Entrepreneurs find expertise via the VC4Africa mentorship program

We do not seek to become “yet another funding platform”—the VC4Africa vision runs deeper, and we aspire to connect the most outstanding individuals working to build Africa-focused business with capital in all its productive forms. Financing is an important part of the story, but just one part. As a community we give equal measure to network and knowledge, where the former is the peer-to-peer network, the later is the information and knowledge that can be aggregated and made available from across the member base. It is this thinking and approach that underpins our peer-to-peer mentorship efforts.

David van Dijk is heading the VC4Africa mentorship program and already 25 entrepreneurs listed on VC4Africa have been connected to fellow members on VC4Africa willing to dedicate their time, network and expertise. We recently had the chance to catch up with Gilles Ajavon, the founder of Ujamaa to find out about his experience.

Can you tell us about your company?

“Ujamaa’s team is made up of 5 young entrepreneurs from different countries (Togo, Nigeria, and Morocco). We aim to unlock remittence flows and allow diaspora to send gifts to their friends and family living in Dakar via our e-commerce solution. Our main competitive edge is our business model, marketing strategy, team, advisors and exclusive partners.”

What are the major milestones you have achieved to date?

“From the idea stage to the business plan, we have been working on this business for 12 months. To gather the required capital we applied to some competitions with a prototype. We started with the VC4Africa mentorship program in early October, and so far, we have been able to improve the business plan. We had the opportunity to pitch in Dubai on December 11, 2012 as part of Top 30 Young Entrepreneurs Africa – Middle East – Asia with GIST Tech-I Competition. CRDF and U.S Department of State were the organizers of the event.”

What are the major challenges you face in realizing the company’s potential?

“The first challenge is to find a way to work across a distributed team in Togo, France and the U.K.. Additionally, some aspect like logistics looks quiet straight forward on the business plan but we know well we will face problems in the implementation. We are lucky to have Fadi Ghandour, CEO of Aramex as an adviser.”

How did you learn of VC4Africa and why did you join?

“I have learned about VC4Africa through Tiyab Konlambigue (Ujamaa team mate). I have joined after realizing the opportunities VC4Africa could bring to Ujamaa.”

Gilles Ajavon with the Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides

Can you explain the process for other members?

“I have found the mentorship program through David Van Dijk. I decided to join due to our lack of experience and also because as young entrepreneurs, a mentor could provide experience and skills we don’t have in house. I asked David if he would review our business and provided background information needed for a more precise opinion. After reviewing our documents he said, “it’s time to get a mentor!” 

Who was your mentor and can you tell us about your exchanges?

Tom Komor is the member we were connected to. He signed our NDA before reading our business plan…Getting to know our business and the team took about a week. Then I realized how resourceful and dedicated he is in offering us support. Emails, Skype sessions and phone calls are our communication tools. I might say: he is as passionate about Ujamaa as I am.”

How did this connection help you with building the company?

“From business plan modifications to contacts in Senegal, Ujamaa step by step is making the transition from early stage idea to a more polished venture.”

What is your advice to other VC4A entrepreneurs thinking about applying?

“I would say first: they need a strong dedicated team and passion about their venture. And since they are thinking about applying, they should just stop thinking and apply! To really get something out of this process you need humility and courage to accept advice. Some ideas are good, but maybe don’t fit with your own thinking. I remember asking Tom a question and he simply said, ‘Gilles, We need to walk before we can run.'”

What was the hardest part about receiving feedback from Tom?

“The hardest part about feedback…. well so far it has been great. In the very beginning it was a bit difficult to figure out what he thinks about us and I was afraid he wouldn’t buy into the idea because it took about two weeks and half before we were able to establish a good working relationship. But still, whenever I introduce new thinking on how we are working to build the business, I get anxious waiting for his opinion.”

Final thoughts?

“I would say, I’m really honored to have Tom Komor as a mentor and I thank VC4Africa for this tremendous opportunity.”

Do you have a ventures listed on VC4Africa and are you looking for some feedback on your business? Check out the mentorship program, get in touch with David, and see if there are members willing to support you.