It’s Been Six Months Since FirstCheck Africa Launched…Here’s What We’ve Been Up To.
Back in January, when we announced that we were building FirstCheck Africa, we had what probably seemed like a risky plan. FirstCheck Africa would invest up to $25,000 each in “ridiculously early” startups led by women in Africa.
Since then, we’ve been heads-down, meeting founders, evaluating startups and writing our first pre-seed checks to help more startups led by women launch.
We are even more excited now, six months in, about our mission statement:
“FirstCheck Africa’s mission is to advance equity, wealth and capital for a generation of women in Africa through technology & entrepreneurship.”
In 2020, women-led companies received only 2.3% of over $300B in global VC funding, down from 2.7% in 2019. In 2019, only 0.27% went to Black women, and so far, in 2021, women-led companies have received just 1.6% of global VC funding. Closer to home, depending on which source you trust and how it gets measured, up to 5% of Africa’s $1.4B in early-stage funding in 2020 went to startups with women on the co-founding team.
The numbers are atrocious.
As we said in January, we believe that the African tech ecosystem needs to do three things:
- Increase the pipeline of female entrepreneurs at the top of the funnel;
- Address the biases women face when raising capital;
- Close the gender confidence gap by making it easier for women to raise their first capital.
We are proud that FirstCheck Africa has been a catalyst in the ecosystem for funds (at least talking about!) making progress along these lines.
Alongside our investing activities, every day is one step closer to realising FirstCheck Africa’s dream of building a formidable community around the amazing, under-represented female talent that exists across Africa. We’re excited about the projects we have in the pipeline. Over the next six to 12 months, several projects will be released under the FirstCheck umbrella to make even greater strides in leading the ecosystem towards each of the three goals listed above.
A Peek Behind-The-Scenes on Our Portfolio Traction
Since January, we’ve received over 200 applications from female founders and startups with diverse teams. Our applications process is completely open (see our application form here); we don’t ask for warm introductions or expect founders to jump through hoops to get our attention. It’s important to us that every pitch starts on a level playing field. Every month, we’re reviewing about 40 startups on average!
We’ve seen almost 100 pitches in 6 months from founders building in agriculture, clean energy, fintech, education, healthcare and retail, amongst others; and leveraging technology like machine learning & AI to build differentiated propositions. We’re eager to see even more applications from diverse teams across all sectors, including enterprise SaaS, marketplaces, real estate, social platforms and more.
The FirstCheck Africa mission is Africa-wide. We thought we’d make six investments in female-led startups this year, and we’re more than on track to do that— and maybe even exceed it. Our pipeline is excellent!
FirstCheck Africa’s First Portfolio Companies
We’re excited to announce FirstCheck Africa’s first four portfolio companies, led by female founders in three different African countries. We’re proud to have invested in Foondamate (South Africa), Healthtracka (Nigeria), Tushop (Kenya), and Zoie Health (South Africa).
We’re humbled that these founders have trusted FirstCheck Africa enough to allow us to come along on their journeys to building formidable startups in Africa.
By investing “ridiculously early” in their lifecycles (and the lifecycles of future portfolio companies), FirstCheck Africa is gearing up to play a meaningful role in supporting their growth with:
- Expertise: Our support includes regular office hours, peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, working sessions with functional experts, and more. We have a growing network of mission-aligned experts that offer mentoring, advice and network connectivity to support our founders as their startups scale.
- Fundraising: We’re constantly trying to clear our portfolio companies’ paths to follow-on funding, and are getting to work with our founders on fundraising support & strategy for successful seed rounds. We’re giving practical, tactical feedback, helping with decks and pitch prep, and making meaningful investor introductions on the strength of the “FirstCheck Africa seal of approval”.
- Visibility & Community: We host regular virtual events that are designed to add value to our founders while building a robust community of cheerleaders around FirstCheck Africa. We use our events as an opportunity to put our founders first by leveraging our increasingly powerful platform to amplify their missions and their growth. Long-term, with an army of mission-aligned founders & operators around FirstCheck Africa, we believe that we are better able to support the needs of our founders.
FirstCheck Africa is a young, nimble fund with a clear mission in focus. The first six months have been scrappy and experimentational, but so energising! We’ve already learned a lot and are thankful that the lessons keep coming. Half a year in, here are the things that we now know for sure:
- African women ARE building.
- Actively investing in women-led startups can be rooted in economics, not only social impact.
- Building a diverse portfolio requires focus & intentionality.
We want to make it easy for African women to raise capital and invest in tech. And we will.
Meet The Inspirational Founders Behind First Check Africa’s First Portfolio Companies
Foondamate, led by Dacod Magagula & Tao Boyle (Cape Town, South Africa)
Foondamate helps students with limited internet access study online through low-data platforms like WhatsApp.
Dacod & Tao’s Inspiration for Foondamate
Dacod & Tao had very different experiences of education while growing up in South Africa. Dacod attended a poorly-resourced school outside Mbombela, Mpumalanga, where he was the only student with access to a personal computer. This had a profound impact on his life: he graduated top of his class and was the first person from the school ever to be accepted to UCT, Africa’s top university. While studying computer science, Dacod met Tao, an Economics student, who had attended a private school in the suburbs in Cape Town. Dacod and Tao were struck by their vastly different educational experiences and became obsessed with improving education at scale. The co-founders believe that talent is equally distributed but opportunity is not, and are determined to level the playing field, by making it possible for anyone from anywhere to educate themselves, even with limited access to technology.
Inspired to launch their startup at the height of the global pandemic in 2020, Foondamate has already been used by 140,000 students across three continents in more than 25 countries. By helping students search the internet, define words, download practice questions & answers and solve maths equations via WhatsApp, Foondamate is a game-changer.
Healthtracka, led by Ifeoluwa Dare-Johnson (Lagos, Nigeria)
Healthtracka is a digital health platform that allows users to order laboratory tests from the privacy of home, receive fast, accurate test results and book virtual 1-on-1 doctors’ reviews.
Ifeoluwa’s Inspiration for HealthTracka
After losing a loved one to an undiagnosed condition, Ifeoluwa was determined to put diagnostic tests within every Nigerian’s reach. The doctors told her family that her close relative had undiagnosed hypertension and diabetes. Both conditions went untreated for so long that they eventually led, sadly, to a stroke. It was heartbreaking that simple routine testing could have saved his life.
Unfortunately, millions of Nigerians have no idea about their health status until it has degenerated into an emergency. Late diagnosis is a huge problem, leading to shorter lifespans and more expensive healthcare. The future of health care is prevention. Healthtracka is empowering every Nigerian with actionable insights into their health.
Tushop, led by Cathy Chepkemboi (Nairobi, Kenya)
Tushop is a social commerce company that aggregates community-level demand for groceries to help its end-customers access better prices and convenient delivery.
Cathy’s Inspiration for Tushop
The journey started in 2014 when Cathy joined Unilever as a Graduate Trainee. She had a pivotal experience while managing one of the FMCG company’s distributors for six months, leaving the experience with a humbling appreciation of the sheer volume of the groceries sector and a conviction that the supply chain was broken. There were too many middlemen that made the supply chain process expensive, siloed, and cumbersome. After Unilever, Cathy worked at a furniture e-commerce startup in Nairobi, Moko, focusing on B2C sales. Two more things became clear. First, there is a huge opportunity within social commerce, and second, the Kenyan social commerce process is also broken. There were no CRMs, and non-existent logistics & payments integrations made deliveries and reconciliations a nightmare.
Tushop is a culmination of Cathy’s experiences at Unilever and Moko. She believes that by creating an integrated product that has both online (social & payments) and offline (logistics & warehousing) elements, Tushop will deliver cheaper groceries conveniently for Kenya’s mass market. Tushop’s vision is to build strong and resilient communities, and the team is hustling to make this vision a reality.
Zoie Health, led by Thato Schermer & Nonhlanhla Sitole (Johannesburg, South Africa)
About Zoie Health
Zoie Health is a digital health & wellness platform that facilitates virtual consults, home consults and delivery of contraceptive & health test kits for women and the people they love.
Thato & Nonie’s Inspiration for Zoie Health
Thato and Nonie have both had disappointing experiences with women’s healthcare services. When Thato first went for a contraceptive consult with an OBGYN in 2019, it lasted 10 minutes, and she was charged $100 for the consult alone. She couldn’t believe how a basic healthcare service needed by 50% of the population was so expensive. Similarly, when Nonie — a medical doctor – went through the difficulties of post-partum depression, which is relatively common in women after giving birth, she found that she didn’t have access to community, support or the best care.
Armed with Nonie’s clinical expertise and Thato’s technology & healthcare experience (with Uber and Life Healthcare), they are changing the experience for others, by building a technology-enabled solution that will make women’s healthcare services more accessible, affordable, convenient and caring, all on the foundation of a community.
We’re always excited to hear from pre-seed stage startups (pre-revenue or early revenues/recent MVP launch) that have at least one woman on the co-founding team.
Are you a founder or team of founders building an exciting product? We’d love to see your deck! Pitch us here.