Enygma Ventures: A Story Of Women Investing In Women

If you are a woman living in Southern Africa with strength, resilience and ideas there is a company looking to invest in you.

Enygma Ventures, is looking for passionate women entrepreneurs to invest in. The venture capital fund was established by two successful women entrepreneurs who now invest in women entrepreneurs in Southern Africa.

“We are industry agnostic, which means we invest in any sector where women are thriving. We are passionate about driving progressive change on the African continent.” says Lelemba Phiri,  Enygma Ventures’ operating partner.

Enygma Ventures was born in October 2019 just before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Last year, the fund invested $3.5 million in 10 businesses in South Africa, Zambia and Eswatini, making them one of Africa’s most active investors for 2020. This year it aims to invest in even more women with a big target on key SADC markets such as Malawi and Tanzania.

“With just a fraction of global venture funds being deployed across the continent, Africa is an extraordinary opportunity. We established Enygma because we wanted to tackle inequality through 3 lenses – gender, race and geography. Thus investing diversely, not only from a gender perspective but also a race and geography perspective, was important to us,” says Sarah Dusek, co-founder and managing partner of Enygma Ventures.

By focusing on African women, the fund led by these driven investors, aims to make the world a more equal place – one investment at a time.

“We want to widen our net this year as our fund mandate covers all 16 countries in the SADC region. This quarter we are particularly looking to increase participation from key markets like Tanzania and Malawi which have in the past recorded fewer VC investments, yet have exciting opportunities.” says Phiri, who is also a chartered accountant and a development finance expert.

The team believes that there is no shortage of talent on the continent, just capital and people to bridge the gap to help women understand what it takes to grow big businesses. The fund’s aim is to close that gap. Having both been successful entrepreneurs themselves in the past, their experiences catapulted them into becoming investors.

“My own experience as a female entrepreneur led me to become an investor as raising capital is hard in itself and 1000% harder as a female, raising capital outside of Silicon Valley. The lack of access to capital and the huge potential of the continent makes Africa an obvious venture capital opportunity. Combined with the fact that globally women are overlooked and underfunded, we knew we could make a difference by mobilizing women, funding their talent and using our own experiences of growing and scaling businesses to help women here excel.” says Dusek.

Enygma Ventures is more than just a financial investor, it also supports its portfolio companies to foster faster growth post investment.

“We work hand in hand with the women entrepreneurs we invest in. For example, one of our portfolio companies grew 300% within five months of our investment. That’s the type of growth a business can achieve and the type of impact it can create when given the right type of backing,” says Phiri.

In many ways Phiri’s life and career experiences helped her qualify for the job of seeking out hard working female entrepreneurs. She grew up in Zambia, in a big family and had to work hard to contribute money towards putting herself through college.

“My mom, who died when I was 16, was an entrepreneur and had set the tone for me from an early age. Giving up was never an option and so I became an entrepreneur myself in my late teens and early twenties. I sold everything from selling cakes to selling rice, fish, chickens and even selling lingerie. Entrepreneurship has always been a part of my life and my career,” she says.

While cutting her teeth as a young entrepreneur in Africa, Phiri saw first-hand how women struggled as entrepreneurs through no fault of their own.

“Before becoming an investor, I was part of a Fintech that successfully scaled a business across 5 African markets and raised over $30million in funding and so it was quite odd to not see many more women entrepreneurs at important tables. Where I saw women, they usually had very small businesses and their access to financing was usually very limited. Sometimes it was just because they had no idea where to go, how to apply, what language the investors were speaking and other times they would be some obvious biases from investors, who assumed that women only required small loans and not larger tickets and other types of funding.”

On why the two came together to invest in women entrepreneurs, Dusek noted, “We were two sides of one coin coming together – Lelemba had been working with women entrepreneurs on the continent for a long time and had well established networks in the start-up ecosystem. I was coming into the space with capital having sold a major stake in a business I had grown for 10 years. We both had the desire to invest in female entrepreneurs and felt it was critically important to lever and bring together our strengths of having successfully scaled businesses in the past, coupled with capital, cultural context and networks to make Enygma a success.”

Phiri concludes, “Women shine the most when there is a crisis as we are natural problem solvers. The timing therefore couldn’t be better for investing in women. We are seeing so many interesting business models coming up, whose impact can be scaled globally. This type of impact is what we wake up excited about daily”.

Enygma Ventures runs calls for applications for investment three times a year. Shortlisted entrepreneurs are supported through investor readiness programs and others that might not be ready are given scholarships to programs run by Africa’s number 1 practical business school www.startupcircles.ai. The programs gives them the right knowledge about what is required for an investor to be interested in their businesses.


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