talent with Asian investors and networks. It has partnered with co-working spaces Nairobi and Cape Town Garage to give startups access to workspace in Hong Kong and vice versa.
  • 1776 is a global incubator and seed fund that helps startups transform industries.
  • Seedstars World is a global venture capital firm based in Switzerland. It invites startups from Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda to pitch in international competitions for a chance to win up to US$500,000 in equity investment.