Global Banker Takes On Investing In Africa with Chui Ventures
Meet Joyce-Ann Wainaina, a veteran of Citibank who has spent over 30 years driving economic growth across Africa. Now, she’s shifting gears to launch Chui Ventures, her own investment firm focused on early-stage African startups. In this enlightening interview, Wainaina delves into her motivation for starting Chui Ventures, shares insights on the current state of venture capital in Africa, and discusses how her portfolio companies are leveraging innovative technologies to transform the continent. Don’t miss this exclusive Q&A as she provides a glimpse into the African entrepreneurial landscape through the lens of an experienced banker turned investor.
The FutureList: After over 30 years working at Citi, what inspired you to launch Chui Ventures?
Joyce-Ann: During my career working at Citi across Africa, it was evident that the continent, with the youngest population globally, was being positively impacted by improving education levels and ubiquitous mobile technology. However, formal employment levels were still extremely low and access to bank capital was inadequate for startup companies. I started out as an Angel Investor over 6 years ago and registered an investment company with my daughters who helped formalize our structures and source the best investments across Africa.
Last year, I took a sabbatical from Citi and spent 4 months teaching at Yale University, Jackson School of Global Affairs where I taught a seminar on “Catalysing Private Sector Investment in Africa”. We discussed various types of investments including Venture Capital (VC) and Impact Investment as well as traditional Banking.
In January 2023 I retired from Citibank after over 30 years and launched Chui Ventures Fund I.
The FutureList: As a lifelong learner, what have you learned so far about early-stage investing?
Joyce-Ann: Early-stage investing in Africa has transformed significantly over the past few years. Previously start-ups relied heavily on family, friends, and community groups (I believe most Africans are informal Angel investors), before moving to micro-lenders, cooperatives, and banks. Venture Capital investment flows into Africa gained in popularity over the past 5 years with about US$1Bn in 2018 growing to over US$ 5Bn in 2022, a 5-fold increase in 5 years.
Venture Capital flows into Africa have had a strong investment bias towards male founders (over 95%) and foreign founders (over 80%), perhaps because most of the VC flows have emanated from foreign investors. These statistics inspired our decision to launch Chui Ventures, a Pan African Seed Fund with a gender-inclusive focus, backing African founders building mass-market solutions.
The FutureList: Chui Ventures invests in “Technology Enabled” startups. What are some of the most innovative technologies being used and developed by your portfolio companies?
- Fintech: Fingo Africa in partnership with Ecobank, launched the first neo-bank in East Africa for Africa’s youth. Fingo users can open a bank account in less than 4 minutes, send money and maintain bank accounts with minimal transaction fees.
- SaaS (Logistics): Leta – a fast-growing logistics-tech company revolutionizing supply chain logistics in Africa with a focus on last-mile delivery leveraging AI to manage fleet vehicles.
- Social Commerce: Pricepally – a D2C social commerce platform that connects farmers directly to consumers in Nigeria and currently operates in the country’s four major cities; Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, and Ibadan.
- E-commerce: ShopZetu is Kenya’s leading online platform with the latest trendy fashion, beauty, and accessory brands. ShopZetu was born out of the need for a multi-brand marketplace to bridge a highly fragmented industry that has “hundreds of thousands of sellers” offline and online including on Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp.
- B2B Retail Marketplace: MarketForce provides a unified digital commerce marketplace to facilitate trade among Africa’s neighborhood merchants which are highly fragmented and leading consumer brands.
The FutureList: While Chui Ventures is “Sector Agnostic”, are there any particular sectors or thematic areas that the firm is most excited about at the moment?
Joyce-Ann: Our core thematic areas include e-commerce, logistics, healthcare, climate technology, and agriculture.
The FutureList: How do your portfolio companies balance expansion opportunities within Africa versus globally?
Joyce-Ann: Our portfolio companies engage in collaborations and partnerships with local businesses, entrepreneurs, and organizations in Africa. These collaborations help them gain deeper insights into the local market, establish strong distribution networks, navigate regulatory hurdles, and build relationships with key stakeholders. Such partnerships facilitate expansion while respecting and leveraging local expertise. They view Africa as a launching pad for global growth. By establishing a strong presence in Africa, they can leverage their expertise, resources, and success to expand into other regions globally. In all to say, they balance expansion opportunities by carefully evaluating market conditions, adapting strategies, forming partnerships, and leveraging their strengths to maximize growth both within Africa and globally.
The FutureList: In which ways does Chui Ventures provide post-investment support to its portfolio companies?
Joyce-Ann: We support in 3 ways: 1) Fundraising through co-investment opportunities with LPs and introducing portfolio companies to potential investors in current rounds and later-stage funds for future funding rounds; 2) Help with access to world-class advisors that are industry/sector /product/ regional experts. We also sit on advisory boards of our portfolio companies; 3) We also help founders in recruiting the best talent.
The FutureList: Is Chui Ventures currently deploying capital, and if so, what are the best ways for startups to get in touch?
Joyce-Ann: Yes, we are actively deploying capital. Chui Ventures does not do direct solicitation for startups, we obtain proposals mainly through referrals from ecosystem partners.
Find Chui Ventures on The FutureList here.