Re-thinking Venture Capital in Emerging Markets

For the last year or so, the team at tiphub has done a lot of interesting research and testing to identify key needs to accelerate entrepreneurship in emerging markets like Nigeria. One of the most common challenges, as most would assume, is access to capital. However, speak to VCs and they say they don’t see enough invest-able companies and are constantly fighting for the best opportunities with other vcs.
There seems to be a deeper disconnect that we haven’t been able to capture. In the next couple of paragraphs, I’ll discuss the actual amount of money in the VC space in Nigeria. (Nigeria will be our case study) Identify where I believe they key gaps are, and present a viable solution that will be the catalyst for start-up funding at scale.

Based on a triangulated estimate, there’s about 300 million USD under vc management in Nigeria. This does not include foreign based funds that operate in Nigeria.  To better put this in perspective, we took GDP/ VC asset ratio to give some context. Its relatively easy to see that Nigeria is lagging in vc capital as an available asset class.  This isn’t the only issue. If we look at how 3oo million USD is deployed year after year, we’ll see that most vc firms look to invest in later stages in lifecycles of most start-ups. This translates into entrepreneurs who need to prove viability and scalability before investment. However, its the chicken or the egg argument. How do companies prove the validity of an idea without funding?

There’s an abundance of growth captial in Nigeria. The key issue is the lack of early stage “market validation” capital needed to get companies off the ground. In more developed markets, entrepreneurs find early capital from the three f’s (Friends, Family and Fools). There are also more opportunities for funding through banks and government grants. Family members are willing to bet on the next big idea.  Ultimately, entrepreneurs in developed markets have access to a diversified stream of capital that 1. is at a smaller amount 2. Friendlier terms and capital structures for young companies.

The key gap, as I see it, is access to friends and family capital in emerging markets. At its core, it stems from lack of access to credit and disposable income in rising and emerging markets. This is the real gap. Early stage companies don’t have the capital to fund their first MVP or to validate their market. As a result, many ideas never get tested in the market.

VCs won’t dare touch risky early stage opportunities due to the demand for returns. There’s not enough disposable capital in emerging markets to make a dent in funding for start-ups. How do we create a bridge from pre-seed to growth stage?

In the ideal world, VCs would partner with foundation and governments to fund small scale experiments/ projects. These projects would either fail or succeed and would move to a scaling phase. For example, if we took Nigeria as a case study, the Nigerian government would match $100 million USD with the Elumelu Foundation’s TEEP program focused more on grants to validate….lets say… 2000 ideas. After a year, 400 (20%) of those companies would be invest able opportunities. 400 is a decent pipeline. Key issue here is sustainability. 200 million dollars a year to identify 400 invest able companies is a tall order. However, 100 million dollars  a year vs  the cost of unemployment  in a place like Nigeria seems like a drop in the bucket.

Maybe later, we can also talk about ways to jump start merger and acquisition activity so people see the light at the end of their investment

Key points to remember:

  1. There’s a lot of money in emerging markets.
  2. The key to differentiation in the early stages of a company is what they’ve learned vs their competitors. Cashflow and other financial indicators don’t start to matter until the later stage.
  3. Entrepreneurs need flexible and attainable early stage capital to validate their ideas.
  4. Private/Public partnerships have to find a way to work together to create the bridge for early stage companies.

Random statistic to leave you with: Nigeria ranks 170 out of 189 for raising finance for a business and 129th (up 9 places since 2014) in starting a business.

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