Last month the venture capital industry took notice when early stage venture firm First Round Capital released research stating that portfolio “companies with a female founder performed 63% better than our investments with all-male founding teams.” However Partner Josh Kopelman couldn’t single out why companies were seeing this benefit, attributing it to either the positive benefits of diverse thought and experiences or the need for women founders to perform much better due to bias.
Either way it tells a compelling story for investors looking to beat the odds when identifying promising entrepreneurs to invest in. This is even more important for a market like Africa where the investment culture is just now being formed and investments in fledgling companies today will shape the market for the next 20 years.
For investors looking for promising women led startups, She Leads Africa (SLA) is a social enterprise that helps in identifying and training high growth African female entrepreneurs. She Leads Africa aims to foster business growth in Africa by providing female startup entrepreneurs with the knowledge, networks, and financing to build and scale strong businesses. SLA hosts an annual business pitch competition. The purpose of the competition is to select a few exceptional young female entrepreneurs doing business in Africa to participate in an Entrepreneur showcase, whereby the entrepreneurs would pitch their businesses to a panel of esteemed business leaders and investors
Out of 400 applications from 30 countries for their 2015 competition, they’ve selected six early stage entrepreneurs who in just two years of operation have combined revenue of around $3m USD, more than 11,000 customers and represent various consumer goods industries including apparel, beauty, food and health.
Research has yet to be conducted on how gender is influencing performance in African startups but for investors looking for talented female entrepreneurs to hedge their bets on, the 6 She Leads Africa finalists are a good place to start:
Louisa Kinoshi, Beauty Rev NG
Growing up, Louisa Kinoshi loved mixing and matching makeup and its ability to transform and enhance a woman’s look but she was dismayed by the lack of African makeup artists and models she saw in top magazines and the international media. Makeup pioneers like IMAN Cosmetics and House of Tara proved that there was a clear market for home grown African cosmetic products and Kinoshi has decided to bet on e-commerce’s ability to make it easier for young women to access local and international brands from their laptops and mobile phones. During a 3 month pilot Kinoshi turned a $5,000 investment into $57,000 in revenue by providing the latest beauty brands combined withdirect access to tutorials and advice from Africa’s top beauty influencers led by popular celebrity makeup artist Laila Rahman as Creative Director. Kinoshi’s dream for her company is simple: a day when women in Paris and Tokyo will look at African makeup styles of bright eyeshadows, bold lips, geles and beads and think “Wow, that’s dope!”
Ngozi Opara, Heat Free Hair Movement
Hair is big business for women of African descent and international investors are just now starting to pay attention to $500b black hair care market. Venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz recently led the $10m Series A Round for Mayvven, the technology platform that enables hair stylists to sell extensions directly to their customers. However in 2013, former financial analyst and trained cosmetologist Ngozi Opara realized that women with natural hair had no options of hair extensions made specifically to match their texture. Opara soon launched Heat Free Hair, the first manufacturer of virgin hair exclusively created to blend with textured kinky, and curly hair. Opara quickly found success with celebrity clients such as Orange is the New Black actress Uzo Aduba, singer Jill Scott and reality tv star Tamar Braxton. While competitors soon entered the market, Opara maintains her competitive advantage by controlling the entire value chain from manufacturing, distribution and retailing through her ecommerce site. Next up for Heat Free Hair is establishing retail centers in her largest markets including international heavyweights such as Lagos and Johannesburg.
Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo, KAMOKINI
When Kambili Ofili-Okonkwo wanted to find a swimsuit that was both stylish and covered some of the areas she wasn’t comfortable showing off, her only option was buying sexy bikinis from overseas. Armed with a background in materials science, engineering and supply chain management, she started to create her own swimsuits that were practical and appropriate for the body conscious woman. After friends and family started requesting versions for themselves she invested $25,000 to launch the indigenous African swimwear brand KAMOKINI. Globally swimwear is a $13.25b industry and with few local players tapping into this growing industry, KAMOKINI is quickly growing by focusing on Africa’s emerging beach, pool party and resort market.
Imoteda Aladekomo, Heels In The Kitchen
No one expected West African food to emerge as the world’s healthiest when Lancet Global Health’s reviewed of dietary habits from around the globe earlier this summer. Unfortunately, you won’t find much African food on the world stage as other cuisines such as Italian, Chinese and Indian are the go-to choices for international palettes. Cordon Bleu trained chef Imoteda Aladekomo has plans to change that by globalizing African food, starting with her native Nigerian dishes. She wants to use television as a platform to show the richness and diversity in the dishes and make it more accessible to non-Africans. With a show already filmed and plans underway to expand to merchandising, Chef Tomi may become the next biggest cooking star.
Brenda Katswesigye, InstaHealth
While technology has rapidly expanded across Africa, more basic services such as health care, electricity and education have not kept up. A new wave of tech startups have emerged to make it easier for rural or low income people to access critical services. InstaHealth a Uganda based startup enables users to connect instantly to health centres, specialists, ambulances and consultation services via geo-location and an interactive voice response system. Founded by telecommunications engineer Brenda Katwesigye during her final year at Makerere University, the service also provides an instant first aid guide, doctor consultations and health awareness information. Through partnerships with MTNUganda and seed funding from the government of Chad, InstaHealth has aspirations to become a pan-African and then global health information app.
Kasope Ladipo-Ajai, Omo Alata Foods
Omo Alata, the Yoruba name for spice seller is a budding food processing company that wants to simplify the way Nigerians cook their food. As a busy wife and computer science graduate Kasope Ladipo-Ajai no longer had the 2-3 hours it took to make a standard stew or soup after facing hours of traffic plus a full workday. Spending time abroad she saw how quick service and prepackaged meals made life easier for busy families, especially working moms. While busy urbanites are having trouble accessing and cooking fresh meals, millions of pounds of produce go to waste during long transit times to urban centers. Kasope and her husband Olatayo founded Omo Alata Foods to provide ready to cook pepper and stew products and tap into the rapidly growing middle class consumer and desire for high quality packaged foods.