The $5m syndicate fund is rebranding itself Acasia Ventures as part of a larger restructuring of the Cairo Angels network, the largest network of business angels in Africa and the Middle East. The makeover comes as the fund looks to scale up its investments by transitioning from a micro Venture Capital (VC) fund investing in early-stage startups to a fully fledged VC fund, while retaining its focus on the growing Nigerian and Egyptian markets.
With large populations and strong purchasing power, Nigeria and Egypt have managed to keep their lustre when it comes to VC investment, despite the current economic turbulence, Aly El Shalakany, managing partner of Acasia Ventures, tells The Africa Report.
Founded in 2011 by Shalakany and Hossam Allam, Cairo Angels is the first angel network in Egypt. It launched its micro VC fund, the Cairo Angels Syndicate Fund (CASF), in 2020. The fund is being rebranded as Acasia Ventures Tech Fund I (AVTF1).
As for Cairo Angels, it is being rebranded as Acasia Group. The group has three lines of business:
- Acasia Ventures, its VC arm;
- Acasia Impact, its programs and partnerships arm;
- and Acasia Angels, its angel investment arm.
A new fund dubbed Acasia Ventures Tech Fund II (AVTF2) will be launched in early 2023, Shalakany says.
AVTF1 has already made eight investments this year and is working to finish the year with up to 11 investments closed, Shalakany says. He adds that the fund will be closed out at 25 investments in total.
Out of the eight investments made this year, one is Nigerian: The Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) startup CredPal. However, Shalakany said that the majority of AVTF1 deals outside of Egypt will be in Nigeria.
He says his firm is agnostic in its investments, although it does prefer eight sectors: fintech, edtech, healthtech, agtech, logistics and mobility, e-commerce, software as a service (SaaS), and future of work, which has to do with recent trends in the workplace, such as remote working.
Strength points of Egyptian and Nigerian VC market
Shalakany points out that the Nigerian and Egyptian populations – over 200 million and 100 million, respectively – account for a massive portion of the African population. Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa, while Egypt is in third position.
“If you are building a product that can scale and it is a b2c [business-to-consumer] product or a b2b2c [business-to-business-to-consumer] product that is linked to the amount of the population,” Shalakany says. “It makes absolute sense that your business should be thinking about growing to Egypt or to Nigeria if you are not from one of those two markets in the first place.”
Both markets require […] expertise. They are difficult places to do business.
He says he expects that the purchasing power in the two countries will remain resilient even amid the current economic challenges.
“We think that these markets will become stronger as the decade moves on, because the purchasing power within those economies, which are growing economies, will also improve,” Shalakany says. “[…] not only do you have growing populations, which are growing fast, you also have consumers that despite all of the issues, especially today, will have a stronger purchasing power as time goes on.”
“Both markets require […] expertise. They are difficult places to do business. [Therefore] as an investor you really need to know what you are doing to be able to support your startups and also to know which startup founders really know how to operate in those markets.”
Shalakany says the war in Ukraine and the US Federal Reserve’s tightening monetary policy have weighed on a lot of emerging markets around the world, including Egypt and Nigeria. However, the technology sector has remained resilient in the face of these challenges.
Even though he expects that VC investments have slowed down in both markets this year on the back of the current global economic challenges, Shalakany projects that Egypt will still beat last year’s number, unlike Nigeria.
Nigerian startups “have taken a bit of a step back in terms of the total amount of money invested in Nigeria versus last year, which was their best year ever, because a lot of the investment that was going into Nigerian startups was coming from US and European VCs, so they were more sensitive, I think, to the correction that is happening right now in the US, China and Europe”, Shalakany says.
“Whereas for Egypt, just to give a comparison, I think that we will still beat our number from last year,” he says. “[…] the reason for that is because we were coming from a lower base than Nigeria.”
African startups drew a record $5.2bn in 2021, with Nigeria’s share at $1.8bn and Egypt’s share at $652m, according to California-based Partech.
Shalakany also pinned his prediction on the fact that Egypt has “relatively well-funded local and regional venture capital firms, which are less scared by perceived risk in comparison to a lot of the global VC firms that were investing in Nigeria”.
Due to the short-term macroeconomic challenges, “the ones that usually get impacted are the non-local investors, because their perceived risk is higher. They are not really invested in the region,” Shalakany says. “But I think the more regional and local investors you have, the more resilient you become against these headwinds or perceived headwinds.”
Despite the slowdown, Shalakany remains bullish on the Nigerian startup ecosystem in the short, medium and long terms. He expects that the Nigerian market will be able to withstand challenges due to an abundance of talent that has enabled its startups to scale their business rapidly, both within Nigeria and across borders.
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