Due Diligence: The business case for investing in Africa’s women entrepreneurs

Lelemba Phiri

How we made it in Africa’s ‘Due Diligence’ series asks top players in Africa’s private equity industry about how they are mastering the art and science of profitable dealmaking and fundraising. Doing the due diligence on those who do due diligence for a living.

This article is published in association with Africa Private Equity News, a one-stop source for industry-related information. Stay up to date by downloading the free Africa Private Equity News app: Android | iOS | www.africaprivateequitynews.com


Gender-lens fund manager Africa Trust Group (ATG) seeks to bridge the gap in investments into women-owned businesses in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region by providing early-stage women entrepreneurs with the holistic support they require to thrive in business.

In an interview with How we made it in Africa, Lelemba Phiri, the principal for ATG, shares some of the investment lessons she’s learnt, discusses why she is betting on Africa’s women as the key to the continent’s economic emancipation and why diverse investment teams matter.

1. Explain your firm’s investment philosophy.

We are a gender-lens investor that offers early-stage funding to women-owned businesses in the SADC region. Our approach is holistic as we look to invest in both the entrepreneur and the enterprise and provide them with access to business tools, support and markets.

2. Identify an untapped opportunity for private equity investors in Africa.

There still exists a gender gap in access to finance for women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa, even though it is the only region in the world where female entrepreneurs outnumber their male counterparts. Women have been found to re-invest up to 90% of their earnings at a personal level back into their families and communities compared to 35% for men. This reinvestment makes for more sustainable communities and economies as it results in families and communities having access to better healthcare, education, technology and financial services. At a fund ROI level, the business case for investing in women entrepreneurs has been researched time and time again and proved that women-owned and -led businesses can be as competitive as their male counterparts and even out-perform them in certain industries such as tourism, which are key to African development.

3. What is the biggest misconception about your job?

That there is insufficient pipeline of investible women businesses. I think funds are just not looking hard enough to find these opportunities or may be focusing on sectors such as tech, which traditionally have had less women participation. This is the case we are contributing to putting to rest with the recently raised R100 million ($6.5 million) Enygma Ventures – the first VC fund focused on investing solely in women-owned enterprises in the SADC region. We want to prove that the pipeline of investible women-owned enterprises exists and that it is investible.

4. Describe the greatest investment lesson you’ve learnt.

A diverse investment team that includes people who have walked the walk in building businesses and raising funds in Africa is critical to attract diverse investment opportunities and to cover the various bases in the investment and portfolio management process. Just as it takes a village to raise a child in Africa, it also takes a village to not only find attractive opportunities but to grow them too. With diversity comes greater networks that can open doors and create valuable links for portfolio businesses to enable them to thrive.

5. What are the skills needed to succeed in Africa’s private equity industry?

An understanding of the industry, markets and cultures is important for success in this space. That way funders are better able to support the management teams they have invested in when it comes to navigating the dynamic environment that is Africa. As they say, ‘Africa is not for sissies’ and if one does not understand how that is compounded by our complex cultures, it would be so easy to build strategies that are entirely disconnected from our realities. At the end of the day, culture eats strategy for breakfast and thus diversity of teams becomes an important asset for any fund that wants to make it in Africa. With diversity comes leverage of strengths that is an important competitive advantage.