The year is 2010, a young Eric Osiakwan is engaged in two experiments; getting the West Africa Backhaul Company (WABco) off the ground as an entrepreneur during the day and backing early-stage tech startups by night. Over the next three years, the former faces major headwinds whilst the latter takes off, and with it his career transition from entrepreneur to angel investor. A few well-meaning friends cautioned me against investing in the hitherto unknown world of early-stage tech. They saw it as a sure path to losing the few cents I had made over the course of a decade and a half, building Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Internet Services Providers Associations (ISPAs), Internet eXchange Points (IXPs), Internet eXchange Points Associations (IXPAs) and Fiber Cable Companies (FCC) across Africa.
My first legacy project, building the ISPs, ISPAs, IXPs and IXPAs culminated in the Africa ISP Association (AfrISPA), an organization I co-founded and run with William Stucke from South Africa, Brian Longwe from Kenya and others. Originated by the Halfway Proposition, our flagship project , the Africa Internet eXchange System (AXIS) is now operated and funded fully under the auspices of the African Union (AU) – yes, we got the AU to implement a private sector project within the Program on Infrastructure Development for Africa (PIDA) under Agenda 2063. My second legacy project was as a founding member of The East Africa Marine Systems (TEAMS) with Dr. Bitange Ndemo, then Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in Kenya and others. Dr Ndemo invited me after reading the Open Access Model that Anders Comstedt, Russell Southwood and myself had authored for the WorldBank through the agency of Infodev. TEAMS was the first Open Access Model cable built between 2007 and 2008 when Kenya was experiencing an election crisis. Today, twenty subsea cables have been built across the continent using this model.
Back then, when I went to bed each night, my pillow would urge me to focus on the tail winds and when I did, I slept well. It came to pass that in March of 2013, I was invited by the World Bank as an angel investor to their global innovation summit in East London, South Africa. At the event, Andile Ngcaba, thirty-five entrepreneurs and I would co-founded Angel Africa List – a network of angel investors to back these founders. We then decided to launch Angel Fair Africa (AFA) as the flagship deal making event to bring the angel investors and entrepreneurs together – to do deals. This was made possible through a partnership with Jamie Clyde of the Slow Lounge, Ross Douglas and Cobi Labuscagne of the Joburg Arts Fair. We tagged the first event on 26th September 2013 at the Sandton Convention Centre, “the art of emerging business before the business of arts”. This would give the art buyers a chance to invest in these emerging businesses before their business of buying art.
After taking the event to Nigeria in 2014, Ghana in 2015, Kenya in 2016, Ivory Coast in 2017, Mozambique in 2018, Tanzania in 2019, Senegal in 2020 (virtual due to covid), Uganda in 2021 (cancelled to the Ebola scare) and Mauritius in 2022 (cancelled again due to a hurricane), AFA finally turned ten in 2023 (aka AFA@10) with a celebratory event in Cape Town, South Africa. We went back to South Africa where it all started but to a different city. Cape Town was a welcoming city for our tenth anniversary celebrations.
In 2013, after the first AFA event, it became clear to me that I needed a vehicle to house and propel my investments so in early 2014, I set out to establish Chanzo Capital in Mauritius as an investment firm. Chanzo is a Swahili word meaning “early stage” which is the character of the firm built on the premise of “backing early-stage African founders who are building tech ventures that are building the digital economy in Africa starting with the KINGS (Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa). Our Startup strategy was to identify these early-stage founders from the annual AFA events, build an investment conviction, take a leap of faith and coalesce other investors in our orbit to co-invest. On a deal-by-deal basis, we saw ourselves investing in sixteen startups by 2020 with four strike outs – making up Fund One which currently has a Net Asset Value (NAV) of $50M representing 10X.
During covid, we started our second fund under our Startup strategy taking the same form with a few deviations based on the learnings from Fund One. For example, we started backing second time founders which we never did in fund One. In Fund Two, we also backed founders who had left their corporate careers to pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions after gaining some financial security and a lot of experience in the corporate world. These founders were significantly different from those without corporate experience and those doing it for the first time. We also ventured in Fund Two outside the KINGS by dipping our toes in the waters of Senegal, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia. At the end of 2023, we had 16 investments in our second fund under our Startup strategy.
Some of the ventures from our first fund are profitable and started inflecting – growing outside their original country of operation. As we observed this phenomenon, we started realizing a scaleup opportunity as the next step for these ventures. So we launched our Scaleup strategy which is primarily to provide Capital, Capacity and Community (CCC) as a bundled service to startup ventures who are looking to scaleup in Africa. As we celebrate our tenth anniversary as a firm in 2024, we are grateful for our success in our Startup strategy with two funds and we are going to build on that by moving to gear two with our Scaleup strategy which would focus on scaling ventures into multiple countries to make them big enough to be acquired and or listed. Scaling up African tech ventures aka building African tech multi-nationals will be Chanzo Capital’s focus over the next decade. I would be writing considerably about it, and this is my introduction to the subject. Stay tuned!