Support For Female Entrepreneurs Gains Ground In Africa

Written by Tom Jackson

“It is no secret that women in STEM are a minority, and are generally faced with all manner of challenges from active discouragement to harassment. Yet they move forward to pursue amazing careers.”

So says Amma Gyampo, founder of AmDeco, a network of business development, coaching, partnership and advisory consultants that matches and advises startup founders in Ghana, Nigeria, the U.K. and the U.S.

It is well acknowledged that there is a shortage in Africa of female entrepreneurs, and active female investors and mentors as well. Women make up less than 15 percent of all professionals in the tech space.

In South Africa, for example, the latest Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA)report showed women made up 13.3 percent of the space, a small increase from 12.9 percent the year before.

Yet female involvement in the space is likely to grow more quickly as more support initiatives are launched. Key among them will be the recently formed Rising Tide Africa angel investment fund, which is aimed at allowing female investors to back female-run tech startups across the continent.

It follows successful programs in Europe and the U.S., and will invest in up to 10 startups over a 12-18 month period. The lead investors will be women, and it will also offer angel investing training, best practice sharing, and networking opportunities.

This is just the latest program aimed specifically at female entrepreneurs. Another is She Leads Africa, which recently concluded its latest program. The three-month accelerator – hosted together with the Work in Progress! Alliance, OCP, Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB), Cointreau and Intel – is designed to support and fund the next generation of Nigerian female entrepreneurs.

Gyampo said it is vital that safe spaces are created to actively encourage women to think about problems that affect them and create solutions that can become viable businesses with growth prospects and social impact.

“Women in STEM all have a story about how they have been the only woman in the room and on top of that, the only person of color in the room. Diversity brings myriad benefits to organizations including alternative management and communications styles that can better handle customers, change or conflict for example, as well as the development of products/services that can appeal to a broader market base,” she said.

“Diversity brings different perspectives and we should continue to nurture it. It’s necessary if we want more services that speak to our needs.”

She said women thrive in groups, and thus it is vital for communities and programmes – like Rising Tide Africa – run by women that advise and invest to be established.

“What we need more of is the creation of more sustainable businesses that would attract investors regardless of gender. The vital thing here, and we are seeing more from the likes of Rising Tide, SLA and #HerFutureAfrica, is for more investors to add business support and development as an integral part of their partnerships with businesses. Once those foundations are laid with scale in mind, investors and investees should see better returns,” Gyampo said.

“To encourage more women to invest, we need education and information on how to get involved. We need to hear more from women who have invested, their stories, failures and successes.”

This was a view shared by Alexandra Fraser, founder of Fraser Consulting and former chair of Cape Town-based startup support organization Silicon Cape.

“The reality is that people invest in what they know and if we don’t have adequate diversity in the industry, then we will see a lack of diversity in the founding teams that manage to secure investment. We also know that diverse teams perform better than those who lack diversity, so it’s not a case of the ability to perform and provide returns to investors,” she said.

Fraser said founding teams also look for mentors and advisors that can relate to their experience and can help them overcome not only business but cultural challenges they might face while building their business.

“Ideally, I would like to see active early-stage or angel groups that include women but that also invest in women. In addition, it would be great to start to see more diversity in the venture capital community and for it to be reported on at a venture capital and angel investment level so that we increase awareness,” she said.

In Rising Tide Africa and She Leads Africa, she already has her wish. The aim now is to build on these initiatives to ensure female representation in tech – across the board – continues to grow.

Tom Jackson is co-founder of Disrupt Africa, a news and research company focused on the African tech startup ecosystem.