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Unlocking social capital in Europe

Unlocking social capital in Europe

From my experience at Africa Interactive I know how hard it is to build a business with a social mission. In Dutch law you are either a business or a non-profit organization. There have been discussions but still we wait for an alternative legal form that starts to bridge the gap between the two i.e. a social venture that seeks to better the world but still meet its bottom line. Given increasing cuts in govt. spending across European countries and a shift in mindset that demands sustainability across financial and social metrics, laying new foundations seems imperative.

In the end Africa Interactive found the right investors and has built its foundation as a business. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger:) That said, it probably took us twice as long and required twice the effort to make it happen. In the interest to promote the emergence of new efforts, a culture around social venturing, its critical we start to look at ways to foster a community and support its development. On one side its about improving access to social capital and on the other hand its about learning from a combined experience, improving access to the supporting service, knowledge and network needed to make it happen.

This spring we will witness the first SOCAP/Europe here in Amsterdam. This is a perfect location for this event as the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, is really a hotbed for this stuff. Just a top of the head list includes remarkable organizations like the 1%Club, Akvo, Text to Change, Butterfly Works, GhettoRadio and our own beloved Africa Interactive. At Sanaga Ventures we also promote ActivSpaces, VC4Africa and Afrilabs.

I believe this is a milestone for our efforts here in Europe and an important platform for outlining plans of action for the coming years. As SOCAP champions, ‘the event will be a place to discover and discuss the latest in European social enterprise and beyond, meet like-minded attendees from around the globe, pitch your ideas, find and provide funding and more.’

Here are some of their latest announcements and I look forward to coming together around this event.

Social entrepreneur scholarship deadline

If you’re a social entrepreneur putting your passion, money and time to scale solutions for a better world, then we invite you to apply by the end of this weekend! If you don’t fit the social entreprenuer description, but still have value to contribute and gain at SOCAP/Europe, then we invite you to apply as a volunteer by our April 15th deadline.

More SOCAP/Europe speakers announced

In addition to the pioneering names announced in our first two waves, we are happy to now confirm the participation of these speakers. See a full list of SOCAP/Europe speakers here.

Pieter Oostlander – Noaber (Netherlands)
Natarajan Ishwaran – Unesco (France)
Tris Lumley – New Philanthropy Capital (United Kingdom)
Lisa Hehenberger – EVPA (Belgium)
Nigel Kershaw – Big Issue Invest (United Kingdom)
Maria Cavalcanti – AVINA (Panamá)
Brian Walsh – Liquidnet (United States)
Dirk Elsen – SNV (Netherlands)
Felix Oldenburg – Ashoka (Germany)
Ajaita Shah – Frontier Markets (United States)
Gerhard Pries – Sarona Asset Management (Canada)
David Bonbright – Keystone (United Kingdom)
Tamzin Ratcliffe – Nexii (South Africa)
Antony Ross – Bridges Ventures (United Kingdom)
Tim Radjy – Alphamundi (Switzerland)
Tim Draimin – Social Innovation Generation (Canada)
Martin Rich – Social Finance (United Kingdom)
Stephen Dawson– Jacana (Ghana)

African ventures to watch in 2011 now has 91 ventures registered from more than 20 African countries and a surprising number of sectors. It is a nice representation of the sheer diversity in opportunities currently found across the continent.

Many of these projects are positioned for serious progress this coming year. For example I am interested to see what happens next with Uganda Medicinal Plants Growers, a venture posted by Teddy Ruge. UMPG is a commercial farming initiative based in Masindi and is designed to assist farmers commercialize their medicinal crops internationally. This is important work considering Uganda’s economy is agriculture based, with agriculture employing over 80% of the population and generating 90% of its export earnings. In Kenya its nice to see social ventures like the Recycling plastics and Empowering Youth. Kenya has a great need for low-cost housing and productive waste management. This recycling company will operate in the interest of the local community employing collectors using bicycle with trailers to bring various grades of plastics to processing units for ecologically-sensitive, efficient sorting, granulating and moulding (under low heat) into panels to be used for cheap housing. Not only is this an innovative approach that addresses a growing need, they are clearly taking the steps to embed the program and design it in a way that makes it socially sustainable and thereby economically viable.

A Nigerian based venture to watch is eHealth. This project supports the management of health facilities in Nigeria to influence health-related funding and policy decisions, and provides doctors with the patient information needed to improve decision-making before, during, and after care. This is not only a support service needed in Nigeria but I can imagine there are needs for their products in other African countries too. But given there are at least 85 listed hospitals in Nigeria there is plenty of work needed to get the company up and running. A venture that caught my attention in Cameroon is Hot Ice. Hot Ice is a fashion company that specializes in supplying affordable African-styled fashion accessories for trendy suburban women. Hot Ice really looks to differentiate its brand and seeks to build a fashion culture that local consumers can identify with.

Finally Agro-Hub, Geofeed, Naijaborn and Hizonotes offer a nice sample of the web and mobile related projects we have in our network. More projects are signing up by the day and clearly 2011 is set to be the year of Entrepreneurship in Africa!

Afrilabs is registered and ready for business in 2011

ActivSpaces in Buea, Cameroon

Last year, at the launch of the iHub in Nairobi, Bill Zimmerman (ActivSpaces), Jon Gosier (Hive Colab), Erik Hersman (iHub), Bart Lacroix (1% Club) and myself came together to discuss the emergence of technology incubators on the continent. Especially this idea that the labs we see coming online are often independent initiatives i.e. either a single entrepreneur or small group of entrepreneurs coming together to form an open collaboration space for the local tech community.

From our discussions it was made clear that there was not only a need to start working more together but to see how we can support new initiatives just starting out. And at the same time coming to the realization that the entrepreneurs with the best ideas still need support if they are going to successfully transition to market. These are some of the initial motivations that have been transformed into the network organization Afrilabs. We have two primary activities where on one side we are looking to support the development of healthy/sustainable labs and on the other we seek to support the most promising entrepreneurs ready to escape their walls.

We are pleased to announce that the foundation has been registered and we are now working to secure the partners and support we need to roll out a number of exciting plans and activities.

Watch this space, let’s join forces and connect soon!

Join us at the next VC4Africa Meetup at JokkoLabs in Senegal, February 11th

With our friends at JokkoLabs and and BantaLabs, we would like to organize a VC4Africa Meetup on February 11th. I think this is a great idea and I am reaching out to you to see if you feel the same way.

Sign up for this free event!

As with all VC4Africa Meetups, the event will simply be a place for members to meet one another and share thoughts and ideas. No speeches, no agenda, nothing planned. The loose structure allows for lots of networking. Just remember, everyone is expected to pay for their own drinks : )

Time: February 11, 2011 from 6pm to 8pm
Location: JokkoLabs
Street: 1er espace de coworking d’Arique de l’Ouest ! Jokkospace 65-66 Résidence Machala Nord Liberté 6 extension
City/Town: Dakar
Website or Map:
Phone: Tel. : +221 338 27 38 31

Let us know if you will attend and If you want to help out please add your name to the list and help spread the word!

Ben, Karim and Joeri

Testimonials VC4Africa

We always want to know if VC4Africa is making a difference. The new matchmaking platform was launched this past November and I am pleased to share some of our first testimonials. Needless to say members are working across the community to generate a whole lot more!

1) “Hey guys, Market Fleas already has a potential investor, so big ups on the platform. We tried many different platforms and none of them even gave us a response, but after only three days we got a response here. Keep up the good work and i’ll be spreading the word.” Rick

2) “Hi Ben, Being an entrepreneur, I’ve been around the block when it comes to sites of this nature. And I must say; awesome! If you are able to attract investors successfully, this will become the one-stop shop for African business development. The site is easy to use and best of all, unique. All the best and thank you!” Louis

3) “Your web site has been very helpful to me. I was able to connect to a company that wants to represent Next2.Us geosocial sms network throughout Africa. We have executed a Framework Agreement. We are finalizing a relationship with a SMS provider that will allow Next2.Us Africa to offer our geosocial network service in Kenya in the coming weeks.” Brian

4) “That sounds great Ben, I believe that through this platform (with its business plan crunching) is going to help many entrepreneurs.” Wikins

5) “Please let me know how to support your work with the “Start-up Tool Kit” for entrepreneurs in Africa, perhaps including intellectual property and creativity content, templates, etc. and also by providing feedback to investors about valuation, due diligence, strategic guidance and advising, etc. for innovation and IP-based companies started in Africa, whether they’re planning on being a regional or international business.” JiNan.

6) “Ben: Thank you for your kind welcome and above all for being one of the the founders of this medium. I believe it is going to be a very useful tool for entrepreneurs from everywhere who have the best interest of Africa and Africans. I will look forward for more interactions in the future.” Kebede

7) “Hi Ben, thanks for the thumbs up. Great platform you have founded here! Looking forward to meeting up with those interested in getting involved in my business with either funding and/or mentoring.” Nicolette

Join the movement!

Selected logo for Afrilabs

After a flurry of entries and a lot of back and forth it seems we finally have a logo for Afrilabs. Bill and his team in Cameroon are working hard to launch the website. Let you know when its up!!

Uchaguzi: Citizens monitor the elections in Tanzania

Uchaguzi is live and mapping the 2010 Tanzanian elections!

The platform is building off the early success of Uchaguzi Kenya. Learning from this experience the team is now set up in Tanzania. The local team now includes 2,000 monitors and links into a network of 30,000 trusted sources. Not to mention the platform is open to messages from the crowd. Its this combination of official monitoring networks, trusted networks and citizens based approach that makes the difference. shortcode is 15540 and already the team has received a considerable number of messages. You can see the Uchaguzi instance and follow progress in real time. is a joint project of Ushahidi and Sodnet from Kenya, as well as TACCEO, which is comprised of a number of local Tanzanian organizations and led by the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) from Tanzania. The project is supported by Hivos.

The team asks you to get involved!

We are relying on volunteers from Tanzania, Kenya, and globally to help us map the incoming reports, and because of the large volume of messages we expect to receive, we are currently in need of volunteers – in Tanzania, Kenya, and remotely – with basic tech knowledge or with previous with Ushahidi to help us map and respond to reports. If you are interested and able to volunteer with us on election day, October 31st, sign up using this Google Spreadsheet!

While we’ve had a wonderful media team working to spread the word about Uchaguzi TZ in Tanzania, we can also use your help in letting your friends and family know to text 15540 with any information about the Tanzanian elections.

Venture Capital looks at the technology sector in East Africa

We read about entrepreneurs and their projects every day. Only last week we had a list of inspiring winners from the Apps4Africa competition. See iCow takes first place at the ‘Apps 4 Africa’ contest. But only a lucky few walked away with a cash prize. What happens to the rest of these entrepreneurs and their ideas? Without some financial support, mentorship and guidence we risk wasting this potential.

One example of a project I would like to see take shape is Fogs Funeral Announcements developed by Alex Gitonga. This is an application for generating death and funeral announcements via text message. Radio and newspaper are costly in the region. Fog will allow users to cheaply and easily draft, edit and send these types of messages to ensure they reach friends, family, former schoolmates and colleagues – an important Kenyan custom. Funerals can be a heavy financial burden on a small family and using a tool like this frees up disposable income for school fees or other costs. To me this is a powerful application that potentially serves millions of customers. And I can imagine there are some regional expansion opportunities too.

It’s only a matter of time before investors recognize the opportunities and step forward to show their support. In this interview, Richard Bell, CEO at East Africa Capital Partners, takes a look at the rise of Venture Capital in the East African ICT sector. Early days in a process that will hopefully see many individuals like Alex Gitonga realize their ideas.

See an overview of some of the VC firms now active in this space:

1. Fanisi Venture Capital Fund
Fanisi Venture Capital Fund is a venture capital fund established in Luxembourg to work with competitive and sustainable East African businesses, whose ambitions are to grow and run their operations to global best practice standards. They invest in high growth businesses, including start ups and early stage companies, and are committed to working with East African entrepreneurs to build world class businesses with significant development impact on the economies in the region.

Investment range: USD 0.5 million – USD 3 million
Investor stake : equity
Fee : n/a
Web :

2. Africa Media Venture Fund
Africa Media Ventures Fund mobilizes capital and experience in the Netherlands to invest in entrepreneurs in the media sector and small and medium sized African media companies. They offer a combination of venture capital and business development support, involving knowledge, experience, access to proven business concepts/applications and network.

Investment range: EUR 15,000 – EUR 100,000
Investor stake: minor equity, seat on board

Fee: n/a
Web :

3. eVA Fund
eVA Fund is dedicated to mobilize capital and experience in the Netherlands/Europe to invest in small and medium sized African internet related companies. eVA Fund focuses on development in terms of capital and business development support, i.e. knowledge, experience, access to proven business concepts/applications, and network.

Investment range: EUR 25,000 – EUR 250,000
Investor stake :
Fee : n/a
Web :

4. Open Capital Fund
Open Capital Advisors is a financial intermediary focused on increasing investment in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in East Africa. They provide advisory and brokerage services required by SMEs and investors, thereby enabling SMEs to access capital and achieve growth, innovation and social impact

Investment range: USD 200,000 – USD 2,000,000
Investor stake : equity, quasi-equity (i.e. straight debt with revenue participation), or debt financing from a non-bank investor(s)
Fee : generally based on success and charged as a percentage of capital raised and only payable when clients receive financing
Web :

5. Aureos Capital
Aureos is a specialist emerging market private equity firm, providing growth capital and expertise to help build the next generation of sustainable businesses. Returns are maximized and risk mitigated by focusing on earnings growth and operational efficiency..

Investment range:
Investor stake: equity
Fee: n/a
Web :

6. Grofin
GroFin is a multi-national specialist SME finance and development company offering an innovative combination of risk capital and business development assistance to viable enterprises. GroFin is committed to assisting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) achieve sustainable profitability, believing that growth in this sector is vital for socio-economic development in emerging markets. They invest in viable businesses across Africa with a unique combination of money and mentoring assisting entrepreneurs maximise profitability and encourages sustainability and success.

Investment range: USD 50,000 – USD 1,000,000
Investor stake: equity

SME Finance in Africa: Finding the Missing Piece

Funding is one of the critical factors in the development of entrepreneurial and SME enterprises in Africa. J. Skyler Fernandes, Chief Operating Officer of the South African Chamber of Commerce in America (SACCA), joins AfribizTalk to discuss what is happening with a particular segment of SME finance in Africa – that between microfinance and venture capital.

This segment of finance happens to lack a cohesive industry, so it’s known as the “Missing Middle.” The “Missing Middle” includes finance between $20,000 and $3,000,000. Fernandes says that this segment of SME finance is the next wave of innovation after microfinance. In fact, he shares that while a young industry, SME funds have grown 80% in the last few years.

This also has practical applications for both entrepreneurs and investors involved in Africa. As more funds appear on the horizon, access to funding will become more widely available. But what SME funds typically look for are “polished” entrepreneurs, according to Fernandes. “Polished” entrepreneurs are
those who have delivered a proof of concept, implemented operations, and/or proved there is a demand for their products or services. So, we discuss a few tips to help entrepreneurs better position themselves to tap into funding.

This is a discussion you don’t want to miss.

iCow takes first place at the ‘Apps 4 Africa’ contest

Today the winners from the Apps4Africa competition were announced at the iHub, Nairobi. A panel of judges chose winning projects based on their potential to have a measurable impact and their creativity and ingenuity. A full list of winners and prizes follows:

* First Place: iCow, a voice-based mobile application that helps farmers track the oestrus stages of their cows. This application can enable farmers everywhere to better manage breeding periods as well as monitor cow nutrition leading up to the calving day. This will help farmers get the most of their cows and their farms.

From Kenya, Charles Kithika is the first place winner receiving $5,000 and an Apple iPad.

* Second Place: Kleptocracy Fighters Inc. allows citizens to record and report real time information on government corruption. Reports can include: audio, video, text, and are meant to be both positive and negative. Reports will be forwarded to legal and media partners to help publish cases of corruption. This application has potential to help build trust, accountability and transparency around the world.

The second place winners received $3,000 USD and a Nokia N900.

* Third Place Winner: Mamakiba is a patient-facing SMS savings calculator and prepayment tracking tool specifically designed to help low-income women save and prepay for their maternal health needs such as ante-natal care and clinical delivery. Many women struggle financially, and this application can help teach the value of budget planning and provide lifesaving care for women and their families.

Jane Del Sur, Geoffrey Muthondu , John Wesonga jointly developed “Mamakiba”, our third place winner receives and shares $2,000 and a Sprint HTC Desire.

Honorable Mentions each received $200 and are as follows:

* Fogs Funeral Announcements, developed by Alex Gitonga, is an application for generating death and funeral announcements via text message. Radio and newspaper are costly in the region. Fog will allow users to cheaply and easily draft, edit and send these types of messages to ensure they reach friends, family, former schoolmates and colleagues – an important Kenyan custom.

* Kenya Constituency Development Fund : Community Tracking and Mapping was developed by Jamila Amin and Mikel Maron. This application allows Kenyans to easily view both official and on-the-ground details of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) projects that are ongoing in Kibera, a neighborhood of Nairobi and the world’s second largest slum. This application will review and map submitted reports on the real status of aid and development projects on the ground, in contrast to official government reports, as well as allocated amounts, contractor details, photographs, and geographic locations. This evidence-based monitoring, combined with the communication power of maps and the web, serves as a powerful advocacy tool for improved accountability of development funds in Kenya.

* Ujuzi was developed by Ahmed Mohamed Maawy as a mobile resource locator application aimed at helping low income populations living in poor areas worldwide to locate useful resources like organizations, services, assets and personnel in their region. This free service has huge potential because it takes readily available information and creatively provides it in a useful, easy to access way.

Apps4Africa, a new breed of competition

Apps4Africa is the first in a series of regional competitions that the State Department will help convene, host and connect in Africa. Launched in July 2010, in Nairobi, Kenya by Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, Apps4Africa generated more than 20 entries from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. Civil society groups and citizens challenged program developers to find innovative technological solutions to everyday problems on issues ranging from transparency and governance to health and education. The competition builds on Secretary Clinton’s Civil Society 2.0 initiative and helps civil society use digital technology to connect to their communities and develop innovative solutions to shared problems. Key private sector partners include iHub, Appfrica Labs and SODNET.

See Secretary Clinton congratulating the winners.


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