Nasir El-Rufai may no longer be the Kaduna State governor and has missed a controversial ministerial appointment, but he certainly has not lost his zest for taking on big projects. The former governor is going into the private sector with a loud statement.
El-Rufa plans to launch a $100 million venture capital fund for startups in Nigeria, particularly those in the Kaduna tech ecosystem. He plans to match his ambitions with actions. He is willing to stake $2 million of his money for the offtake of the fund. He plans to convince investors to provide the remaining funding. The investors will mostly be those “who believe in us but don’t have the capacity or the time to do the analysis and evaluation. But they trust our judgment and they will come with us.”
He was in Marrakech in November for the Africa Investment Forum where he spoke to BusinessDay.
The former governor who played a significant role in the emergence of the current Nigerian president as the party’s candidate, seems to have put his disappointments behind him.
In Marrakech, there was no trace of the man who became the target of much social media trolling. The El-Rufai that showed up in Marrakech was looking spritely and took part in all the sessions of the Africa Investment Forum, a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary platform with the vision to channel capital towards critical sectors to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the African Development Bank’s High 5s, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
According to him, he wants to set up a venture capital fund or private equity that will invest in young Nigerians with innovative ideas. It doesn’t matter what segment of the economy the ideas are. It could be in agriculture. ICT or the creative industry, so long as it has the potential to add value to the world, these are the ideas that El-Rufai and his fund will target.
During his tenure as governor of Kaduna, El-Rufai said he met many students in Kaduna who had great ideas and were creating innovations. However, many of them did not have someone to mentor them and help those ideas grow.
“What young people need is essentially mentoring and financing to get things going. They develop the idea and see whether it is viable. And we will open doors for them because they don’t have contact. They don’t know or have access to ministers, presidents, or regulatory agencies. We do. We know the minefields that they have to navigate. We know that they need to give them appointments and we can provide them with the startup funding and in return we take an equity position.
We don’t want to take your business; we want to develop it. But if we take the risk on you, we will take a percentage of the business,” El-Rufai said.
He is working with select private sector partners, including Eyo Ekpo, co-founder of Excredite Consulting Limited, and their primary focus is on Nigeria but the ambition is Africa because he projects from a report that Africa will be supplying the world with a significant portion of the workforce it needs by 2050.
According to a report by the Guardian, by 2050, Africa’s population is expected to reach 2.5 billion, which is about 25 percent of the world’s population.
El-Rufai says such projections call for more investments in the younger demographic. However, his fund will not just be focusing on new startups, there is also a plan to engage established companies with management problems that are still viable. The VC fund will invest in such companies, get them sorted out and take them to exit.
“We don’t intend to remain in any business. We want to catalyse growth in these startups,” he said.
One of the goals of being at the African Investment Conference was to seek continental partnerships, and investors and to explore opportunities with climate-focused investors.
“Nigeria has a lot to offer Africa and the world. Our population, entrepreneurial capability, the innovation of our young people and their boldness and courage to find success. We just felt that we have a duty to encourage,” he said.
The first fund will be investing for three to four years. The fund is expected to launch early next year and the company will be headquartered in Abuja. This is to diversify the funding beyond Lagos because there is already a lot of interest in funding innovation in Lagos. El-Rufai and his partners want to spur startup funding interest in ecosystems in Kaduna, Abuja and other parts of the country.