Female entrepreneurs, specifically in the tech space, continue to face daunting challenges such as restrictive social norms, limited access to funding, and working within male-dominated industries which limits their potential.
Women run 40% of Africa’s SMEs but receive only 1% of funding from VCs. Evidence from an IMF study, with data collected from 47 African countries, indicated that women are more likely to self-select out of the credit market due to low perceived creditworthiness.
AFDB’s research also showed women are disproportionately disadvantaged in access to finance in Africa. The gender gap in the tech ecosystem is nowhere near closed. As such, it needs to be given more attention, especially in Africa where gender inequality is quite high.
Female-led startups are strong catalysts for economic development, and when female enterprises thrive, this reflects positively on society and is a win-win situation for everybody.
Why female-focused accelerators are important
Like their counterparts across the globe, African female founders have suffered an imbalance between mentorship and funding. In 2021, the share of investments that went to female-owned tech startups stood at about 6.5%.
In an interview, Eloho Omame, co-founder of FirstCheck Africa, revealed that “the African investment system has created a system where female founders are over-mentored yet underfunded.” FirstCheck Africa is an angel investment fund that backs early-stage female-founded startups with check sizes between $15,000 and $25,000.
Alongside funding, female-led startups also need other business resources such as mentoring, technical support, network access and knowing how to pitch.
Accelerator programs are one of the initiatives that offer all of these resources. They support startups with both capital and non-capital investments and condense what would have been many years of trial and error into a short program.
Also, most accelerators offer startup access to resources that would have been too expensive for early-stage startups. In addition, they provide practical tools and skills that growing startups need.
Female-focused accelerators provide support and resources specifically for female entrepreneurs so that they have access to the same opportunities and networks as their male counterparts.
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Some female-focused accelerator programs for African founders include GreenHouse Lab, SHEBA, I’M IN Accelerator, Grindstone X Programme and The Women Entrepreneurship for Africa (WE4A) program.
GreenHouse Lab is a three-month accelerator focused solely on early-stage, female-led or female-focused technology start-ups across Africa. It could also be an African-run start-up domiciled overseas with products that are scalable in African markets.
Some benefits that come with the program include access to a mentorship network, Google Launchpad, the opportunity to work at Vibranium valley and the potential to receive a minimum of $100,000 from GreenHouse Capital for startups.
Some startups that have participated in the accelerator program include Bankly, Bitmama, Nicademia, Schoolable. GreenHouse Lab was founded by Nichole Yembra and co-founded by Tosin Durotoye.
Launched in March 2021, ShEquity Business Accelerator (SHEBA), was created to address the existing gender funding gap by de-risking African female-led businesses, getting them fit for investment and equipping the founders with the skills needed to grow and scale their businesses. Pauline Koelbl, is the founder and Managing Partner of ShEquity.
The Accelerator provides venture building and technical support to African female entrepreneurs with impactful and scalable businesses in agribusiness (agritech, production, processing, wholesale & retailing, any other agribusiness value chain aspects), healthcare, tech-enabled solutions (fintech, clean-tech, etc.), renewable energies, mobility and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs).
SHEBA is the bridge for female founders to access capital: after the acceleration program, qualifying businesses are recommended to ShEquity team for investment consideration. The typical ShEquity seed investment range between $50,000 to $250,000. In addition, SHEBA organises demo days where other investors have opportunities to access impactful and scalable female-led businesses.
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I’M IN Accelerator
This accelerator, based in Johannesburg, South Africa, offers funding and opportunities for black-owned, high-growth tech startups, equipping them to compete in the South African tech sector.
The accelerator allows startups to test their assumptions and validate their products in the market, commercialising startups that show real market potential. I’M IN typically invests between $50,000 and $100,000 on exceptional startups after the 10-month accelerator.
Some of the programme features include business growth mentorship, technology improvement support, commercialisation enablement and access to markets. I’M IN accelerator also adds follow-on investment. Some startups that have gone through the program include Droppa, Brandbook, MyAsha, and Lightbulb education.
Grindstone X Programme
Grindstone X Programme is an accelerator programme aimed at developing 30 women-founded start-ups in South Africa over the next three years. The programme was launched by Grindstone and Naspers in 2022.
Start-ups selected will go through Grindstone’s growth engineering programme, designed to make them more investible, scalable, and exit-ready. The accelerator will be cohort-based, and each cohort will run for 12 months.
Priority is given to innovative technology or tech-enabled companies that demonstrate they have been operational for at least 12 months with growth potential. Grindstone X Programme is jointly owned by VC company, Knife Capital and Thinkroom Consulting. The founding partners are Andrea Böhmert, Catherine Young, and Keet van Zyl.
The Women Entrepreneurship for Africa (WE4A) project is an action jointly supported by the European Union (EU), the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), with implementation from the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) and the German Development Agency GIZ (E4D program). Running the growth and acceleration programs of WE4A is the Swiss Association for Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets (SAFEEM).
The virtual acceleration program is implemented by SAFEEM, a member of the Seedstars Group. The program provides 100 female entrepreneurs from the TEF alumni network, with access to $10,500 in grant funding that will be paired with 3 months of technical support.
WE4A offers benefits such as access to investment readiness training presented by topic experts, personalized support by an entrepreneur in residence, one on one mentorship, network connections and follow-on funding of up to $50,000 for the 15 selected high-growth startups.
Some African female-led startups who have participated in the startup include MyStash (Nigeria), Mamamoni (Nigeria), Store2Door (Rwanda), Kosmotive (Rwanda), Innovate Labs (Ghana).
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