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Norrsken22: Investing in Africa’s Next Tech Giants

Norrsken22 has rapidly positioned itself as a cornerstone of the African tech growth narrative. Through its investments and strategic partnerships, the fund is reshaping the continent’s technological landscape. As an integral part of this journey, Maina Murage, an Investment Manager at Norrsken22, lends his expertise to identify and nurture the next wave of disruptive businesses in East Africa. In a candid conversation with Tigele Nlebesi, our Investor Network Specialist at The FutureList, Maina delves deep into his experiences, the ethos of Norrsken22, and the broader VC landscape in Africa.

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: Could you start by elaborating on the Norrsken ecosystem and the distinct role you and Norrsken22 play in it?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: The Norrsken ‘family’ encompasses a range of entities. We have NorrskenVC, which is all about channelling capital to seed businesses with an environmental and social impact lens in Europe. There’s also the Norrsken Africa Seed Fund, which makes early-stage tech investments in Africa. The Norrsken Accelerator offers a ‘Y-combinator-style’ program for early-stage global impactful businesses. Then there’s us, Norrsken22, where we partner with tech businesses in Africa that have proven their scalability. Lastly, we have the Norrsken Houses, epicentres for entrepreneurship located in Kigali, Stockholm, and Barcelona.

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: With Norrsken22’s focus on growth-stage companies, how do you zero in on ventures worth backing?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: We like businesses that have found strong product-market fit in a sector we have spent some time understanding and are looking for a partner to help them expand either across markets we are present in or deep within their market. This means we spend a lot of time trying to identify these sectors that we think are on the brink of transformation and we like to make sure we are top of mind for everyone in that space. 

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: From a broader perspective, are there any underestimated risks in the VC ecosystem, especially in Africa?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: I think the risk of not getting to product-market fit is severely underestimated. Our markets still have a lot to build and that is exciting in terms of investment opportunities but some companies require certain infrastructure to exist before they can achieve sustainable PMF. I think this is where local investors have an edge, as they can appropriately gauge what exists and what is not quite there yet.

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: Given the evolving nature of markets, how do you see the traditional VC funding model adapting to ensure it remains a catalyst for innovation?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: The VC model is currently under a lot of scrutiny but I think it will still exist in its current form for a while since we are only just completing our first proper cycle of VC funds on the continent. Capital will end up concentrating on the VCs that have the most success just as it does around the most successful startups. 

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: What, in your opinion, makes a great founder?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: It’s a hard question to answer as it is not a formula that one has in their mind. Every founder is different in their personality and how they work but I think what they all have in common is that they have a clear vision for what they want to build. What we then need to figure out is whether they have the capability to execute that vision. You need the two traits but there are many sub traits below that one may be better at than the other. 

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: For the founders out there, how would you advise them to construct an original thesis about the market?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: As with many things, there are many approaches that work. I have seen founders who have been absolutely immersed in a space for years and know the ins and outs of how it works. They can tell you why someone failed or succeeded in the past. This deep insight is critical in some markets while other times it may be detrimental because you struggle to think differently from others in the sector. I would say you need to think of markets from both perspectives, as an insider and an outsider, and see if there is a difference in approach that would come from that.

Tigele Nlebesi, The FutureList: Lastly, outside of your professional commitments, have any personal pursuits or hobbies influenced your work and career?

Maina Murage, Norrsken22: I’m naturally curious. I don’t know where I picked it up from, but I think it has been super important in my career. On the weekends, I often find myself going deep down rabbit holes from something that may have been mentioned in a newsletter. It’s hard to manage sometimes, but I think it’s built my ability to quickly get up to speed on a topic that I may not be an expert on. This is essentially what happens every time we meet a business in a new vertical that we may not have looked at before.

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