It is 7:15 PM on Wednesday 10th December 2014, and a group of young and ambitious innovators are pacing up and down the hall on the second floor of Acorn House, Nairobi. The team of inexperienced but ambitious techies is waiting to be ushered into the Training Room where they would be pitching their business to 6 seasoned investors, the first (of many) ViKtoria Solutions Angel Investor Networking and Pitching events.
ViKtoria Solutions is a financial advisory firm focused on entrepreneurial finance with over 15 years of combined experience working with start-ups, the majority of which are located in East Africa. ViKtoria’s mission is to find and support promising entrepreneurs through coaching, mentorship and financial advisory services with the goal of helping them become a pivotal factor in the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in their sector. Based on the firm’s research and experience working with innovative entrepreneurs both internationally and in East Africa, ViKtoria has singled out local angel investing (investments in early stage companies by individuals or groups willing and able to provide money and other services such as mentorship, introductions etc.) as one of the key elements required to catalyse growth and eventual exits of companies.
After a brief technical note from the ViKtoria founders, several early-stage companies that were previously screened each made a 10-minute presentation to the investors. This was followed by a 10-minute Q&A session where the investors could dissect the company before them; this quota was exceeded each time as the investors were all too keen to prod and poke into the companies presented before them, their investor appetite whet by the interesting opportunities being presented to them.
Chura, a cross-network airtime transfer platform, was the first off the block. The company has developed an integrated, user friendly, easy-to-use system with services that include airtime sharing across mobile networks, convenient airtime purchase across mobile money services, bulk airtime transfer across mobile networks and airtime-to-cash conversion. The company was followed by Toto Health, a company founded by a team of young innovators pained by the preventable but high infant mortality rates in Africa. Toto Health enables parents receive targeted and action-oriented SMS messages based on when and where the child was born or conceived. The result is a platform that aims to go a long way in reducing maternal mortality, infant mortality and predict and prevent developmental disabilities in children. Loopah was next and the company pitched its web-based advertising, shopping, event promotion and ticketing solutions services to the investors. The Q&A session following their pitch seemed to end far too quickly, with one of the investors having previously invested and exited from a ticketing solutions company abroad. His questions were tough and insightful, but the Loopah team was equal to the task and gave a good account of themselves. The last company on display was Ma3 Route, a mobile, web and SMS platform that crowdsources for transport data and provides users with information on traffic, matatu stages and directions and driving reports. Represented by its Founder and CEO, the Ma3 Route capped the pitches with a powerful presentation that piqued the interest of some of the investors eliciting animated debate among the investors on the market opportunity for the service. A networking session after the pitches had the startup teams mingle freely with the investors, some strongly probing the companies and others registering their interest and even organising follow-up meetings with the startups.
ViKtoria aims to catalyse the establishment of a strong, well-connected, involved and profitable network of angel investors who shall take a leading role in developing the startup ecosystem by bridging the critical funding gap and providing much-needed mentorship and connections to the companies they work with for the mutual benefit of the investors and the startups. Following the success of this event, it can only get better.