When you are a young, feisty female founder in the startup world, not everything will go your way. The biggest challenge? Access to capital and worse, seeing funding disproportionately channeled to all-male teams, as studies suggest.
BY INAARA GANGJI
JIHAN ABASS, THE 26-YEAR-OLD FOUNDER and CEO of Lami, an insurance technology firm in Kenya, once had a chance conversation with a waiter at a restaurant in Nairobi who ruefully told her he did not have insurance. She then pondered the transformative power of access to insurance to those who never had it, and set up a platform democratizing financial services like insurance and creating a safety net for millions of small businesses and the working class in Africa.
A former commodities trader in London, she came to the space with finance experience and all the passion she needed to fuel the rocketship called entrepreneurship, but that was clearly not enough.
“There’s not a lot of other women to really talk to about issues that you’re facing [in Africa] when it comes to managing a team or even the funding process, being able to be as assertive, or get the best valuation, and so on,” she says, reflecting on her arduous journey raising $1.8 million for her startup.
And evidence amply echoes this reality.
An October 2021 study titled ‘In Search of Equity: Exploring Africa’s Gender Gap In Startup Finance’ by Briter Bridges and the World Bank’s Gender Innovation Lab says that for every dollar received by all female- founded startup teams, about $25 goes to all-male teams, according to Toni Weis, operations analyst in the Africa Gender Innovation Lab at the World Bank.
The study attributes this gap to not only a possible confidence gap, but the kind of industries women function in, and the type of financing pursued.
“Female founders are found to be active in high- impact sectors, such as agriculture, e-commerce and health, which in general receive less funding than say fintech and logistics/commerce, which are sectors that are largely dominated by male founders,” says Lisa With, Head of Research and Operations at Briter in London.
Briter has been actively tracking, recording deals and co-founding teams across Africa since 2018.
sometimes into a fear of wanting to reach out for things because you immediately think that ‘I’m going to get rejected before I even apply’,” says Siso. “It’s not overt. You’re dealing with employees and clients, stakeholders and investors and these comments come to you on a day-to-day basis.”
However, female entrepreneurs are more likely to pay it forward. The study highlighted that companies led by women founders were twice as likely to hire women, and four times as likely to employ female managers. Abass even notes that having a female investor at the table when she was seeking financing may have favorably impacted the outcome for Lami.
“Increasingly, more women are being educated and trained in STEM, signaling that more and more women are also entering the startup ecosystem for opportunities. Supporting other women in the space will serve to foster a more inclusive and diverse startup community,” adds With.
And thankfully, now, there are more unconventional options for financing that can be more favorable for the increasing number of female founders entering the system. Siso has taken the approach of going for any