Africa-focused venture capitalist firm, Future Africa has responded to allegations of intellectual theft levelled against it by investigative journalist, David Hundeyin. According to the investment company, through a statement signed by founder, Iyin Aboyeji, the allegations are false, unfounded and baseless.
Our attention has been called to a certain publication on Substack and a follow-up on Twitter alleging falsely that Future Africa infringed on the intellectual property of a founder who filled a funding application on our website. We wish to categorically state that this is false and the allegation that has been made is baseless and unfoundedFuture Africa
According to details from the Substack post, an early-stage startup, Sidebrief had sent out its pitch emails to a series of investors, including YCombinator and Future Africa. The startup wanted funding to scale and operate its business across Africa.
Rather than responding to the pitch with an invitation to meet and negotiate an investment deal, Future Africa had allegedly neglected the startup and decided to take up the idea on its own.
Sidebrief originally proposed a centralized platform to assist startup founders across Africa with registration and regulatory compliance. According to the report, this is the same service that Norebase now provides with Future Africa as one of its investors.
The investigative journalist alleged that Norebase was registered in the UK by Tola Onayemi, FutureAfrica’s General Counsel and co-founder, 3 weeks after the company received the email pitch from Sidebrief.
To prove it wasn’t a mere coincidence, the post provided and compared the materials which Sidebrief allegedly sent to Future Africa and the materials created by Norebase.
The materials on the post seem to suggest that Norebase Tagline and pitch desk are almost identical to Sidebrief’s pitch.
Details from David Hundeyin’s Substack post also allege that Tola Onayemi had gone ahead to register on Sidebrief’s website to test out its features. Coincidentally, Tola’s Norebase now offers the same features according to the report.
Future Africa defends itself
Iterating that it takes founders’ intellectual property very seriously, Future Africa explained that the founder of Norebase is its former General Counsel who resigned from the company. Future Africa said it invested in the company through its standard process and it owns less than 1% of the company.
While admitting that it received an application to pitch (presumably from Sidebrief), its investment team, however, didn’t consider the application “compelling enough” to advance beyond that review point. It also said the startup (Sidebrief) didn’t attach any pitch deck or investment material to their application.
Future Africa also said its legal team, which was led by Tola, couldn’t have accessed it either because the legal team only gets involved after the investment team has okayed a pitch.
“Hence given the facts, it is simply impossible for anyone outside of the investment team to have seen their application or investment materials as falsely alleged,” the company said in a statement.
A look at Future Africa’s application form reveals there is no option or room for applicants to pitch a deck. A representative of the company also wondered why David Hundeyin didn’t present the full pitch decks in his comparison.
“It is also not true that the pitch decks are similar. David posted 3 slides from 2 alleged pitch decks. Where’s the rest of the pitch deck? Everybody writes opportunity, solution and problem. That’s the standard Googleable pitch template. In the Norebase deck Tola writes the source of his data as Statista, what’s the source of the data on the deck of Sidebrief? These are the questions,” the representative told Technext.
Tech community continues to react
In the wake of the industry-racking scandal, members of the Nigerian tech community have continued to express their sentiments. Nigerian tech leader and CEO of Iroko TV, Jason Njoku described it as Nigerian tech in the mud.
On her part, Margaret Aligbe lamented the number of business ideas that have been stolen in the guise of mentorship and competitions in Nigeria.
“The number of business ideas that have been stolen under the guise of Nigerian mentorship and business plan competitions ehn…People who suffer in silence because powerful and well-connected Nigerians took over the same idea they told them is not viable,” she said.
Nice Dave advised founders pitching for funding not to divulge every detail as it could prove harmful in the future.
There’s also a valid worry that incidents like this would dissuade tech founders from pitching to Nigerian investors. This is particularly sad as the Nigerian VC investment space has been picking up steam lately.
However, Nigerian tech leader and tech investor, Fola Olatunji-David insists Tola already has the idea as far back as December 2020. In a series a tweet, he explained how the Future Africa cofounder had approached him to help launch the solution, then known as Country.africa.
The tweets suggests that Tola has been working on the idea long before the application for funding was made by Sidebrief.
Furthermore, a tweet from Tola himself, dating as far back as December 2020 appears to suggest he has been working on such an idea long before Future Africa ever met Sidebrief. At the time, its focus was on getting African professionals to key into the opportunities presented by the African Continental Free Trade Area
Future Africa stated in its release that it is willing to engage a global professional services firm to independently investigate the allegations to demonstrate the transparency of its investment process. It also undertook to take appropriate action based on the findings of this investigation.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming weeks and months.