Cameroon is not an ‘investor favorite’ and few non Cameroonian investors consider supporting entrepreneurs building companies there. What is the value African startup funding portal VC4Africa creates and how is this relevant to entrepreneurs and investors building companies in countries like Cameroon?
Rodrigue Fouafou, member of the VC4Africa community since 2013, is a Cameroonian born Canadian entrepreneur and angel investor who originally moved to Ottawa, Canada to pursue his studies. He now lives and works there, where he set up his own company.
In the last 10 years his business endeavors have proved to be successful and he has been able to build up his personal wealth. During the last two years, Rodrigue has been thinking a lot about Cameroon and to what extent entrepreneurs might innovate in his home country. Eager to find out more about these entrepreneurs and to engage them in conversation, he joined Africa’s venture capital community VC4Africa.
It was through VC4Africa’s Mentorship Marketplace that Rodrigue ended up engaging the founders of two companies, Njorku and Kiro’o Games. The former is a job listing service and the latter seeks to become the first digital gaming company in central Africa. It is through these mentorship-based interactions that Rodrigue got to know each founder and understand the business they were building. Being a Cameroonian, Rodrigue could appreciate the business climate and assess the external risks. As a result, Rodrigue has made investments into both companies and is now working with the teams to see how he can help them grow and develop their visions.
In the view of the VC4Africa organization, it is exactly such an exchange that captures the value, importance, and relevance of such a community and platform. This story exemplifies a simply idea; that by connecting a global network of business professionals we are better able to unlock resources as they exists across the African startup ecosystem.
Tell us how you ended up in Ottawa, Canada and how did you get into business there?
“I originally came to Ottawa to pursue my studies in computer engineering. Upon graduation, I worked for tech companies based in the region, but I always seemed to have a floating business spirit. I come from a family of 32+ children. This is perhaps where I get the fight and desire to stand out! I began my first venture in 2008 with Vertamin Inc.”
What have you been able to achieve since being outside Cameroon?
“Since leaving Cameroon I have grown and bettered myself. I have obtained an education and practical business experience. Similarly, I have been able to trickle that information and knowledge back to my roots, and hope to continue doing so.”
At what point did you start thinking about business in Cameroon and what is your interest there?
“Until 2012, I was a true Afro pessimist. I did not believe much in the continent and could hardly see the potential. However, after spending a few months in Silicon Valley, there was a sudden realization. While watching most of the people in my network going to Ghana or Zambia to launch new ventures, my interest began to peak for what might be happening in Cameroon. I started doing my research and reading. The statistics were encouraging. I had a keyword tracker on my Google daily alerts and over the months I began to notice a phenomenal increase in activity. Consequently, I realised that at least 20% of my classmates had returned to Africa to work for large corporations or to create new ventures. Around the same time, Marc, a long time friend and exemplary visionary, confirmed the trends I had been seeing: he saw Africa as the next place to be in business. A few months later, Marc and I teamed up to create our investment sourcing consultancy Hartnamtemah.”
How did you go about the process and connecting with local innovators?
“It was through the great platform of VC4Africa, an amazing tool, that we got started. Simply put, it was a one stop shopping tool for African opportunities. That is how I got in touch with the first companies our business currently works with: Kiro’o and Njorku.”
What have you learned about your interactions? What do you see as the opportunity?
“I have learned that doing business in Africa is no easy feat and that there are various challenges along the way. I have been fortunate enough to have good relationships with both Njorku and KIro’o, and it is through them that we have been able to identify the challenges without being on the ground. As far as opportunities are concerned, they are vast and numerous. We continue to explore them and broaden our horizons by the day.”
What do you think are the biggest risks for investing in Africa and for your companies?
“Any business has risk. The biggest in such an early stage investment case is trust. Many of my colleagues thought I was crazy to invest in these companies without spending extensive time in the country. Thanks to the platform of VC4Africa, who has already done a great job at screening the candidates, we were fortunate enough to believe in what the entrepreneurs were doing. Other risks of course include the challenges of the administration, battling corruption, among other things. But like with any business, the bigger the risk, the bigger the return. We also trusted in the technology we have today to check and counter check data and information that was sent to us.”
Do you have tips for investors looking to support early stage companies?
“Before investing, Hartnamtemah took the time to mentor, communicate and exchange on various levels with Njorku and Kiro’o. This is essential to developing a lasting partnership. It is important for both parties to understand each other and discover to what extent they have the same vision. It is particularly important to understand the personalities of the different entrepreneurs. In the case of Njorku and KIro’o we quickly discovered leaders and motivators who were ready to take their business to the next level no matter what it takes.”
How do you look to create value for your portfolio?
“The vision of Hartnamtemah is clear. Create, invest and innovate in technology. This is the cornerstone of what is to come. We believe that through technology, the media and the promotion of African culture, we can find entrepreneurs who embody the desire to lift the continent.”
Great you have launched a new website. What are your plans now moving forward?
“Hartnamtemah hopes to continue to invest. We seek to optimize on the investments we have made, continue to consul and grow these companies, and hope that by the end of the year we can launch a second cycle of investments for about 10 young entrepreneurs from across the continent.”
What is your message to entrepreneurs part of VC4Africa?
“They are fortunate enough to be part of a great platform and community. Their chances of finding partners improve as a result and their perseverance will pay off. They must continually interact and learn from their peers, mentors, and potential investors.”
What is your message to your colleagues in the diaspora and others out there who could be investing?
“Africa is the future. Every time I hear someone say they are moving back I get excited. I want to continue to encourage my counterparts to invest, despite the risk, to take the chance, to do their due diligence, and to take advantage of platforms like VC4Africa who look to connect our worlds.”
How do you see the role of VC4Africa and what is the value of the community for you?
“VC4Africa plays a major role in bringing together the ecosystem and we salute them for that. Hartnamtemah pledges to continue working with VC4Africa and to encourage others to do the same.”
What can be done better, or what do you want to see next?
“Continue growing, the sky is the limit.”
For the entrepreneurs’ sides of the story, also see recent interviews with Njorku and Kiro’o Games. To help shape the future of angel investing in Africa, join VC4Africa at the Investor Summit at DEMO Africa in Lagos, this September 24!
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