My co-founder at African Tech Roundup, Andile Masuku, recently hosted a candid three-way podcast conversation with colleagues from his day job at Founders Factory Africa (FFA). He spoke with FFA's head of venture sourcing, Hope Ditlhakanyane, and (now former) head of engineering, Nzwisisa Chidembo, about blockchain investments and venture building and how the space can potentially be leveraged to level the gender playing field in tech.
Despite the current turbulence in crypto markets, Hope is bullish on blockchain tech, providing an unprecedented means for women and other financially marginalised groups to participate more actively in global economic affairs.
In finding her way into the crypto space, however, the challenge has been keeping up with all the changes in a sector that sees numerous new coins and Web3 projects launch and gain apparent traction every day at a dizzying pace. She often asks herself, "I'm at work; how do I keep up?"
Getting into the Blockchain as an Entrepreneur
Meanwhile, Nzwi is taking learnings from his time at Founders Factory Africa and moving on to start up his own company, which will guide investors into the world of cryptocurrency – including tracking coins – going from mentor and venture-building partner to entrepreneur. Founders Factory Africa is providing seed funding of $250,000 into his RiskBloq creation along with technical resources, including product, engineering, and back-office support functions, all important given the complexity of the sector in which it operates.
Nzwi's move into his own venture came about after experimenting in this sector and doing a large amount of research, including advances in how cryptocurrency is mined. Just like traditional mines, these data centres produce more coins for investors. "I've always been very interested in the Fintech space. It was a natural evolution to focus on the next step of digital currencies," says Nzwi.
Nzwi, who has a handful of ICT degrees and is an author and presenter, has followed the progress of currency payment trends, including near-field communication that enabled mobile payments and has become a way of life. "Africans have always been great at creating technology at a tremendous rate, allowing us to overtake developed economies. African can do it."
Hope says her growth journey in crypto started tentatively, prompted by a low-frequency fear of being left out. That led to her getting her beak wet by opening a crypto wallet with the South Africa-based exchange, Luno. Her experience in the space has since accelerated as she's settled into her work as an institutional venture capitalist and started to back female tech entrepreneurs in her personal capacity as an angel investor. Hope believes that in Africa, blockchain tech has the potential to help underserved founders, not least women, bridge the lack of access to proper financial support.
With a keen personal passion for supporting female-led startups, Hope feels there are areas in which women find it difficult or impossible to participate because of legacy inequity issues. "If you are trying to democratise this space, you would need to do it from a systems perspective, which has traditionally been hard. But I am excited that there has been encouraging progress around this in the blockchain space."
New Web3 projects all over Africa and the rest of the world are providing new entree pathways for women founders to enter the tech space, as well as making sure there is gender diversity in the talent pools serving companies of the future, she adds. "The promise of blockchain and the newness, with everybody moving into it simultaneously, could give us a good base from which to ensure equality from the get-go."
The blockchain Africa opportunity is helping women take the risk, says Hope, even though males tend to dominate the Fintech space. "We are all learning and growing in the ecosystem from scratch."
Meanwhile, Nzwi and his wife, Michelle, are solving for how they want to understand this space better to allow for sensible investments. "We need to help Africans of both genders enter investment opportunities so they can be part of the game. It's very hard for people in certain markets to access these opportunities because they seem reserved for certain individuals, and so many people are just left out."
However, he says the barriers to entry are lower in crypto, even though the investment fundamentals are the same. "Michelle and I decided to move some of our spare cash into this market instead of equities. If we fail, we fail. This sector is simply too exciting."
Day-to-day, Hope is having conversations with her network around what she perceives to be one of the most significant barriers to entrepreneurial success— the lack of access to information, pricing intelligence, and technical know-how. "The key question is how you get started with the right information to invest in trusted platforms. How do you lower the barrier to investment even further, especially among those who are not tech-savvy?"
Blockchain offers excellent opportunities for people to enter the tech space from a level playing field. It's just about how we get people into this space with enough information to help them make informed decisions.
Editorial Disclaimer: This opinion editorial was first published by Kenyan Wallstreet on 13 July 2022. The article is part of a Web3 education opinion editorial series resourced by the Celo Community Fund. Opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the African Tech Roundup or the Celo Community Fund.
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