Will increased Private Equity interest in Africa trickle down?

In March, the Carlyle Group launched their first Africa-centric fund. A month later they opened their offices in South Africa and announced plans to expand their team to Nigeria and Zimbabwe. David Rubenstein the co-founder of the Carlyle Group said at a recent conference, ‘I am very bullish on the prospects for Africa. Nothing compares in terms of economic growth as a percentage over the next decade.’ And he is not alone. In June Helios Investment Partners closed Africa’s largest ever buyout fund for $900 million (maximum target investment is $250 million) signaling the growing investor interest for the continent.

These two developments reflect the findings of an April survey from Coller Capital and the Emerging Markets Private Equity Association that showed 38% of limited partners had plans to begin or expand their African investment programs, compared with 15% a year earlier. The Wall Street Journal followed by reporting in July that a record 79 African focused funds were currently making their fundraising rounds. Only a fraction of these efforts are likely to be successful, but clearly there is a growing resource base being put into place for the continent’s most promising endeavors.

But what does all of this mean for African SMEs that could offer so much additional growth and development for so many African countries? What does this mean for the smaller businesses still overlooked by international and local investors? According to Guido Boysen, the CEO of GroFin Africa, ‘The capital needed to drive economic growth in Africa certainly exists, but could be invested in an asset class with a potentially greater impact.’ He argues unlocking the SME segment will remain a challenge until we recognize that many of these entrepreneurs are actually sophisticated business professionals that don’t require as much assistance as sometimes believed. It is also important to recognize that many SMEs out there are actually quite profitable and that there are an increasing number of exit opportunities. He continues, ‘The SME sector is ripe for investment, and the capital exists for this investment to take place.’ Now it is just a matter of closing the gap.

What do you feel needs to happen if we are to get more investor interest for African SMEs?