“After doing angel investing for some time, we decided it was time to build a platform that would support and enable entrepreneurs to achieve greatnesses.”
So says Kola Aina of his company Ventures Platform, which launched in 2016 as a full-service innovation hub in Abuja, Nigeria, running 16-week hybrid incubation programmes, a residence for need-based cohorts, and a paid co-working space for freelance entrepreneurs and professionals.
“At inception, we believed that with the right support African founders can build large businesses that will move the continent forward,” Aina said.
Ventures Platform has certainly been busy since, running a number of programmes and investing in a host of Nigerian startups, including Kangpe, Kudi.ai, Mobile Forms, PayConnect, Paystack, Proteach, Wesabi, Accounteer, Gerocare, ThriveAgric, Printivo and Wifi.com.ng.
Aina says Ventures Platform has played an interesting role in the Nigerian tech startup ecosystem to date, investing in more than 20 startups.
“We have also played an active role in working to improve the quality of founders and participation of investors in the ecosystem. By making our terms clear and founder-friendly we might have also had the unintended impact of also increasing the quality of exchange in the ecosystem,” he said.
Ventures Platform has a syndicate fund backed by local and foreign investors, and is currently in the process of fundraising for another, larger fund.
“We are generally sector agnostic, but keen on businesses that solve a real problem, have a scalable pan-African business model and have the potential to be large businesses,” Aina said.
He said the tech sector on the continent was in an exciting phase, with more people solving real problems and figuring out better ways of leveraging technology.
“There is a lot more experimentation and we are getting closer to a unicorn. There are lots more funding options for entrepreneurs,” said Aina.
“I think the biggest thing we lack is skill. And this is due to a combination of the poor levels of education in most African countries as well as the lack of mentors and those that have gone ahead.”
Ventures Platform is looking to fill this gap, but Aina feels policymakers – in spite of providing some assistance to the Nigerian tech space – need to do much more to help.
“Speaking for Nigeria, the policymakers in government recognise the impact or at least the hype of startups, and have set up programmes to see how they can specifically support our ecosystem,” he said.
“But these programmes need to be more beneficiary-driven in a way that the interventions offered per time make the biggest “bang for the buck” and actually attack the real pain point. Also it is my opinion that government interventions are likely to be better served if they are delivered through practitioners in the space as opposed to government itself intervening directly.”
All that said, he believes investor interest in Nigeria and the continent in general is clearly on the rise.
“It’s a lot better than it used to be. A lot of foreign investors are beginning to look towards Africa and other emerging economies. The entrance of foreign accelerators into the continent has sent signals to local investors,” said Aina.