Early-stage investor, Elizabeth Pambuka talks about how women-led startups can attract angel investments

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Access to funding is a very critical need for early-stage startups. Funding is required for product development, marketing efforts, operations and sustaining the startup’s team.

On the African startup scene, venture capital deals are more often the order of the day. However, there is the other option of Angel Investment.

TechNext spoke with Elizabeth Pambuka, the Managing Partner at ThandInvest. She also recently became the Vice President of Growth of Pickmeup, a Nigerian ride-hailing startup, and sits on its board. From her base in Kuala Lumpur, she works with investors in Asia and Africa to help female-led startups get funding from the right investors.

Elizabeth Pambuka
Elizabeth Pambuka

Hardly does a week go by in Africa without at least three startups on the continent attracting some amount of funding. It has not always been like this though. Some 10 years ago, the Paystack’s, Flutterwave’s and Andela’s were not in existence and funding inflow into startups was at its nascent stage.

The local funding landscape on the continent is still relatively young and has only a few angel networks sparsely distributed across it. In Nigeria, one of the more prominent angel networks is the Lagos Angel Network (LAN).

One of the core differences between the VC investors and Angel investors is that the latter will heavily bring in mentoring and advisory help to the startup while the former mostly brings in the funding only. For a startup at the very early stages, getting funding and advisory from an angel investor is a better option because of the more favourable conditions.

Portrait of a beautiful smiling afro American woman holding money isolated on a gray background

“Angel investors, are usually described as risk-takers as they are not afraid to invest in the highly volatile stages of a startup. Although venture capitalists will require a board seat at the startup table, they will generally not act as mentors,” Pambuka shared.

She added that another difference is that funding from VC is usually gathered from different sources. The difference between VC funding and angel investment is the money used to invest and how it affects the investment terms. Angel investors are investing their own money while VC funding is money invested from pooled funds.

Funding is still unbalanced between male-led startups and female-led startups. Recent data show that fewer women entrepreneurs get funding compared to their male counterparts. Another study in the US shows that an increase in the number of women angel investors led to a corresponding increase in the number of women-led businesses that were funded.

This indicates that a way for more viable women-led businesses to receive angel funding is to have more angel investors who are women in the network of investors. “African female tech founders require this kind of support in the early stages to ensure success and growth for the next stage and funding round,” Pambuka added.

How women-led businesses can attract more angel investment

In Pambuka’s experience from analyzing pitch decks for different startups and managing funding programs for startups, angel investors, as well as VC investors, usually pick a business based on the team, the availability of a minimum viable product. In this regard, angel investors are not much different from VC investors.

They do not only invest in the business, they fundamentally invest in the people behind the idea. In the tech industry, one needs to have a minimal viable product. Pambuka added, “If your idea has not been tested for the market, you add another layer to the risks involved in funding early-stage startups.”

A tested product or technology will lower the barriers to market entry. Taking the product through market adoption testing will look at how well it will perform in the market against possible competition and provide more information that potential investors can draw insights from. A minimum viable product (MVP) will also demonstrate an exit possibility for early investors. 

Elizabeth Pambuka
Elizabeth Pambuka

Networking

Getting investors to notice and take interest in a startup begins by making a connection with them. This is where networking comes in for women entrepreneurs especially.

Going to clubs and hanging out with other business people is something that comes more easily for male entrepreneurs than for their female counterparts. But women startup leaders need to do more of it.

Also Read: Symbiotic Relationships are Needed to Enhance Femtech Innovations – Abisola Oladapo, MumSpring Founder

Therefore, it is essential for women entrepreneurs to deliberately create and work with a plan that puts them in constant interaction with potential investors and partners for their businesses.

As Pambuka puts it, “In an environment where visibility of startups is generally low, the first thing I would encourage female founders to do is to be more aggressive in their networking. This is simply because that is the only way you will have access to potential investors.”

Returns on investment

Contrary to the opinion that angel investors only look at the entrepreneur alone when selecting, they are also just as invested in ensuring a return on their investment as VC investors. However, the mentorship, strategic advice and support largely given by angel investors is crucial to the success of early-stage startups who receive these investments.

The mentorship and coaching will increase the chances of success of these startups and reduce the risk of losing capital as well as return on investment for the investors.


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