AOT 3.0 Lagos – What Do Investors Want?

It was an honour and privilege to be invited to speak at Art of Technology Lagos 3.0 (AOT Lagos 3.0), themed Funding and a Connected Lagos hosted by the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu and the Eko Innovation Centre.

Over the two days, watching the conference online from my home in London, what I experienced was a Lagos on the move, resilient, dynamic, changing, creative, buzzing, innovating and full of confidence. This despite enduring the global pandemic, recession and inflation which has impacted the Nigerian economy over the past two years. Without a doubt, Nigerian entrepreneurs continue to make Lagos a welcoming place for innovation and institutional capital.

Leveraging technology as an enabler, the Lagos State Governor shared a list of initiatives his administration has launched, such as network fibre projects to connect schools and hospitals, smart city projects using technology for security, intelligent transport for street lights and traffic control for safety, ensuring data access and insights to drive state policy, building Yaba Technology Park (my favourite), supporting the Lagos State Science and Research Innovation Council for funding startups, and building the Startup Lagos Platform for exposing startups to investors, to name a few.

This article shares my contributions to the panel, “Understanding the VC Logic: What do Investors Want?”, examining the key things needed for a great pitch, how innovation can stand out, and how public-private partnerships can create an enabling environment for Africa’s startups.

Master the art of telling the story of your business through a compelling deck and engaging delivery. Pitching is 98% storytelling. Your deck is the raw material, the science, but storytelling is art.

Stay connected with the WHY – your reason for the business – remember that your story is bigger than your business. Who are you? What drives you? What is your motivation? What is the story of your community, country, region, or continent? What do you care about, what are your passion, purpose? We are all wired for stories, and an emotional story is a glue on which facts will stick. Once you get the story points right, the content will follow.

Creating Content for the VC Deck – from experience, I have seen how founders spend too much time on getting the deck right. Remember, investors have a limited attention span, so focus on the most important information, and screen out the rest. It is important to be creative in how you present your content, using data visualisation, pictures, etc.

Make the investor feel the problem, the opportunity and your solution, and then work on your delivery, keeping it simple, high energy, and upbeat. Focus on telling your business story and never pretend to be someone you are not.

Understanding the Mindset of Investors – I shared my most recent experience of working with the founders of Wazima Health, an e-health platform already in Nigeria and Ghana and helping them to refine their story and then research the funding landscape which aligned to their goals.

Do not take the “pray and spray approach” – be focused and strategic, and do the research to find the alignment between your product and the investor you are pitching to. While researching for Wazima Health, we asked of potential investors: “do they work in Africa?”, “do they invest in healthcare?”, and “what and who is already in their portfolio?”.

Investors are looking for great founders and teams, with a passion for their solutions, not personal renown or riches. They want to be convinced that founders are experts in the problems they are looking to solve and can teach them about these problems. They also want to see that they are working with the right people, with direct experience of the problem, and want to see evidence of traction over time, pushing in a consistent direction over a long period. Investors prioritise the founders’ ability to communicate clearly, and increasingly want to work with founders who are open to collaboration, and who are teachable, coachable and can build long term relationships that go beyond the cheque. This is crucial because the non-financial services and gains of working with investors are of equal value, if not more, than the cheque.

The public-private partnerships must create an enabling environment for Africa’s startups. Post-COVID, African SMEs must be engaged in reimagining Africa because they are part of the solution to building back after the pandemic. To enable this, policymakers must believe and invest in SMEs.  Private and public partnerships must ask and listen to what African entrepreneurs need to succeed and provide an enabling business environment.

This could be in terms of government regulations. Governments must be aware of the issues and challenges surrounding growth entrepreneurship and be proactive in implementing policies that are conducive to entrepreneurship development. Engaged governments should also be able to identify the results of past and ongoing entrepreneurship support initiatives, and dedicate resources to supporting entrepreneurship.

Infrastructure also plays a role in creating environments for SMEs to thrive. Infrastructure such as roads, ports, communication networks, access to electricity, etc, must be sufficiently developed. Governments can also establish institutions that are dedicated to entrepreneurship development, with clearly defined roles, and regularly evaluated for their efficiency. Support systems can be made available that offer specific services to support entrepreneurship development.

Part of creating an enabling environment includes how entrepreneurship is viewed in mainstream culture, especially when mainstream values coincide with an entrepreneurial state of mind that stimulates strong entrepreneurial vocations.

Private-public partnerships can also play a role in skills development. Where supply and demand do not match in the labour market, the professional skills and necessary human resources must be made available by assessing the levels of education and vocational training among the general population and meeting this gap.

Entrepreneurs also require seed capital to develop their business idea, and to kick start and grow their businesses. In order to create an enabling environment around SME funding, we must identify the actors financing entrepreneurship, the financing mechanisms entrepreneurs have access to, and the conditions and restrictions to accessing this financing.

Entrepreneurs will also need access to marketplaces, providing them with business opportunities to sell their products and services, but in order to support them, they must have easy access to markets. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will expand African SMEs’ access to a market of over one billion people from across the continent, and can transform the outlook for many African SMEs.

Finally, African entrepreneurs need mentoring and access to both local and international networks, for ideas exchange, to share stories of challenges and successes from fellow entrepreneurs, and to learn from past mistakes from business mentors.

In conclusion, the Lagos State Government say that they are listening, that they want greater collaboration with local entrepreneurs, and they are taking steps to create an enabling business environment. At the same time, local and international investors are working together to bring new capital into the city.

Lack of capital is not the problem, because we know that capital follows ideas, and that ideas come from entrepreneurs obsessed with solving problems. Lagos, Nigeria and Africa are the new destinations for innovation and capital.

My call to the Governor for AOT 4.0 in 2022 is to come prepared to share the impact story of its initiatives for better businesses, and the key role of Lagos-based entrepreneurs in helping to deliver these initiatives. Lagos will thrive when it is organised around the needs of its entrepreneurs, its young men and women. The story of Lagos is the story of these entrepreneurs – their difficulties, success and failures in creating breakout solutions for Lagos, Nigeria and Africa. The role of the Lagos State Government is to enable and support these entrepreneurs to build their businesses.

Something great is happening in Lagos, and I invite you to believe in this incredible, vibrant city and its people and imagine it in 10 years from now, where technology is being leveraged for good.

I looking forward to hearing the impact story of Lagos State and of the entrepreneurs from this dynamic city at AOT 4.0 2022. Meanwhile, if you missed the event, you can catch Day 1 of AOT Lagos 3.0 here and Day 2 here. Find the 2020 edition of AOT here, and the inaugural 2019 edition here.

About Parminder Vir OBE

In a professional career spanning 40 years, Parminder Vir OBE has dedicated her life to telling untold stories, resourcing the skills and imagination of under-served communities. She is an expert on African entrepreneurship, an award-winning film and television producer and advocate for arts and culture. She currently serves as the Chair of Ongoza, Kenya, and an Advisory Board member of Dalberg Media. She served as the CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation where she designed and implemented a holistic entrepreneurship programme, impacting over 10,000 African entrepreneurs across 54 African countries from 2014–2019. She continues to advocate for entrepreneurship as the best path for the social and economic development of Africa.

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