As head of Helios’ new venture capital arm, Wale Ayeni sees value in frontier markets – TechCrunch
Will Aene, a well-known African investor with a new role as President of Helios Digital Ventures, taught TechCrunch the venture capital strategy of private equity firm Helios Investment Partners.
This appointment comes a month after Aini left the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, where he has led venture capital investments across Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia for more than 5 years.
Ayeni has a similar job at Helios Digital Ventures: monitoring and supporting troubled startups in frontier markets, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
From a conversation between him and the founders of Helios Investment Partners, Eni said, the company has backed one startup already: Egyptian payments company Paymob. Fintech provides a multi-channel payment infrastructure for merchants to accept payments via various methods such as bank cards, mobile wallets, QR payments, and points of sale. It raised $50 million in Series B earlier this month, in a round that marked PayPal Ventures’ first investment in the MENA region.
Paymob provides a glimpse into the investment thesis blueprint for Ayeni and Helios Digital Ventures: It’s in a phase Ayeni calls “early growth” and is in a vital sector that affects a large segment of the population.
“I’d call it a mid-sized venture capital fund. It’s not early-stage, and it’s not exactly early growth. It’s early growth,” Eni told TechCrunch, speaking to TechCrunch, describing the stage at which he considers the fund to play. What we are trying to do from a strategic perspective is to say what are the sectors that are large enough from a market point of view that they can address and influence or affect the mass market.”
There are five broad sectors that Aini said Helios Digital Ventures will target: financial services, food security, talent and human capital, healthcare and sustainability.
He also noted that the fund would be looking for start-ups in other sectors—leading technologies such as crypto, web3, and biotechnology—particularly as venture capital continues to develop rapidly.
“I think you get the most impact or provide a lot of value when you match frontier technology with frontier markets, which are areas that don’t have a legacy from an adoption perspective,” he stated.
Ayeni and the team at Helios Investment Partners declined to comment on the overall size of the venture capital firm’s fund. But sources close to the matter believe that the new fund will target between $5 million and $20 million in “early growth” operations and follow-up.
Helios Investment Partners has been a huge success as a private equity firm since it was launched by Toby Lawani and Babatunde Sowewe in 2004. The company manages funds totaling $3.6 billion.
The company is still raising funds, hence its reluctance to reveal some details. However, achieving its fund objective will determine whether the team can replicate similar levels of success in the venture capital world, particularly in the funding environment that has changed from last year, leading to huge losses for hedge funds like Tiger Global.
This market downturn is also affecting startups, large and small, whose finances and valuations are taking a hit. But despite the market’s anticipation of risks in start-up land, Ayeni is optimistic and believes the venture capital firm will support legacy businesses in frontier markets just as Helios Investment Partners has done with Interswitch and Fawry, the two fintechs it partly left.
“Obviously the complications have collapsed, which isn’t necessarily bad. In both good and bad times, good companies are still good companies,” said Aini.
One might argue that good companies distinguish themselves in difficult times; He added that it was easy to see who was creating value versus those who focused on “emotions”. “I would argue that there is a lot of value to be created in frontier markets.”
Ayeni started his career as a microprocessor design engineer with Intel Corp. And later with Qualcomm. He then began his career with JP Morgan’s Technology Investment Banking Group in San Francisco. It has executed more than $12 billion in closed-end transactions, including mergers and acquisitions, to IPOs for high-end technology clients.
Prior to the IFC, Wale led early stage venture capital investments for Orange in the United States and was a principal advisor to the Pan-African early stage fund EchoVC from 2013 to 2016.
Under my kind direction across three positions at the International Finance Corporation, the organization has supported more than a dozen African technology companies. Some of them include unicorns Andela and Wave; He led the company’s investment in the latter, as well modern in africaAnd Kobo 360And MaxabAnd PrimorAnd TradeDepot And Twiga. He was a board director for some of these startups.
About his decision to leave IFC for Helios, Aini said that while he thoroughly enjoyed his stay at IFC, it was time to return to the private sector as he believed frontier markets would benefit “a lot from commercial and private sector capital and participants”, which is what the company offers. Helios Digital Ventures.
Toby Lawani, co-founder and managing partner of Helios Investment Partners, said the team brought Ayeni on board because of its global expertise in the project asset class and deep understanding of African markets and technology ecosystems.
He also mentioned that his own company will support startups backed by Helios Digital Ventures with private equity when they mature.
There are very few high-ticket volume funds like Helios Digital Ventures that are intended for frontier markets. But from an African perspective, funds like Norrsken22, Juven, TLcom Capital and Partech Africa come to mind.
“One thing that will differentiate the Digital Ventures fund from other funds is that there will be experience about frontier markets, about what frontier markets look like, not what people read about.” Notice my eyes.