The VC4A story with Founder Ben White

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Ben White, the founder of VC4A, sat down with Startups West Africa to tell us about the VC4A platform and how it all started.

VC4A has facilitated 4.2 million page views to date and has members registered across 159 countries. The platform functions as a pan-African network of entrepreneurs and investors, connecting the like-minded individuals.

As Ben White tells me, the platform has leveraged technology to operate a scalable virtual network and to engage hundreds of thousands of individuals with a small team. Online networking, recruitment, mentorship, access to free online learning tools, news and access to related programs are some of the services provided by VC4A.

This has increased the visibility of the ecosystem globally and VC4A is in the center of that – mentors, investors, program managers, academics, media professionals and many more stakeholders recognize the VC4A platform as a channel to reach the promising founders across the continent.

The ventures that meet specific criteria can list their fund raising campaigns and up to date, the 234 ventures listed on the platform have been able to raise more than $73 million. The platform is just at it’s early days – half of the $73 million raised was in 2015 alone.

VC4A-Ventures-per-country

48% of the listed ventures have attracted external capital. The average in 2015 was $326k – a big increase from $206k in 2014 and $130k in 2013. Most of the money and deals goes to South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

The platform has helped enormously to address the continent unemployment, 72% of the companies on the VC4A fundraising platform have generated revenue and the average team of each venture in 2015 was 8.9 people.

VC4A-Job-creation

The interview with Ben White from VC4A

SWA: What is the VC4A story – how did the site start?

Ben White: ​VC4A started as a volunteer led initiative in 2007, and continues to grow organically as a thriving social network to this day. In the effort to meet the growing demand of our members, we decided to professionalize the organization in February of 2010. The 2nd generation platform VC4Africa.biz was launched in November that same year with a 3rd generation platform VC4A.com following in Q1 2016. Contrary to many initiatives coming online today, VC4A was a community well before it was a platform or an organization. ​

SWA: How did you first got involved with Africa?

Ben White: Started working in television production. Worked on productions across Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This was in 2003. I could see the mobile and Internet revolution picking up speed and wanted to be part of that. This idea that more than 1 billion people could be connected in less than one generation.

Got together with a team to launch AfricaNews.com, now part of EuroNews. We built up a network of 4,000 reporters, photographers and film makers across the continent and set up production businesses in Ghana, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

The first signs of the African startup started to appear around 2009. Wanting to know more, a group of us formed a research collaboration between the University of Amsterdam and the Makerere University in Kamapala, Uganda.

I conducted what I believe is the first and maybe the only ethnographic study that looks at the emergence of software cultures in and around Kampala. My interest is to understand in how communities across the continent are working to become part of the global information society, and in how far these individuals can transition the continent from consumption to production.

Following the research, I joined Hivos to help shape the East Africa entrepreneurship program, and where we made investments in projects like Kibera Mappers and Ushahidi. I remember our meetings in the NaiLab before there was any paint on the walls. In fact, it was at the launch of the iHub a group of hub founders initiated AfriLabs as a pan African association for African innovation hubs.

SWA: What does it takes to build a startup ecosystem?

Ben White: Any healthy startup ecosystem starts with a strong community of entrepreneurs. Founders have to come together in a common interest to collaborate and work together. Start a coworking space, incubator or accelerator. Set up programs and invite seasoned entrepreneurs and investors to share their views. Engage government and help them understand why the community is important and how they can support. Coming together like this creates a necessary foundation needed for others to get involved.

SWA: What is your advice to the entrepreneurs on the ground in West Africa – what are the opportunities and how to start?

Ben White: Start simple. Look for problems you understand. Reach out to stakeholders to get their views and to test your assumptions. Leverage whatever resources and network you have to work out solutions and show they are working. Be critical about your strengths and honest about your weaknesses. Seek out co-founders that compliment your skill set. Having a qualified team is one of the most important steps you can take in setting up a new venture. Given the right skills are in place, you can start on implementation. The more traction you build up the more convincing the opportunity is for others. Tap into local events and innovation hubs to connect with others in the community. Register a free venture profile on VC4A to increase your visibility and start building your contacts internationally.

Meet Ben White in London at the upcoming Africa Tech Forum London, where he and 20+ other experts will be sharing their insights into the emerging technology opportunities to UK investors, businesses and entrepreneurs.

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Use the code ATBFSWA for a 25% discount.

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