Interview with Kunmi Demuren, Co-Founder, Venture Garden Group

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Venture Garden Group (VGG) is a technology holding company created to use innovative technologies to solve socio-economic challenges that could deter sustainable economic development in Africa. The company with a core tenet of ensuring transparency in its clients’ operations, provides innovative data-driven, end to end technology platforms addressing reconciliation and payment processing inefficiencies across multiple sectors of African economies and has extensive experience in serving both private and public sectors. At VGG, the mantra is transforming Africa through technology and this is done through the different subsidiaries in the Aviation, Power, Education, and Finance sectors.

 

VGG was launched in 2010 and has transformed from a $150,000 revenue generating startup with 7 employees to an impressive ecosystem of several tech startups that continue to set the pace in different sectors. Considering the challenges faced by tech startups in Africa, how did you do it and what motivated you to start this journey?

When we set out to build Venture Garden Group, the partners- Bunmi Akinyemiju, Demola Idowu and I decided to build a company that will not just generate revenue but will address the challenges facing Africa with tangible solutions. We figured that most times, the factors people thought were the main causes of inefficiencies in the sectors where we currently operate in were not the actual causes. Digging a little deeper, we discovered what these problems were and went on to create data-driven solutions to effectively address these challenges. Data is the entire basis of our business and it is this data that continues to ensure that the ecosystem you see today is thriving. Having lived in America for over a decade, our experiences outside Africa in economies that worked definitely shaped our resolve and could be seen as the main motivation for this journey.

 

VGG primarily operates through five sector focused subsidiaries in the public and private sector –Aviation (Avitech), Education (Edutech), Power (PowerTech), Finance (Finatech), and Social Investment (GSV). How have the tech solutions provided encouraged efficiency, transparency and productivity?

 We measure success on how efficient, effective and transparent a process becomes after our technology solutions have been implemented. A brilliant example will be in the Education Sector – Our subsidiary, Edutech Nigeria is focused on helping traditional African Universities take their on-campus degree programs online. After figuring out that we could never build enough schools to cater to our ever-growing population irrespective of whatever level of improvements were made to the education sector in Nigeria and that the cost of foreign degrees (on campus or online) was way too expensive for the average Nigerian, we deduced that the very ‘visible’ solution was building e-learning platforms for these schools. So far, we have over 16,000 enrollments in our programs across several universities. The technology is efficient and non-restrictive, students don’t have to suffer the effects of strikes, fees are affordable alongside several other benefits.

 

In 2015, VGG raised $20 million from the Convergence Infrastructure fund, an African investment company that invests in infrastructure projects across Africa. How did the fund encourage your company’s expansion?

Funding from Convergence definitely had significant impact on our businesses. It drove expansion into new frontiers such as: the healthcare sector, social investment sector, education sector and power solutions for private utility companies. We currently have a number of technologies and products in these areas. The fund was also instrumental in building our payments platform and strengthening our core.

 

GreenHouse Capital, where you are a founding partner can be considered one of the largest tech focused venture capital firms in Africa. It has funded about 15 startups across 6 countries in Africa, whom have raised $50 million collectively. How do you identify startups with high-growth potential?

We have an exceptional team at Greenhouse Capital responsible for doing all this awesome work. The companies we invest in are typically measured along Market Viability, Traction and Team Strength. We take into consideration factors such as percentage of target market share, total market value, financials, customer attraction & retention, marketing, and relevant experience of the founders. We are particularly interested in companies that have more than one founder and have both the technical skills as well as the business operations skills.

 

GreenHouse Lab, which was launched in 2018, is the first female-focused tech incubator and accelerator program powered by Google in Africa. How will this initiative level the playing field for women, who are under-represented in the tech space?

In 2017, start-ups led by black women only received 0.2% of available VC funding while female-led start-ups received just 2.2% of all available venture capital dollars, even though female-led companies have been found to produce over 30% higher return on investment. According to an ISACA study, nearly 50% of women in technology report a lack of mentorship networks and training.

GreenHouse Lab was established with the aim to level the playing field by providing exceptional early-stage, female-led, high-growth technology startups with investments, support infrastructure and the mentorship needed to drive growth and scale their companies both in emerging and international markets. GreenHouse Capital through GreenHouse Lab seeks to create a unique experience for every woman-led tech company through target-based training with relevant industry insights, practical sessions with top industry leaders, an international peer learning field trip, a comfortable working space and a lasting mentoring/support network by focusing on the three key areas of challenge for women in technology; under-representation, under-funding and lack of an ecosystem support network.

 

Vibranium Valley, a 2600 square meter facility by the Lagos Airport, which will be home to multiple tech companies was launched by the Vice President of Nigeria in June 2018. You refer to the space as Africa’s answer to Silicon Valley. How will this initiative propel Nigeria’s tech industry?

Vibranium Valley is one project that comes at a very important time in the tech space in Nigeria. As tech in Nigeria continues to rapidly expand, the world has become more aware of the talent that exists in Africa. One thing we set out to do by building Vibranium Valley is enshrining collaboration and attracting investments for this talent. All over the world, tech thrives through collaboration, one solution from one start-up will typically form the basis of a product from another start up. The space has been built to house over 20 Tech Start Ups and 2000+ staff all under one roof, where solutions to the problems Africa face will continuously be churned out. A unique feature of the facility is the shared services model for several back-office functions which is a cost-effective means for most start-ups. These kinds of hubs will propel growth and serve as a mecca for investors visiting the country.

 

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