We met at the train station in the middle of Leer, a small Deutsch village near the German border. I was with my partner on our way back to our flat in Groningen. She was with her two little girls.
A nice coincidence.
Launching a business in the Netherlands that aims to make international capital accessible to entrepreneurs based in Africa through an online platform is quite an innovative challenge, but not an impossible one. Indeed, it is a challenge that Fridah Ntarangwi and her company, ZidiCircle, are willing to take.
Fridah’s business, ZidiCircle, echoes well with the hopes of all my fellow African sisters and brothers. By simplifying investment through a platform that directly connects businesses in need of growth capital to international investors, ZidiCircle is giving African businesses a chance to prosper, supporting the whole economy to progress along the way. A concept that Fridah believes to be sustainable, in a way that allows traceable social economic benefits. And this is just what Africa needs.
Fridah gave me the opportunity to interview her about her inspiring company. From putting down her first business plan to finding her very first investors, she tells us everything about Zidicircle.
Fridah Ntarangwi, founder of ZidiCircle
It all started by putting down a personalised business plan. Then, gathering inspiration by talking to other players operating in the same market. She also joined an incubator called TEC Europe, an organisation facilitating innovative non-EU startups to set up businesses in the Netherlands.
Zidi, the name she chose to represent her company, is a Swahili word that means ‘to exceed’. Zidicircle is a social network not only of entrepreneurs but also of investors, together with partners.
From small businesses to medium size companies, Zidicircle enables financing to African companies with a need for growth capital and that can provide traceable outcomes in terms of socio-economic development.
“Even an investment of as little as Euro 50 can affect so many on the value chain. Think of a casual labourer in a small manufacturing company who is paid 3 Euros per day yet he has a family of 5 to feed, clothe, educate and shelter. If the company receives good capital injection and they are able to scale and pay their workers a decent salary look at how many household benefit, means happy employees, more productivity, more taxes…isn’t this wholesome social-economic development?”
So far, the portfolio of businesses supported through ZidiCircle have shown promising progress. The very first company that joined the ZidiCircle platform, Nikana Bakers, a bakery based in kenya, has already hired 4 more employees and put up a modern outlet. A great step forward for the owner who started off from her own kitchen and now has a stable business with optimal growing opportunities.
Then, there is Kamutech Services, a centre for skilled artisans based in Kenya, providing different services to the community such as plumbing, welding, electrical services and so on, enabling qualified artisans to access employment.
Another success story is TACCO School in Ghana, a school delivering modern and affordable education to less privilege children. All of these companies are in their second round of funding.
Children playing in TACCO School in Ghana
To minimize the risk of failure, Zidicircle also offers business couching and monitoring.
“We believe that, for a business to prosper it needs not only financing, but also to be driven professionally. We coach them to become ‘investor ready’ and we keep on monitoring and coaching them during the whole investment period. This is made possible through our pool of couching volunteers and local partners. To be able to deliver affordable financing, you need cutting edge technology that reduces middlemen intervention to deliver low cost financing. That’s Zidi’s priority”
When I asked Fridah what motivated her to start her business, she first told me that, coming from Africa herself, it was her desire to support Africa’s development.
“The much needed capital to grow businesses in Africa is not there or it is too costly. Can you imagine paying a personal or business loan at 30-50% interest? That’s what really disturbs me. That the much needed capital comes at a very high price and chokes the businesses. From my perspective, financial inclusion has to go hand in hand with its affordability. I have seen it in practice, if you give financing to a well-run business, it not only creates employment but trickles down positive effects to the households, the society and the economy” says Fridah.
Having been privileged to work for renowned companies both in Africa and Europe, Fridah was highly exposed to the innovation occurring within the business, finance, and information technology sectors. In Kenya, she was involved in the issuance of treasury bills and bonds, handling both individual investors and very large institutional investors. In the Netherlands, she was exposed to responsible investments and circular economy financing models while working for a pension fund. Furthermore, she participated in several projects by the Dutch ministry of foreign affairs that were geared toward fostering finance for Agriculture and SME’s lending in several African countries. She has been directly involved in the establishment of a supply chain finance company in Nairobi. All these experiences gave her the chance to develop a knowledgeable opinion of the African economy and she is strongly convinced that the key driving force is entrepreneurship.
If there is one thing that investing in African businesses could do it is stimulating the socio-economic development of local populations by creating more jobs.
Some International businesses are often un-aware of Africa’s investment opportunities and their priority markets tend to favour more mature economies. Unfortunately, the negative publicity and the reputation of Africa being ‘poor’ and stuck in it does not help and international companies tend to avoid exploring business opportunities in Africa.
However, some international businesses are finally starting to realise that African markets are getting more mature and safer, offering enormous opportunities at the same time.
The ZidiCircle platform was shaped to provide a direct contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
“We all need to change our mind set and stop viewing Africa with sympathy, African markets are like any other market, made of opportunities and challenges. Luckily Africans living abroad are also investing more and more in their countries of origin and they have supported us by embracing our platform as the avenue of choice to deliver these investments. In the Netherlands, and in most of other mature countries there are good structures and support for all businesses.”
Are African businesses receiving enough attention in the international markets?
“It depends”, Fridah says.
“Africa as a continent is struggling with trust issues, and that is what African oriented businesses in Europe face. In my fundraising journey I see potential funders wondering whether their money will ever come back. That being said, I have received a lot of support from all corners. Our network of investors is very diverse.”
Fridah also believes that access to affordable finance can unlock the potential of the most vulnerable among us.
Youth and women working at a Kamutech Services site in Kenya
In the early stages of Zidicircle, Fridah self-funded her business with her own resources as attracting seed capital turned out to be quite challenging. She was busy fundraising until an investment flopped after spending too much time chasing it, then she remembered what her mentor once told her, that ‘the best entrepreneurs start with what they have.’
“I realised that the platform was built, a legal structure implemented, a team in Nairobi was trained and few networks in several African countries were established to assure a good pipeline of qualified entrepreneurs ready to receive funding. All I needed were investors willing to invest into these businesses, and the business was up and running”
Fridah back in Kenya
While talking to Fridah, she also emphasized that investors are everywhere. In her opinion, every individual is be a potential investor and the real challenge is the uptake of risks and the willingness to diversify. If the interests are aligned in terms of returns on investments and expected outcome, then there is a match. During conferences she often reminds everyone that regardless of the size of their wallet they should not shy away. Even a very small investment can make a difference.
Zidi’s headquartered in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, while the African regional office is based in Nairobi, Kenya. Zidicircle operates throughout a network of representatives both in Africa and in Europe and new collaborators are joining daily.
At the moment, Zidicircle is in a full fundraising and promotion campaign. To be able to meet the huge demand in the market they need a good capital base. Fridah is currently negotiating with potential investors, and is always open to explore new partnerships.
There is no doubt that initiatives like Fridah’s can play an important role in the sustainable development of the continent, supporting Africa’s need for new sources of capital, for its progress in the long term.
For years now, Africa’s effort to attract potential international investment has been disadvantaged due to trust issues as well as the fear of risks. From political risk to occasional rebellions and corruption, the continent has, nonetheless, shown evolution and change, and will keep doing so. Africa’s businesses are improving fast. The African market is developing and investors are starting to reconsider the opportunities available throughout the continent. Once investors fully acknowledge Africa’s rapid growth and the positive transformation of its markets, they will be able to tap into the abundant opportunities that there are. More and more countries have proven themselves stable and business indexes are improving yearly. Africa’s expected economic growth is between 5% – 6% per year for the next two decades. Now, that should make any investor jump at the opportunity.
As a corporate Social responsibility initiative, Zidi also holds monthly meetups in the Netherlands and other cities in Europe to sensitize people about investing opportunities in Africa.
If you like to make a contribution or become an investors have a look at their website: ZidiCircle or email: firstname.lastname@example.org