Why Now Is the Perfect Time to Join a Fast-growing Startup in Africa

Tobi Lafinhan
May 4, 2020 · 6 min read

How might we forge a connection between startups operating in Africa who need talent more than ever, and those around the world looking for the right opportunity to devote their passion, skills and time — right now?

The past couple of months have undoubtedly been a crazy and stressful time for all of us around the world. The COVID-19 crisis started as something that at first seemed far away for those of us on the continent, but it has quickly taken hold and changed how we do almost everything — how we live, how we socialize, how we work, and, for many if we work at all.

Looking back on events that have taken place so far, I am very grateful for the things that I am still able to do. I still get to speak with friends and family — even if from afar. I still get to ride my bike and get outside. Most of all, I still get to work from my home in Ghana and try to make change happen. But this is not the case for a lot of people. Many have lost jobs, opportunities and sources of income. No one truly has an idea of what the future holds or when that future will begin to take shape.

For startups — particularly those in emerging markets — the economic crisis is felt even more. Getting a business off the ground is challenging enough — I’ve seen this firsthand during my time leading recruitment at MEST Africa’s entrepreneurial training program. Many startups had just a few weeks or months of runway before COVID-19 hit, and most were relying on a potential fundraise to keep their lights on, not to mention the hard work of their employees. Many have had to make tough decisions when it comes to cutting costs, including laying off their staff or shutting down operations entirely. As the global economic crisis and lockdown continues, demand for certain types of products and services have dwindled, cash-flows are thinning, and bills are piling up.

However, for those businesses who are able to not only continue operations during this time but in some instances find opportunities to thrive, the need for talented, agile and dedicated staff who can keep them operating throughout the course of the storm is more important than ever. There are new projects to chase down, new solutions to build, and even a growing demand for the solutions they already offer. But the reality for many is that they do not have the capacity or cash-flow to hire for every single gap in their team.

How might we forge a connection between startups operating in Africa who need talent more than ever, and those around the world looking for the right opportunity to devote their passion, skills and time — right now?

On the other side of this coin, some very talented individuals are currently sitting on their hands — either from being furloughed, having internships cancelled, or having programs they were enrolled in placed on hold. This has left them hoping, praying and waiting for something -, anything — to come through. Some of them have even gone on to take up odd jobs in a bid to make any kind of income. Presented with such uncertainty, time and opportunity, many around the world are taking a second look at their careers and being bolder in their decision to #taketheleap into a new market, a new role or a new industry entirely.

In the middle of all that is going on, I sat down (not physically, because #socialdistancing) with a few folks in my network and had conversations around how exactly we can play our part in creating value and making a positive difference in this season.

How might we forge a connection between startups operating in Africa who need talent more than ever, and those around the world looking for the right opportunity to devote their passion, skills and time — right now?

The Venture for Africa Fellowship

The team at Venture for Africa is made up of myself and three colleagues who came together a few months back after recognizing a common problem in Africa’s startup ecosystem: there are startups across the continent who consistently struggle to find the best talent and fill gaps on their teams. They rely heavily on their own networks and word of mouth. At the same time, there are a number of super talented and hungry individuals on the ground where they operate, in the diaspora and around the world, who want to break into the startup ecosystem but either don’t have the right contacts or don’t have adequate in-market or startup-specific experience.

We conceived of Venture for Africa as an initiative that would work to bridge this gap by creating a short-term fellowship program that brings ambitious talent from across Africa and around the world to African tech hubs, where talent-hungry startups await. There they would access expert mentorship to grow specific skill sets, gain local experience in-market, and work on real projects for startups, who would evaluate them for hire at the end of the program.

While gearing up to launch Venture for Africa, we took stock of the current crisis and thought: what better opportunity than now to kick off and play our role in supporting startups, by providing them with access to all sorts of talent that might not ordinarily be available?

This is why in May 2020 we announced the launch of a remote, short-term paid fellowship program, called the VFA C19 Remote Fellowship.

The 3-month, full-time fellowship enables talented individuals from anywhere in the world to dive into work with high-growth startups.

Fellows get access to:

  • Expert mentors with experience on the ground in African markets, as well as in the specific roles our startups are looking to fill. These mentors lead virtual workshops throughout the program and guide fellows during their journey, in an effort to set them up for success
  • Real responsibilities at startups on the ground in Kenya. Fellows are able to hit the ground running with projects from the start while gaining access to senior executives at leading startups who provide feedback on their work (fellows also receive a stipend)
  • An opportunity to apply for a full-time role at these startups, at the end of the program

Startups in phase 1 of the fellowship were:

  • Sokowatch — a fintech startup and logistics provider in East Africa, that enables small merchants to purchase inventory for their shop on-demand, with same-day delivery, and purchase on credit. The company recently raised a $14M Series A and is working with the Kenyan government on initiatives to provide coupons used to purchase essential goods to underserved Kenyans via Sokowatch Dukas, or merchant shops
  • OkHi — a KYC and digital addressing system which enables businesses — from delivery services to emergency responders — to more easily and accurately locate individuals without the need to call them or use landmark-based directions
  • Turaco — a micro-insurance company which offers underserved customers in Kenya and Uganda insurance coverage for as little as $2/month, paid out via mobile money, in an effort to insure 1 billion people. The team recently launched insurance products which cover hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in their markets.

Access more information about being a part of future fellowship rounds at our website here.

There’s never been a better time to put your skills, talent and passion to work for the companies that will undoubtedly be playing a significant role in leading Africa’s post-COVID reality.

Venture for Africa

#taketheleap

Venture for Africa

Venture for Africa is a fellowship program designed to fill talent gaps in Africa’s startup ecosystem by enabling top local and global fellows to access opportunities at leading startups in Africa.

Tobi Lafinhan

Written by

I write about workplace tips, tricks & hacks. Co-founder @Venture4Africa.

Venture for Africa

Venture for Africa is a fellowship program designed to fill talent gaps in Africa’s startup ecosystem by enabling top local and global fellows to access opportunities at leading startups in Africa.

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