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By Impulse4Women on February 09, 2023

Building bridges for South Africa tech start-up and investments. An interview with Audrey Verhaeghe.


 Audrey Verhaeghe is a renowned leader in the Southern African startup and investment ecosystem.

She is currently an Advisory Board member for I4W.

202211 RRSS Expert talk (Blog Banner) (4)


Impulse4Women: Audrey, you are a serial entrepreneur. What are your current projects?  

I am the CEO of ANZA Capital. Previously, I built two for profit businesses and one NGO. The first business was a consulting firm called the Research Institute for Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS) and the other company was the Southern African Innovation Summit (SAIS). It’s an event company for tech startups and investors. And now my third company is the investment firm ANZA Capital.  

I4W: What were the defining moments of your professional life and your trajectory?

It's a journey, really. I started my career in government as a trainer. I studied industrial psychology. Not finance or engineering. I brought in a course called Creativity Thinking, and it became very popular across government departments across South Africa.

Then I started my first firm, which was a consulting firm. I think most of what I did came from a teacher background. My parents were teachers, but I did not want to become a teacher. I was a born entrepreneur. But I don't think I can get away from that teaching component. And that's what brought me into consulting. 

Over the last 15 years, the Innovation Summit has become the largest tech startup event in Africa. It helps us to realize the big gap between investors and startups.

So I started to fill that gap by saying, How do I get all the money to invest in tech startups? And that became the third business. I think it's a typical female story. We see a problem that we try to rectify. We always try to fill the gaps. Women always see where the problem is. And as entrepreneurs, we can never stop. So by investing in tech startups, I will build tech startups.

I4W: First you became a business angel, then you start a venture capital firm. Why?

I realized that there's too little money at the early stage of venturing in Africa. Early stage funding is a problem everywhere, and especially for female owned tech start-ups. But especially in Africa, there was a huge deficit in funding, availability of funding, expertise in the early stage, and connecting the tech startup with the money, the investor. 

We tried to just connect through the events and the open innovation work. But we realized, we can't wait for the world. We will have to go out and get the world. And we started to pitch for funding so that we could become investors. Africa is a very hot Venture Capital space currently. Although the world is in trouble at the moment, Africa hasn't seen a dip in its investment cycle, and we've been growing triple digits year after year for the past decade. 

I4W: What's your mission in terms of investment across Africa? How can you generate, nurture and empower the next generation of founders?

We have got an audacious goal to cycle from Africa to the world. Where the world used to think of Africa as the continent that needed help and needed saving. We say, no, we don't need that. 

Just partner with us, dance with us, and we will solve our own problems, and we will take some of those solutions to the rest of the world as well. So, our mission is to connect talent with money and give the talent wings in order to scale and reach millions and hopefully, billions of people starting on the continent of Africa, but spreading to the rest of the world

I4W: You are an active angel investor.  What were the biggest challenges for a startup in Africa?

The access to resources. And it's not always just money, it's often things like energy. We just went through huge load-shedding in South Africa, and energy is an issue for many advanced cities in Africa. If you run a tech business and there's no electricity, what do you do? 

COVID was a huge trigger for digitalization and ecommerce in Africa. Online retail was a struggle before COVID and then COVID really gave it a boost in Africa so that people actually took that new pathway.

And in South Africa, we have got 110% mobile penetration. Everybody has access to a cell phone, and therefore you can reach people in various ways as long as your solution has a mobile interface. 

So now, if you want to scale in Africa, you must understand which country to go for. So you might just be next to a country where you've got 110% mobile penetration. Your neighbour might have 40%. So you must understand that going to your neighbouring countries may not be the right idea. 

In Africa, you'll have to be intentional about your scaling model. So you might have to choose economies. There is a French-speaking Africa, an English-speaking Africa and a Portuguese-speaking Africa. And then, of course, a lot of indigenous languages. So being intentional about where you penetrate, where do you go next is very important for Africa. In the past, I would say ten years ago, a lot of companies just proved their concept in, for instance, Cape Town then jumped the entire continent and went to Europe or the US as a tech startup. But that's happening less and less. The African market is becoming so vibrant that more and more future unicorns are expanding across Africa at the moment for our community.

I4W: What does it look like trying to raise money for a woman in Africa?

A good entrepreneur is a good entrepreneur, whether you are a man or a woman. And a good entrepreneur cannot be kept down. A good entrepreneur will always find a way. So for a female entrepreneur that's raising money, my advice will be the same as what I would tell a male entrepreneur: surround yourself with diversity and talent. 

Make sure that you've got different representation because people relate to different people, different ethnic groups, different sexual makeup, male and female, age wise. Maybe just get as much diversity in your top decision-making team as you can, because that representation gives you a better chance to raise money, to be successful, to make good decisions and grow as fast as you can. 

The diversity for me is equally important for women as for men, because I see a lot of female startups surround themselves only with women. And my recommendation is that's not a good idea. Just like I would say to a male team, get diversity in your team.

I4W: As a venture capitalist, what do you value in a startup?

I always start with: Tell me about yourself. 
When I listen to a pitch, I want to see confidence. I want to see that the person believes in what she or he does, because I want to surround myself with the right people. I want to see that there's a big market that's validated. And I want to see that they have a pathway to a market that is translatable, repeatable and scalable. 

How big is it? Do they know what they're doing? Are they passionate about what they're doing? Are they resilient? Are they diverse? Are they competent? And I'm trying to think of what makes them different from any other startups that does exactly what they do because there is nobody who does something that nobody else does. So what makes them slightly different doesn't have to be radically different, but what keeps them that little edge. 

I4W: Thanks a lot, Audrey, for this expert talk.

Published by Impulse4Women February 9, 2023