It is no doubt that female founders around the world are faced with challenges especially around receiving funding and mentorship.
These and many more have been identified as the barriers stalking the scalability of female-led founders/entrepreneurs.
However to drive this scalability, what is required is believing in the entrepreneurial potential of African women.
One organization, leading this charge to empower upcoming female founders at scale, is African Tech Vision founded by Sohaila Ouffata.
African Tech Vision is inspiring and nurturing the next generation of purpose-driven African female entrepreneurs by connecting them with experienced role models while building scalable tech businesses by unlocking real commercial opportunities
The program is designed for female founders at an early stage with high interest to learn from and exchange with international mentors from the startup and tech scene. Most likely your business is somewhere between the ideation phase and before your Series A.
This program is all about learning, sharing, and growing. It however does not provide funding for your startup.
To learn more about African Tech Vision, we had a chat with Sohaila Ouffata
Can we formally meet you?
I am a full-time venture capital investor working on behalf of BMW i Ventures an auto-tech company in the mobility space.
I have been in this space for seven years, having spent the last 12 years always at the intersection of corporates and startups.
Due to my African roots, my thoughts have been centred around how I can create a positive impact and what I could do for the ecosystem.
I am very well connected in the global startup world, and I felt I could contribute a lot with my knowledge, relationships and network.
So the idea was born to build an all digital ecosystem for startup founders and once we looked into the startup scene a bit closer, we discovered that specifically female founders are lacking mostly access to really good mentors or knowledge, which is relevant to scaling their companies.
Thus the idea of the African Tech Vision is to provide a hands-on mentoring program, which is all completely digital, and fully virtual.
The program comes with very good, high quality international and African mentors, alongside the curriculum, which provides knowledge around entrepreneurship.
What has been the cause of the funding gap for female founders?
It is a general problem and not peculiar to Africa alone, globally, there are not enough female founders, so this is a worldwide problem of the tech scene.
However, when it comes to African female founders specifically, the challenges include lack of access to relationships or business networks, knowledge, and funding.
These are the three biggest problems when it comes to female founders and their capabilities to scale their businesses.
How is your platform driving support for female founders and what has been your milestone since you started?
Our most important milestone was the first program that we launched, until the end of June this year.
This summer, the program included the matchmaking of over 50 founders and mentors.
The program was all virtual and it’s fully non-profit, thus the founders don’t pay, they don’t give equity, everything is completely free of charge.
The program was also Pan-African as we had founders from Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast.
We had great feedback from the founders, as well as from the mentors as they perceived it as a very good founder-oriented program of high quality.
The founders also added that the program had a big impact on their businesses, including that the mentors they met were very important for them.
The mentors in our program are people with high quality backgrounds, dedicating their time for free because they are part of our network.
Our organization is run by people from the startup world, we’re not a foundation. We’re full time workers in the startup venture capital world globally.
We understand what the needs of the founders are, thus our program is very founder-oriented.
How does the program work?
It starts all with an application, which can be found on our website, there’s a form for founders or interested mentors.
After the application, we then select the ones that fit. We are looking for technology startups as the program is not for social businesses because our background is from the tech space.
Therefore technology startups, from every industry have more than a concept like a pre-seed company, a company that is already incorporated and has its first customers already, or is building them up.
When the program starts, basically, we train the entrepreneurs on how to make the most out of mentoring.
So they receive training from us on how to build a mentorship relationship, then we match them with mentors that fit the requirements that they have.
Some founders would like to have support for marketing and sales, others on the business plan, so we try to matchmake as good as possible, and connect them with the mentors.
The mentorship relationship is very much defined by the needs of the founders, and the needs of the mentor.
So they are free to schedule as many calls as they want or connect over WhatsApp or whatever is best for them.
Then, in the program itself, which is the last one run for six weeks, we will now extend the next one, which will start at the beginning of next year for 10 weeks.
We have a bunch of content workshops around topics like how to pitch, how to prepare a good marketing and sales plan, how to scale your team.
And then there are social events where you can connect with other mentors or with other founders, this comes with a feeling that you’re part of a strong community.
This is the sort of curated program you get when you are a part of the African tech vision, you’re always part of the community, you can always stay around.
Hopefully, we’d love to bring in so many founders in the future that one day, once they are experienced and very successful, they could become mentors for the younger generation.
What are your criteria for choosing founders and mentors?
Mentors need to have subject matter expertise, they need to be very successful in what they do.
Maybe they are experts in marketing, or sales or finance, or legal, all of the topics which are relevant to startup.
Ideally, we are asking them for previous experience and mentoring. So the ideal mentor for us must have mentored in high quality accelerators or worked with startups.
Some of our mentors are angel investors, through their investments, they have been engaged with startups.
So these are some of the selection criteria. The reason the quality of our mentors is so high is that a lot of them come directly through our network.
When we reached a call for mentors, mainly over LinkedIn, we received overwhelmingly high interest.
And for us, it was very important to make sure that we have a lot of African mentors involved because it doesn’t make sense to coach an African startup if you have no affinity with Africa.
With your drive for women founders on the African continent, how do you think a STEM education can be promoted?
It’s extremely important and I’m very happy to see that there are more and more initiatives coming up to open up doors for girls in school-age already to be interested in the STEM space.
This is the most important innovative space where your academic career can make a difference.
But also there are a lot of coding schools, a lot of organizations offer girls possibilities to code, and I think technology overall has the potential to democratize access, to wealth in building your own company, to everything you can achieve.
If you’re not afraid of technology, and if you use these tools, it can open up an entire world for you and that makes a big difference.
Featured Image: Sohaila Ouffata, Founder, African Tech Vision
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