What we learned from running female founder-focused accelerator programs

The growth of startups is a critical driver for economic growth. Under the Oxfam-led project “Work in Progress!” (WiP) active in Nigeria, Egypt and Somaliland, IceAlex, Innovate Ventures, She Leads Africa (SLA) and VC4A have joined forces to work with startups from all three countries to accelerate their growth and create more jobs for youth.

There is a strong surge in African startups successfully raising investments and scaling their business and creating jobs. However, research by Africa: the Big Deal revealed that of the $4B invested into African startups that year, only 7% went to start-ups managed by female CEOs.” At the same time, research by Boston Consulting Group shows that investments in companies (co-)founded by women provide a significantly higher return (78 cents per dollar invested) compared to their male peers (31 cents per dollar invested). This significant gender gap in early stage investing is seriously hindering the impact female founders can have on youth employment.

This observation led IceAlex, Innovate Ventures, SLA and VC4A to run female founder focused programs, being the Ladies Startup League, Women Business Accelerator, High-Growth Coaching program and the Venture Showcase women founder edition respectively. As Muna Omer, country program manager for Innovate Ventures shared on the effectiveness of female founder focused programs:

Female founders have been more successful in our programs; they have higher participation and completion rates and are relatively more successful in raising funding post-program.

Sharing lessons learned

During this year’s Afrilabs Annual Gathering, where close to 1500 delegates came together, representing 400 innovation hubs across 50 African countries, some of the lessons learned from running these programs were shared in a workshop with close to 100 participants. During a lively panel discussion, Muna Omer, Chimfumnanya Nwandu from SLA, Ahmed Bastawy from IceAlex and Niek van Dijk from VC4A shared how they collectively supported hundreds of female founders in their programs.

Muna and Chimfumnanya sharing experiences in the panel discussion

The different challenges that female founders are facing were discussed and the following main lessons about effective programs were drawn in discussion with the audience:

1) Representation: it starts at your own organization. All WiP partners ensure that all genders are represented in the management, the selection committee, the trainers, mentors, and investor networks involved in their programs

2) Recognition: all organizations put a gender lens on communication, promotion and recruitment for their programs, so female founders could relate and felt recognized. The organizations used communication channels that female founders frequent, reached out to women-focused intermediaries and asked female founders and investors as ambassadors.

3) Tailored programming: it is essential to accommodate the planning and timing of activities to the availability of female founders. In terms of content of curriculum, a stronger emphasis was put on soft skills components, based on a needs assessment with the founders at the beginning of the programs

4) Building networks: network are vital to access opportunities and partnerships, and female founders tend to have smaller networks. Therefore all organizations put an extra emphasis on creating networks among the female founders and to connect female founders with other relevant (angel investor) networks.

Want to know more about our programs? Please check out https://work-in-progress.vc4a.com/