Entrepreneurs are a dime a dozen in this millennial age. Here on the African continent, the main obstacles preventing one from getting their business started is the lack of enough capital and investors ready to believe in your new, cool idea.
Valentine Njoroge, a young entrepreneur from Kenya, saw this problem and decided to fix it by starting an online crowdfunding company for African businesses, Mradifund.
Her passion about financial inclusions and development, entrepreneurship and impact investments, not only inspired the start of this initiative but also landed her the coveted role as projects director at East Africa’s leading investment firm, Centum Investments Ltd at the tender age of 24.
SLA contributor Diana caught up with Valentine and got her to share her tricks and tips to making it in the fast paced financial world and why she is determined to help other young people get their dream off the ground and become a success.
When did you first get interested in the investments industry?
One of my first internships was at Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), a micro-finance institution focused on funding low income women. The women who got these loans had such incredible stories of transformation.
They would start very impressive businesses and see their lives changed because of these loans. This got me really interested in the investments space and I got to discover all sorts of other verticals in the industry.
How did the idea of Mradifund come about?
Mradifund has been a journey of sorts. One of my senior seminars while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree was all about economic development. I chose to focus my paper on alternative investments in Africa (with a bias on Kenya).
While researching for this class, I came across Kickstarter, which was still fairly new at the time. They had applied crowdfunding to social/cultural works of art that the public wanted to see. I thought the same concept could be applied to businesses, so I wrote about Equity Crowdfunding. I envisioned a situation where the general public could fund ‘cool’ companies that were too small to be interesting to the traditional investor.
Fast forward a few months, I was working in Private Wealth Management aiding high net worth individuals to allocate their wealth to various investment opportunities. Then, one of my clients asked if there was a way he could invest in African companies.
At the time, I said I didn’t know, but kept researching. When I next visited home, I started finding out more about start ups and SME financing. I eventually connected that same client to a startup which he invested in.
He later asked me how much I would charge for the connection which triggered the thought that this could be an actual business. I moved back home a few months after that and spent some time fine tuning the ideas from my paper. The experience of actually connecting a business to an investor is what inspired Mradifund today.
You currently have various investors from not only Kenya but all over the world. How did you manage to get them on board with your vision for online crowdfunding?
I still know all of my investors personally, so I met each of them and explained the concept to get them on board. Most of Mradifund’s investors already have an interest in funding businesses due to a variety of reasons including past experience or passion for SMEs or a certain sector.
Investing with other people is valuable to them because it allows them to spread the risk of investing in SMEs over several opportunities by putting less money into each opportunity. The fact that the investment is shared among several people also means that investors can make more investments.
Again, this spreads the risk which makes investors happy. (If an investor has KES. 10M, they can invest KES. 1M in 10 companies and the probability of 10 companies failing/losing money is lower than that of 1 company failing). This is what makes them stay.
You are also currently the Projects Director at Centum Investments. How do you juggle running your own company, working at such a big corporate company and still get time to live life?
Haha, well… I have learned how to use the resources around me to the max!
My board at Mradifund, my team at Centum, my friends and family all help me achieve my goals in little ways, even if they don’t realize it sometimes.
I kill two birds with one stone on very many occasions, especially in the work/friends’ quadrants. Also, I have had to learn how to be very efficient with prioritizing the urgent and important stuff. I say no to stuff that’s just interesting (but not value adding) or just feels like an obligation when it’s really not.
Did you ever see yourself going the entrepreneurial route or did you just chance upon it?
I have always kind of had an entrepreneurial spirit in me. I sold everything as a kid and I grew up in a very entrepreneurial family, so maybe in that sense I never had to think about it much.
It became clear to me once I was already in it that it was a big passion of mine. I did spend a ton of time dreaming up my career in corporate (it was constantly changing) —wearing suits and carrying a briefcase as a teenager though.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
One of the founders of the a business that Centum Foundation supported wrote me an email saying how much impact we had on his company through our mentorship program.
He spoke about the knowledge and opportunities it opened up to him, as well as how much more confident it made him. As a result, he was able to partner with a major retailer which turned his business into an overnight success.
It was really heartfelt and was very inspiring!
As a young woman working in the male-driven field of finance, what challenges do you face and how do you overcome them?
The usual challenges come up —men talking to each other and excluding you, being the only woman and being referred to as ‘sweetie’ or something similar. Thankfully, I do think the industry is becoming more accepting of the ‘woman’ aspect —these things happen very rarely now.
The ‘young’ aspect on the other hand is still a bit more of an issue. Centum is known for its young workforce, so it has never been an issue in the work place. However, one of the things my colleagues and I bond over is how most people instantly under estimate a 20-something year old in meetings or projects where most participants are 30 and 40+ years old.
With both challenges, I put my head down and aim to change people’s minds with my content —eventually people want value and the age/gender of the deliverer becomes a non-issue very quickly when you are killing it.
Lastly, what advice would you give to other young women interested in entrepreneurship?
Start! Women are always less aggressive with taking these kinds of risks whereas men just do it. If you have an idea, do something about it.
Even if it’s as small as creating a twitter handle for the business, start by doing something and eventually the dream will become reality.
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