Wale Ayeni, one of Africa’s best-known investors, has a new role leading Helios Digital Ventures, the venture capital strategy of private equity firm Helios Investment Partners, TechCrunch has learned.
The appointment comes a month after Ayeni left the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, where he led venture capital investments in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia for more than 5 years.
Ayeni has a similar function at Helios Digital Ventures: spotting and supporting disruptive startups in frontier markets, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.
The company, which Ayeni says grew out of a conversation between himself and the founders of Helios Investment Partners, has previously backed one startup: Egyptian payments company Paymob. The fintech provides an omnichannel payment infrastructure allowing merchants to accept payments through various methods such as bank cards, mobile wallets, QR payments and point of sale. It raised $50 million in Series B earlier this month, in a round that marked PayPal Ventures’ first MENA investment.
Paymob offers insight into the blueprint of Ayeni and Helios Digital Ventures’ investment thesis: it’s at a stage Ayeni calls “early growth” and in a vital sector that affects a large portion of the population.
“I’ll call it a mid-cap venture capital fund. It’s not early, and it’s not quite growing. This is the start of growth,” Ayeni told TechCrunch, describing the stage he sees the fund having to play in. “What we are trying to do from a strategic perspective is to say what sectors are large enough from an addressable market perspective and affect or affect the mass market.
According to Ayeni, Helios Digital Ventures would target five broad sectors: financial services, food security, talent and human capital, healthcare and sustainability.
He also mentioned that the fund would be looking for startups in other sectors – i.e. cutting-edge technologies such as crypto, web3 and biotech – especially as venture capital continues to grow. evolve rapidly.
“I think you get the biggest impact or add a lot of value when you pair cutting-edge technology with frontier markets, regions with no legacy from an adoption perspective,” he said.
Ayeni and the Helios Investment Partners team declined to comment on the venture capital firm’s overall fund size. But sources familiar with the matter estimate the new fund will target between $5 million and $20 million in “early growth” and follow-up checks.
Helios Investment Partners has enjoyed great success as a private equity firm since Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye launched it in 2004. The firm manages funds totaling $3.6 billion.
The company is still in the process of raising funds, hence its reluctance to divulge certain details. Still, achieving its fund goal will determine whether the team can replicate similar levels of success in the venture capital world, especially in a funding environment that has flip-flopped since last year, leading to d huge losses for hedge funds like Tiger Global.
This market downturn is also affecting startups large and small as their finances and valuations take a hit. But despite market predictions about peril in startups, Ayeni is optimistic that the venture capital firm will support legacy businesses in frontier markets, much like its investment partners Helios have done with Interswitch and Fawry. , decades-old fintechs that it partially abandoned.
“Obviously the multiples have crashed, which isn’t necessarily bad. In good times and bad, good companies are always good companies,” Ayeni said.
“It seems that good companies differentiate themselves in difficult times; it’s easy to see who created value versus those who focused on “vibes,” he added. “I argue that there is a lot of value to be created in frontier markets.”
Ayeni started his career as a microprocessor design engineer at Intel Corp. and later at Qualcomm. He then launched his career in finance with JP Morgan’s technology investment banking group in San Francisco. He has executed over $12 billion in closed-end transactions, ranging from mergers and acquisitions to IPOs for large-cap technology clients.
Prior to IFC, Wale led early-stage venture capital investments for Orange in the United States and served as senior advisor for pan-African startup fund EchoVC from 2013 to 2016.
Under Ayeni’s leadership through three roles at IFC, the organization has supported more than a dozen African technology companies. Some of them include Andela and Wave unicorns; he led the company’s investments in the latter, as well as Africa speaks, Kobo360, AB max, Brimore, TradeDepot and Twig. He was a board member of some of these startups.
Regarding his decision to leave IFC at Helios, Ayeni said that while he really enjoyed his time at IFC, it was time for him to return to the private sector as he believed frontier markets would benefit “much more commercial and private. capital and industry participants”, is what Helios Digital Ventures offers.
Tope Lawani, co-founder and managing partner of Helios Investment Partners, said the team recruited Ayeni because of her global experience in the venture capital asset class and a deep understanding of African markets and technological ecosystems.
He also said his private equity firm would support startups backed by Helios Digital Ventures with private equity as they mature.
There are very few funds with big tickets like Helios Digital Ventures dedicated to frontier markets. But from an African perspective, funds like Norrsken22, Juven, TLcom Capital and Partech Africa come to mind.
“One thing that will potentially differentiate Digital Ventures Fund from other funds will be its expertise in frontier markets, what frontier markets look like, not what people read.” Ayeni noted.