Accelerators / Incubators
These companies work with early-stage start-ups to help nurture them at a crucial stage in their lifecycle. They provide start-ups with a great environment to grow their business in. Typically, accelerators and incubators are focused on technology start-ups.
There are some differences between incubators and accelerators. Generally, incubators are less structured and are more focused on providing a physical co-working area and access to their networks for very early-stage start-ups. Some fund the start-ups in an incubation programme, but many do not. Accelerators are also aimed at early-stage companies, but ideally at those advanced enough to be ready to grow and scale their business. An accelerator generally takes equity in the business in exchange for access to the programme, the facilities and their mentor network. This mentor network often includes investors and experienced business managers. Accelerators and incubators typically have a selective application process, and start-ups need to prove themselves in order to be granted access. The application process typically examines the start-up’s business model, financial performance to date, projections for the future and the quality of the team. While they are typically well-run and do help entrepreneurs to refine their businesses, one downside of accelerators and incubators is that they often require entrepreneurs to spend valuable time away from their businesses.
There are several accelerators and incubators in Namibia, including Start-Up Namibia and the UNDP Accelerator Lab, both based in Windhoek.
Angel Investor Networks
An angel investment network is a group made up of individuals (business angels) who inject capital into an angel network fund, in order to provide funding for start-ups, in exchange for equity. The network is made up of experienced professionals who have knowledge and contacts in the industry in which they invest.
The Namibia Business Angel Network aims to provide money, time and access to networks for the entrepreneurs in which their members invest.
Angels invest in companies with high growth potential, although they tend to look at a wider range of sectors than VCs which like to invest in highly scalable sectors like tech. Angels typically step in to provide funding for companies that have exhausted any friend and family investments or personal savings they may have been able to access, prior to investment from VCs.
While most business angels are engaged and helpful, some may see the start-up as their own company and look to obtain too much control early on. It is important for entrepreneurs to listen to their feedback, but also to ensure not to follow their advice blindly.
Innovative sites like AngelList and VC4A have helped connect this source of capital to start-ups that are looking for funding around the world.
Creating an Angel Investor Ecosystem in Namibia
There are a growing number of start-ups in Namibia and more international funders (both impact and traditional) entering the market to satisfy the demand for finance. Local investors, however, have been slow to invest in local start-ups; for several reasons, including a lack of notable success stories and a general feeling of caution around investing in often untested entrepreneurs. However, as the number of opportunities grows, local investors are starting to enter the market.
Organisations like the Namibia Business Angel Network are encouraging successful Namibians to experiment with angel investing. Often, that means teaching them not only about opportunities for high returns, but also tech, more generally. Entrepreneurs approaching business angels need to keep this relative inexperience in mind. Often, it means being more patient and underscores the importance of finding the right investor, who will help a company with introductions and mentoring, based on relevant industry experience.
More information: https://naban.com.na
Foundations are non-profit charitable organisations that are founded with an initial endowment, typically made by an individual or business. Foundations tend to have a specific goal or sector of interest, and they fund other charities, NGOs, projects and companies that work towards that goal. Alternatively, the foundations may also operate projects in their sectors of interest, if they have the capacity to do so.
The amount of funding they make available varies drastically, based on the foundation’s endowment. Large foundations can fund millions of dollars’ worth of projects, though the vast majority are much smaller.
In order to get funding from these investors, companies will need to go through an application process. Some foundations only accept applications from companies and projects who they have invited to participate; so it is important to know who to approach within the foundation to get an invitation. Foundations will typically look for how closely a company’s mission and activities match the desired outcomes the foundation wants to achieve. For this reason, when approaching foundations, it is important that start-ups focus on the impact of their business in their funding application.
Crowdfunding is the practice of raising money from a large group of individuals, for example raising money through an online portal. There are four prevalent models of crowdfunding:
Donation-based: the crowd donates money to a cause, individual, project or business, without expectation of any financial or non-financial return.
Reward-based: the crowd gives money to an individual, project or business, in exchange for a non-financial reward. The rewards are generally either items like shirts or stickers, or an early version of a product (essentially, a pre-sale via crowdfunding).
Lending-based: the crowd lends money to an individual or business, with expectations of getting the principal back with interest.
Equity-based: the crowd invests in a business, with hopes of sharing in the business’s success as it grows.
Depending on the type of crowdfunding campaign an entrepreneur chooses, he or she will need to prepare different types of pitches. For lending and equity-based campaigns, investors will want to see a strong business plan, financial projections and a growth strategy. For reward-based campaigns, backers will want to see an innovative product or project in a sleek campaign video. For donation-based campaigns, backers will want to see how their donation will benefit the recipient entrepreneur(s)/people. Indeed, while crowdfunding can be effective, it is also highly time-consuming.
Start-Up Namibia Looks to Support Namibian Start-ups
Conditions for setting up and scaling start-ups are currently inadequate in Namibia. Support structures for start-ups are in their very early, albeit promising, stages. Start- Up Namibia is thus working towards improving conditions for the establishment and growth of start-ups in selected regions in Namibia. The project has created new opportunities for jobs in the start-up sector and mobile centres are being set up in various regions throughout Namibia, to aid in providing necessary services.
Start-ups have the potential to drive the creation of new jobs in Namibia and can have a fundamental impact on overall economic productivity. Start-ups can also contribute to economic growth by spurring innovation and injecting competition. The combination of innovative technical solutions and traditional industries opens new opportunities. Start-ups that develop and offer digital products and services to the market have the potential to be key growth drivers. However, tech-oriented and non-tech start-ups need demand-based and tailored support. To achieve the main goal of the project, Start-Up Namibia is carrying out the following activities:
- Building a Start-up Incubation and Innovation Centre on the premises of the Bokamoso Entrepreneurial Centre in Windhoek. The Centre will incubate start-ups and serve as a “one-stop-shop” for all the needs a start-up faces in its ideation, establishment and growth phases. In addition, mobile outreach units will serve start-ups in three regions in Namibia. The Centre will be run as an independent entity with a sustainable business model. The Start-up Centre in Windhoek, as well as the mobile outreach units in the selected regions, will provide business development services to start-ups. This will strengthen entrepreneurial capacity and reduce the rate of failed businesses.
- The project is working on improving access to financial services to start-ups by providing start-up capital and growth financing. Improving access to financial information and funding sources will enable the medium- to long-term financing of products and business development, as well as strengthening the performance of start-ups.
- Cooperation with partners such as other start-up incubators and innovation centres, universities, financial institutions and associations will expand the service offerings of the Start-up Centre and build the Namibian start-up ecosystem.
More information: https://startupnam.org
Public/semi-public capital refers to funding providers where part or all of their funding is received from government sources. The government may place certain restrictions on how the company operates and invests.
This is a wide group that includes a broad range of capital providers. These include fully or partially publicly funded organisations that work in various sectors to promote access to capital and technical assistance. These may include annual government-funded start-ups and/or innovation competitions, industry consortiums and development banks, multilateral aid organisations, credit guarantee schemes, development finance institutions (DFIs), etc.
Because they are backed by the government, they enjoy trust among entrepreneurs and project owners and can be the first port of call when they look for capital.
There are various types of public/semi-public funders in Namibia, including the Development Bank of Namibia, as well as Start-Up Namibia, a new initiative to support the start-up ecosystem. As these funders are eclectic, it is difficult to come up with specific criteria on how to approach them. In general, however, these funders may be more open to providing grants or concessionary loans, which makes them a good choice for earlier-stage companies or those focused on impact.
Banks are licensed financial institutions that are able to make loans and take deposits, among other services. In developed economies, banks often step in to provide capital to start-ups and SMEs. In emerging markets, however, commercial banks tend to shy away from the SME sector, seeing it as risky and costly; they tend to work with large firms. The same applies to Namibia.
In recent years, the government has stepped in to incentivise banks to work more closely with SMEs. One example of this has been the Small and Medium Enterprises Credit Guarantee Scheme, which provides participating banks with a 60% guarantee on loans made to SMEs that meet specific requirements. The Credit Guarantee Scheme provides SMEs with good prospects for success and a viable business plan, but without the necessary collateral to obtain a loan, with a reduced collateral requirement. Currently, only First National Bank of Namibia and the Development Bank of Namibia are participating in the credit guarantee scheme, although additional commercial banks are expected to join the scheme in the near future.
Banks that work with SMEs offer various financial products, including asset financing and invoice factoring. Like other funders, they want to see a comprehensive breakdown of how the funding will be used in order to estimate the creditworthiness of the business, how long to lend the money and at what interest rate.
Banks can be an efficient source of capital, but most will charge high interest rates, given the risk associated with start-ups. A start-up should make sure that they calculate how much they will need to pay every month and consider carefully whether that is something their company can afford.
Impact or social investment refers to funds that invest with the intention to create a positive social or environmental impact. In addition to the social impact, these investors aim to earn a finan- cial return on these investments, or at least to attempt to recover the funds invested. The expected rate of return for these investments is sometimes below the market rate.
Impact investors are an eclectic group looking to invest capital with the intent of generating positive social impact beyond merely financial returns. They include high net worth individu- als (HNWIs), family offices, foundations, banks, pension funds, impact-focused VCs and angels and development finance institu- tions (DFIs). As social and environmental impact is key for these funders, it is important for entrepreneurs to show not only how their company will work toward achieving these aims, but also how they will measure and prove the impact they want to achieve. That is one of the downsides of accepting impact investment; measurement can be highly onerous.
Namibia’s impact investment scene is only just emerging, with most investors holding the view that investing in Namibia’s companies (as long as they do not actively damage the environment or cause social ills) will probably result in a positive impact.
Environmental Investment Fund
The Environmental Investment Fund (EIF) is a fund created by an Act of Parliament, with the overall aim to mobilise and allocate funding to activities and projects which promote the sustainable use and efficient management of natural resources in Namibia.
The Fund is a strategic delivery vehicle for Namibia’s international commitments towards various environmental conventions, such as the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) and other relevant conventions, declarations and protocols.
The Fund’s role in all of these strategic initiatives converges on mobilising financial resources for targeted investments in economic activities that are technologically and environmentally sound and that promote climate-resilient development pathways. The Fund finances projects and organisations using two funding instruments, grants and debt:
- The EIF offers grants to qualifying entities. The EIF provides such grants to civil society organisations, the private sector and individuals within Namibia. The purpose of the grants is primarily to fund activities and projects that protect the fragile Namibian environment, maintain biodiversity, promote innovative approaches to environmental management and enhance the economic development of the country.
- Additionally, the EIF offers green concessional loans. This is a soft-lending product offered by the EIF to companies and individuals for environmental-based enterprises. The features of a green concessional loan are as follows:
- Interest rates of up to prime minus 4.27%
- Long repayment periods of up to 10 years
- Grace periods of up to 12 months.
More information: https://www.eif.org.na
Large firms often support entrepreneurs, projects and SMEs financially. There are various motivations for corporates to fund businesses. One is to ensure they stay up to date on what innovative start-ups are doing in relevant sectors and to get an opportunity to invest in those companies early on. Another is to spend money on corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding. Additionally, corporates can run start-up pitches and competitions.
The fundraising process and amounts will vary, depending on the type of funding that corporates employ. When companies are funding companies and projects via their CSR initiatives, they will often act like impact investors, asking not only for a business plan, but also for a way to monitor how the money is being used and whether it is meeting its stated social and environmental goals. Corporates will also look at how the business they invest in could grow and how this growth may fit into the company’s long-term plans.
While corporates can be a great partner for a start-up, the start-up owners should make sure that they protect their intellectual property (IP) before opening up any business secrets.
Sanlam Bridge Programme
The Sanlam Bridge Programme, formerly known as the Sanlam Innovation Works Competition, offers start-up grant seed funding for ventures at an early stage of development that address key issues in innovation.
The programme selects five start-ups, who each receive a grant of N$50 000 (US$3k) from Sanlam as a capital injection. The money is intended to be used to assist the businesses with the setting up and expanding of their respective ventures. Business development support and mentoring are also provided during the programme period. Based on the progress of the businesses over the period, a winner is selected and is awarded an additional N$25 000 (US$1.5k).
More information: https://www.sanlam.com/namibia
Venture capital Firms
Venture capital (VC) is a type of private equity and refers to investments made in exchange for equity in early-stage businesses.
VCs are focused on funding, developing and expanding early-stage businesses.
VCs tend to invest in ‘adolescent’ stage start-ups which have the potential to grow rapidly and earn the investors 10x to 30x return on their capital, over a fairly short time period, usually three to seven years. In Namibia, as well as many other developing countries, that time horizon is often closer to seven to ten years. Typically, VCs look to invest in companies within sectors that have the capacity to tap into economies of scale and expand rapidly, often backing IT and software companies. As the percentage of companies that are able to earn such profitable returns is small, VCs tend to diversify their investments across multiple firms, often co-investing with others, to minimise exposure to a single company.
VCs provide several services in addition to providing capital. They play an important role in guiding the company through the later rounds of raising capital, can help formulate and implement a business’s strategy and can aid in appointing the management team. Given their influence on an early-stage business, however, VCs can be overly controlling and may influence decisions in a way that benefits them more than the business in the long term.
Private equity firms
Private equity (PE) firms invest directly in private companies. They tend to focus on companies that are more mature than those in VCs’ remit. PE firms are often structured as a limited partnership, with institutional investors and/or high net worth individuals providing funds for partners to manage. As PE firms invest in more mature companies, they tend to invest much larger amounts than VCs.
This makes them an imperfect fit for smaller firms. Private equity is a catch-all term that captures many types of firms; venture capital, for example, is a subset of PE. In Namibia, PE investors typically participate in deals via acquisitions of minority stakes, management buy-outs and restructurings. As PE funds tend to make large equity investments, they are typically fairly hands-on in the management of the companies. They usually focus on larger, more established companies where they feel they can improve operations, thus making them more profitable.
How to Connect with Funders
In Namibia, getting start-up funding can be difficult. Entrepreneurs can struggle to find out how to contact funders when they figure out who they would like to approach. Here are a few tips from investors and entrepreneurs.
- Personal introductions are best. Start-ups should do research and find out how they may be able to be introduced to an investor. Because the start-up scene is still emerging in Namibia, there are probably only a few degrees of separation between the start-up and the investor.
- Seek out portfolio companies. Start-up founders should find out who the investor has already backed and reach out to those start-ups. Most will be happy to share their experiences and put the founder in touch with investors if the idea is well developed.
- Enter accelerator/incubator/mentoring programmes. Connecting to investors is one of the key reasons start-ups apply to these programmes, and they can be good for facilitating introductions. They should make sure that the programme is related to the start-up’s sector, so the investors will be relevant.
- Networking events take place around Windhoek. These can be by invitation only, (in which case the start-up founder can reach out to the organiser) or open to the public. Even if the right investor is not found, the people who the founder will meet can bring them closer to getting funding.
- Cold outreaches are a last resort. If founders have done their research and cannot find a connection, one of the founders should send a brief but informative email with a pitch deck attached, emphasising the start-up’s track record in the email (products sold, users signed up, etc.).