Beyond funding, African female entrepreneurs need access to high-impact mentors and who are willing to open up their network and teach what they know.
A few weeks into January this year, Eloho Omame and Odunayo Eweniyi announced their female-focused angel investment fund. Aptly named FirstCheck Africa, the angel fund is on a mission to “advance equity, capital and leadership for a generation of women in Africa through technology & entrepreneurship”. While FirstCheck argues that African women in tech are “over-mentored” and “under-funded”, early-stage female founders need some handholding. Our ecosystem is still male-dominated, and female entrepreneurs need experienced mentors to guide them on their journey to success.
It’s essential to not have a cart-before-the-horse mentality when it comes to helping African female entrepreneurs succeed. Of course, funding women-led businesses is important because entrepreneurs need capital to scale. But it’s also important to level the playing field, invite female founders to join active networks, and connect them to successful high-impact mentors.
For Africa to build a more equitable tech ecosystem, mentoring and funding African women in tech must work hand-in-hand, not one after the other. Local and global investors must do the work of creating short-term or long-term mentorship programs that cater to underrepresented female founders. These mentorship programs should teach African women in tech how to network, grow their social equity, pitch to accelerators or funds with larger check sizes, and much more.
The conversation about mentorship is tricky because most female entrepreneurs are interested in getting the capital they need to run their businesses. But venture capitalists like Sohaila Ouffata believe that working with highly trained and experienced mentors is just as important as applying to receive funding from accelerators and venture funds. So Ouffata founded The African Tech Vision (ATV) to create and open up entrepreneurial pathways for ambitious African female founders and executive leaders.
The African Tech Vision is a free entrepreneurial programme designed to support early-stage African female founders and help them achieve their goals. Over six weeks, selected female founders are paired with mentors and industry experts from local and international startup scenes and technology hubs. During the programme, participants gain access to hands-on mentoring and coaching sessions provided by vetted ATV mentors. While most accelerator and mentorship programs are held in-person at specific locations, ATV kicked off its inaugural program online in April of this year. Hosting virtual mentoring sessions means more African female founders can apply to the programme without worrying about visa applications, travel fees, and sourcing for accommodation.
“The style of the hands-on mentoring session is based on virtual interactions. Most mentors prefer video calls and structure the session based on the needs of the entrepreneur,” said Ouffata in an emailed response to TechCabal.
“We spent time with each entrepreneur at the beginning of the programme to define areas in which they are looking for mentorship. This is also the basis for matchmaking with selected mentors. For example, some founders prefer to speak multiple times a week with some of their mentors. Others prefer to ping their mentors with questions over WhatsApp. As we are a founder-friendly programme, we leave the decision to the founders and their mentors.”
ATV offered its inaugural cohort a mix of recorded and live workshops, founder stories (events where experienced founders shared stories of success, challenges, and failures in their fields), and social activities every week. In the last programme, some of the content models made available to the cohort of African female founders include ‘Engaging with Mentors’, ‘Elevator Pitch‘, ‘Investors 101‘, ‘Product Market Fit’, and ‘Sales Fundamentals‘.
Some of the previous cohort’s early-stage female founders were from Ghana, Rwanda, Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. Therefore, Ouffata and her team need to pull as many female founders from different African countries as possible before their next program kicks off in 2022.
For Ouffata, betting on African female founders is a personal decision that fits into the larger vision of The African Tech Vision program.
“The African Tech Vision was born out of a desire to honour my African heritage and to create and open up entrepreneurial pathways for other African women,” said Ouffata. “Our vision is to connect female entrepreneurs with experienced international role models and aim to inspire and nurture the next generation of purpose-driven African female entrepreneurs.”
No doubt ATV’s vision is audacious, but Africa’s male-dominated technology and business ecosystem is a reality that can longer be ignored or explained away. ATV’s model is designed to spotlight, empower, and back high-impact female founders in Africa.
Beyond sentiments and national pride, ATV’s reasons for backing female entrepreneurs are also rooted in profitability and nation-building. Businesses owned or founded by women are said to deliver higher revenue and better bet to a group of niche investors. Additionally, women typically reinvest up to 90% of their income back into their families and extended communities. This means that more girls and women need to be included in the global economy through education, employment, and mentorship.