The African Opportunity: Diaspora Angel Network co-founder Isobel Olisa-Ashar highlights the trends in the African continent
Our members have been working harder than ever in 2020 to keep investment flowing and protect their portfolios during the COVID-19 pandemic. No country or continent has been unaffected and it’s been a challenging time for everyone across the world. One of our newer members, Diaspora Angel Network (DAN), has gone from strength-to-strength in 2020 so we had a chat with Isobel Olisa-Ashar, one of the co-founders, to find out more.
DAN was set up in May by Isobel and her husband, and fellow co-founder, Gerrad Olisa-Ashar. After living the UK for the past 20 years, they decided to set up the network to help accelerate economic growth in Africa and improve the standard of living for Africans.
Explaining their main objective since launching, Isobel shares:
“Our main objective is to partner locally with angel networks and innovation hubs in the (African) continent. We are strengthening that partnership with those operating locally because only through them could we get the work done. The entrepreneurs in Africa will go to them for funds and they pass on those opportunities to us.”
That’s not DAN’s only objective. They are also engaging with the African country embassies in the UK to create awareness and they are focusing on growing their membership by reaching out to the Africans in the diaspora. What criteria does a potential member need to meet?
“It’s very simple, they need to be self-certified high-net-worth individuals. By that I mean, they need to have income in excess of £100,000 or net assets in excess of £250,000. A sophisticated investor could be a company also, pulling over £1 million in two years.”
One of DAN’s unique selling points is that they believe investors should offer more than just their money to entrepreneurs. While members don’t have to mentor, they are encouraged to do so as Isobel says it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
“We strongly recommend that members can spare some hours weekly mentoring the founders and don’t just give them their money. The whole idea of the diaspora is that we Africans have certain expertise that is rare on the continent. Other than giving our disposable income, because we’re economically empowered to do so, we also have different skills and expertise that we believe they should be willing to part with as well. It’s a win-win for both sides because it ensures that an investment comes to the expected end.”
“We strongly recommend that members can spare some hours weekly mentoring the founders and don’t just give them their money.”
At present, there are a wealth of opportunities for investors in the African continent. The pandemic has highlighted that the digital enabled world hasn’t matured in Africa as quickly as it has in other areas and there’s a growing trend now that’s putting focus on changing that.
“The trend we’re seeing is a digital enabled world. For example, in financial technology a lot of the financial transactions could be more automated, and could be a lot more technology enabled. We’re seeing a lot of FinTech opportunities. We’re seeing a lot of education technology opportunities as well. Most of the education is done face-to-face, but especially since COVID a lot of the education has gone virtual, as it has in the UK. Entrepreneurs are beginning to think of delivering education on a technology platform.”
When it comes to vetting opportunities, Isobel is keen to emphasise the importance of mentoring. She says:
“We wouldn’t invest in anyone that we can’t mentor. We believe in being involved in the organisation to mentor a founder and to give them, for example, emotional intelligence. A founder can have the best idea, and have the best technical skills, but they need emotional competencies like social skills, how to manage a team and how to motivate the team. We wouldn’t invest if they’re not able to commit to mentorship as part of the package of funding. We need to be convinced that they have enough structure in place to be able to successfully execute their idea.”
With the support of Tomi Davies, the President of the African Business Angel Network (ABAN) and DAN chairman, and their trustees, DAN feels confident that they are in a strong position to grow over the next 12 months. Enthusing about their plans, Isobel comments:
“We have four key African hubs – Lagos, Johannesburg, Kenya and Tunisia. Those hubs have the fastest growing ecosystems of startups. We want to create more awareness working with the embassies by having webinars and focus on valuing startups. The next webinar we have is for Kenya in October and then we’ve got two more next year. We also want to increase our membership capacity but we don’t really have a figure in mind. We want quality over quantity.””
Find out more about Diaspora Angel Network (DAN) at https://www.diasporaangels.com.