Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|November 12, 2022|7 Minutes|In Billionaire Tomorrow

Billionaire Tomorrow

“I am not going to become a billionaire by working my way up the corporate ladder”!

It was a grim day to talk about investment and entrepreneurs in Africa. The Federal Reserve had put up its interest rates by 75 basis points; the Bank of England followed suit – with its biggest rate rise for 30 years - making it a lot  more attractive for investors to sit on their money rather than invest it with entrepreneurs. Trying to persuade the world otherwise is daughter of Cameroon and young venture capitalist Eunice Ajim.

She may have her work cut out, but there is no doubt that Eunice Ajim has the drive and the smarts to make it in the tough world of investing in Africa.

Ajim will certainly need all the smarts she can muster to navigate what promises to be a difficult year for investment as interest rates rise around the world. This means it is becoming more profitable to sit tight on your money rather than risk it on start-up businesses in Africa. Ajim has noticed that investment has already started to dip because of the cold economic blasts of wind from Europe and the United States.

“I am looking at it as very similar to 2020 (the time of COVID). When 2020 happened everyone was holding onto their cash because nobody knew what was going to happen and then 2021, when everything opened up, it was one of the highest times when everyone was putting money into start-ups and venture capital; hopefully things will get better and we can stabilize the market,” she says.

Ajim is very well placed to test the temperature of investment into Africa. She launched Ajim Capital – a venture capital fund of $10 million – early in 2022. It finances seed capital up to $250,000 with an emphasis on strong founders and ventures.

In ten months, more than 2,000 start-ups applied for the seed capital – only four have made it through the selection process so far. It is not always easy picking winners on the continent in the venture capital business.

“One of the biggest problems we face is access to quality talent. We raise money so you can hire talented people to help the company grow, but what I have seen a lot of founders do is actually hire beyond Africa… The other problem is, African founders, can raise money, but if they are not capable of closing their rounds then they have to keep changing their strategy, which can affect the growth trajectory of their business .”

Despite this, Ajim sees a lot of hunger for capital and start-ups in Africa, especially in West Africa.

“We are seeing a lot. African founders are very aggressive and they know to grow they need access to capital, so Nigeria is the biggest part of my pipeline at the moment – about 70%. There is a lot of demand, but these founders have to show a lot more track record.”

Venture capitalists don’t always get the best reviews from entrepreneurs, many of whom feel that these kinds of backers gather equity and money come what may.

“We don’t always get our money back, at least not all of it, maybe some!  And that is why venture capital is not for everybody…When you get VC money you have the responsibility to grow until the next seed round in 18 months’ time…We pay attention and in the next 18 months if you are not there we will be asking what you did with the money and you will have to show worth. If you are getting money from VCs you have to double down.“

Ajim has navigated a less traveled route on her way to being a US-based investor in Africa. She was born and bred in central Cameroon. Her father owned a string of shops selling electrical goods and Ajim schooled in Cameroon.

“My sister was already working in the US so I knew I was going to study in the US,” she says.  The good news was she studied business – followed by finance – the bad news was that she had to pay part of her own way through college. So she turned to a number of side hustles, including hairdressing, to raise money.

On emerging from college, in 2016, she landed a job that many Africans far from home would have been happy with – a corporate job at tech giant Apple.

“The only problem was  I was an entrepreneur who had a number of small businesses that I had to let go of when I went into Apple. So I struggled for about a year-and-a-half and then I had to let Apple go,” she says.

“I thought there is no way I am going to become a billionaire by working my way up the corporate ladder!”

Ajim launched her investment company, ran into a like-minded investor, raised finance, and the rest is history. It will be interesting to see how she negotiates the gathering world economic storm over the next year.