Heavy Chef Event: Investing In Women
Event Report: Empowering Women Entrepreneurs With Access To Investment
African startups raised over $3 billion in investment in 2021 from the VC space, having attracted 65% of the total global funding pool that year. Exciting, except for the fact that of that amount, a paltry 1% went to women-owned businesses, compared to the 81% that went into startups owned by men. This, despite the fact that women own 40% of the small businesses on the continent. How’s that for a sobering fact?
This, obviously, is not optimal. Not if we want sustainable growth for the African economy and the top-level innovations and ideas that come with having a diverse economy made up of diverse players. For any type of sustainable economy to take shape, we need to address the apparent shortcomings of the investment space as far as women entrepreneurs are concerned. We need to unpack the lack of support and rampant bias that runs through these circles and how they impact the way in which women can operate and grow their businesses.
Last week, we welcomed three incredible voices within the local business space to the Heavy Chef platform to speak about the challenges facing women entrepreneurs seeking investment and how we can better support them. Kasi Catalyst Director and township retail specialist Vusi Vokwana, Xena founder Erin Louw and gender-lens investor and founder of the Africa Trust Group Lelemba Phiri lit the stage up with insights from the investment sector and lessons from their own journeys as women in business who’ve engaged with investors.
Heavy Chef CEO Fred Roed kicked the evening off with a quick word of gratitude to our community, speakers and partners, before leaving the stage to the ladies. “Absolute legends, all three of you!” he exclaimed, thrilled at being on the other side of the stage for a change, we’re sure.
Lelemba, as MC for the evening, proved to be as great an idea as we thought she would be, effortlessly taking charge of the conversation and, together with Erin and Vusi, creating an atmosphere almost akin to a cosy sofa chat but on stage. We knew she’d kill it, of course - she has stage presence and industry know-how in oodles.
“I was part of a startup that raised over $30 million and really scaled across Africa and I left to get into the investment space particularly to invest in women entrepreneurs,” she said in her introduction. “Because in a lot of the platforms we were finding ourselves in, it was pretty clear that there were very few women that were raising that size of ticket sizes.”
Making her precisely the person to lead a conversation on a very salient topic in our business landscape. The other two ladies on stage are equally as impressive.
The founder of Xena and a highly-regarded brand specialist in the fintech space, Erin Louw is making waves in the investment space with her new platform, a networking app for women entrepreneurs that provides them with a business community, mentorships and access to funding.
“It was my longest pregnancy ever,” joked Erin about launching Xena. “During COVID it was heartbreaking to see how women, in particular, struggled to keep up.”
Vusi Vokwana is a township retail specialist and the director of Kasi Catalyst, an agency that’s committed to changing the perception of the township and keeping township money in the townships.
“Sho, Erin. To follow up on that,” she quipped as she started to share a summary of her journey with our community. Vusi got straight to the gist of things, reminding us that while the conversation is relevant, it’s especially so for businesses in the township who can’t even get access to basic capital, much less investors.
“The biggest issue is no one has ever asked a township consumer, "What do you need?” she pointed out.
- Part of the issue around financing is how few women fund allocators there are.
- Have a plan, and know your business model inside out.
- Know and understand your numbers like the back of your hand.
- Educate yourself and stay on top of trends and funding news.
- Reinforce conversations that force you to test your skills.
- Sell yourself - funders want to hear the African story.
- Don't limit your thinking to just you and your business - collaboration opens up new markets.
- When in doubt, embody a white male entrepreneur who is seeking funding.
- Just eat the bread.
Some Questions From Our Community
- What are the unique challenges that you’re seeing South African women face that prevent them from accessing funding? Erin and Vusi answer here: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=495
- Do you see opportunities for financers in the township entrepreneur space? Vusi answers here: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=717
- If you were to position opportunities that exist, how would you position them for a big funder like Retail Capital? Vusi answers: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=776
- At which point do the speakers believe we will move away from the need to separate the genders in business discussions and move into more gender unification conversations? Erin answers: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=1013
- On your own journey, what are some of the unique challenges you’ve faced, particularly around finance and dealing in the finance space, that you believe might have been attributed to your gender? Vusi answers: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=1379
- What are some of the common mistakes and/or errors, you’ve seen or might believe women are more likely to make? Erin answers: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=1735
- What do you think the key elements are that could create a more inclusive ecosystem? Vusi and Erin answer: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=2045
- What is Xena doing or offering differently and uniquely? Erin answers: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=2333
- This really really good question by an audience member (Lelemba, Vusi and Erin answer): https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=2560
- Do you have any tips for breaking free of imposter syndrome in male-dominated industries? Vusi and Erin answer: https://youtu.be/uT7yzlzdFIg?t=3128
As can be expected from such an expansive, ever-relevant topic, the questions just kept flowing in from our live audience and our online audience. However, as great as all the questions were, this event report would be super long if we included a link to each question and answer so catch the full session here.
With Special Gratitude To…
First and foremost, our event partners Xero, PayFast and Workshop17, without whom none of these inspiring sessions would be possible. Backsberg, Sir Fruit, Creed Living and Goodleaf - thank you for the super-tasty thirst-quenchers and healthy treats. To our other partners, including Retail Capital, xneelo, Whipping the Cat, Eclipse Communications, HP Stores and many more - you guys are incredibly appreciated.
To our community of entrepreneurs, you guys are amazing - thanks for not just joining our events but for being so engaged and engaging while at it.
Here’s to the next one - stay inspired.