Interview with Vincent Kouwenhoven, founder eVentures Africa Fund (eVA Fund)

eVentures Africa Fund (eVA Fund) is an exciting entrant to the African startup scene. In a short period of time they have been able to build out a portfolio that includes DC Explainer, Jumuika, Umuntu Media, PesaPal, Verviant and Ratio Magazine. eVentures Africa Fund was launched in January 2010 by Vincent Kouwenhoven and Brian Hirman. Both founders offer capital to promising startups, but more importantly leverage their years of experience in business development, management consulting, online business, digital marketing and venture capital. Their focus is on small and medium sized African internet related companies.

Recently, VC4Africa had a chance to connect with Vincent and talk about the eVA Fund in more detail. It is always nice to capture the thoughts of someone who has been so actively investing in the space.

Can you tell us about eVA Fund?

“eVA Fund is a VC Fund dedicated to invest in Digital Media (web/mobile) based businesses in sub-saharan Africa”

Why was this fund started/How is it different in focus?

“eVA Fund was setup 2 years ago by two successful internet-entrepreneurs from the Netherlands who have a passion for Africa. The difference with most other VCs is a.) a total focus on digital media (most funds are mixed, investing in different kinds of industries at the same time) b.) apart from the money invested, eVA puts a lot of emphasis on active business coaching, providing access to proven online platforms and our global networks in this field.”

Please highlight an exciting development for one of your investments?

“Have a look at Umuntu Media ltd, operating one of the first ‘pan-african portals’ now present in Namibia and Zambia. In the coming months they will also expand into Botswana, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique.”

Where do you see the most potential?

“We focus most of our attention on African digital media companies. Specifically the ventures addressing African issues with African borne solutions. This is one of the reasons we place so much emphasis on mobile.”

What do you see as a major barrier to more investments being made?

“There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding about Venture Capital in general in sub-saharan Africa. The fact that we provide money in exchange for shares in the company and show active involvement/coaching still needs lots of explaining.”

How have you approached investing in the African space?

“We tend to focus on 2nd stage investments. So no true startups, but preferably companies that have already shown some market-access and/or revenues.

What do you still see as the major challenges to this type of business? What makes it so hard?

“Getting more buy-in from the western Funds in general. Most institutional investors are still focussed on ‘traditional’ funding of typical African sectors (agriculture, mining, infrastructure) and not yet recognizing the major impact increasing internet access will have on the entire African ecosystem.”

How is the landscape changing in both positive/negative ways?

“More and more interest of global players in digital Africa. We also see more affordable bandwith everywhere. Also interesting to see the Ideos phone & affordable tablets coming into the marketplace. For our business these are all positive developments.”

Looking at VC4Africa, what role do you think we can place?

“‘Educating African entrepreneurs on the potential of partnering with western VCs. Both in terms of money and business coaching.”

What is your message to the community and to all of the entrepreneurs out there?

“Digital can boost African growth ~ in terms of business development, e-learning, e-government & transparency. So keep developing African solutions for African problems we can support.

What would you like to achieve in the next 12 months?

“Increase the synergy between our investee companies active in Kenia, Ghana and Southern Africa and enable them to develop into pan-African players.”

Thanks Vincent. As always, we look forward to following your progress and to connecting you with our best entrepreneurs. Indeed, the more traction the business has in the marketplace the easier it is for investors to step on board and support the entrepreneur. And without this traction, the entrepreneur will have to work extra hard to present a convincing story!

Here is an overview of some of Vincent’s investments to date.

DC Explainer – Explainer DC Ghana is a leader in web developer, internet marketing and hosting services. They are a reliable provider of large-scale, complex internet solutions.

Jumuika – Jumuika Mobile is a Kenyan based mobile marketing company founded in 2009. Jumuika is a service that pays you each time you receive SMS ads on your phone. Jumuika started in Kenya, but also will be launched in Uganda and Tanzania.

Umuntu Media – Umuntu Media aims to become the largest internet portal in Sub Saharan Africa. In 2011 and 2012 Umuntu Media will be launching 19 internet portals across Africa. Each portal will be branched out into loads of brand extensions, mobile apps, WAP sites and online communities.

PesaPal – PesaPal is a service that helps you to buy goods and services on the internet safely using your mobile money account. PesaPal verifies all merchants and ensures that goods and services sold are delivered to the buyer. PesaPal accepts and tracks Safaricom (MPesa) and Zain (ZAP) payments.

Vervient – Vervient is an offshore development firm. immediacy and trust of a local company. Their focus is on Design, Software and Mobile services. Vervient is also the developer of Pesapal.

Ratio Magazine – Ratio Magazine is a publisher based in East Africa. They aim to provide information about the east African business and economic environment, highlighting both opportunities and risks for the business community.