Greater African unity amongst the 1.3 billion people, spread across 54 countries with diverse cultures, languages, and sizes, has been an aim for decades to facilitate economic, social, and political progress.
Ironically, the desire to strengthen bonds between Africans doesn't stop at the continent's shores. Instead, it extends to those who are part of the African diaspora — people of African origin living outside the continent who are willing to contribute to Africa’s development.
In the past, contributing to the development of Africa in a meaningful way required members of the diaspora to return home. A difficult transition that many were reluctant to make. However, today, technology presents new opportunities for the African diaspora to impact the continent without moving. And the Sweden-based startup, Bantaba, hopes to lead the charge.
Bantaba aims to connect the African diaspora with startups addressing Africa's biggest challenges. Through their platform, the diaspora can identify and engage with African startups, providing mentoring, coaching, consulting, and investments. Ultimately giving African Startups access to the talent and wealth of the diaspora.
I spoke with Lamin K Darboe, CEO and co-founder of Bantaba, about what inspired him to create the platform, how Bantaba serves African startups, and their vision for the future.
Meet Lamin K Darboe
I’m Lamin Darboe, and I’m currently living in Stockholm, Sweden. I’m originally from Gambia, West Africa. I left in 2012, for similar reasons to many other young Africans, to study. I first went to the National Institute of Bank Management in India for 3 months, where I studied banking and finance. Then, I got a scholarship to study at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy.
After completing my undergraduate studies in 2015, I moved to Ireland for 6-months to work for a consulting company. Then, I came back to Italy and worked for a telecom company within their finance team until August 2019, when I moved to Stockholm to pursue my master’s at the Stockholm School of Economics.
A year ago, I started working on what became Bantaba with a couple of international students from Africa that I met in Stockholm. Like many people in the Diaspora, we have a burning desire to engage more actively with Africa even though we are no longer on the continent. That desire is how we came about working on Bantaba.
How did your journey lead you to create Bantaba?
I see Bantaba as an outcome of my journey over the last 10 years. As I mentioned previously, I’ve spent the last 10 years traveling the world. I’ve been to Asia, North America, and Europe, and during my time in all of these places, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many people of African origin, and I’m always impressed when I hear their journey and what they’ve achieved for themselves.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve thought about the abundance of knowledge and talent available within the Diaspora community and how to make this talent available to the continent. Many of us have talent and a skill set that is highly needed in Africa.
Until now, the only way the Diaspora could give their talent back to the continent was to pack up and move back home, which is a very high threshold. For many of us, we’ve settled in our new locations, even started families, so uprooting to move back can be too much.
While this made sense 10 or 15 years ago, this doesn’t make sense today with all the digitalization that’s going on. If covid has shown us anything, it’s that we can do great things from the comfort of our bedroom. This led us to explore an alternative method, and ultimately how we came up with Bantaba, a digital platform that makes it possible for the Diaspora to give their talent to the continent.
What specific void or opportunity did you discover that inspired Bantaba?
I’ve had the opportunity to interact with so many entrepreneurs across the continent, and I’m always inspired by their grit to tackle the challenges that burden the continent. But it breaks my heart when I hear the lack of support that they have compared to their peers in other parts of the world.
According to the African Development Bank, 22% of Africa’s working-age population is starting new businesses; this is the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the world. And these entrepreneurs are inspired by real-life challenges like improving access to electricity or basic financial services.
Despite the rapid increase in the rate of entrepreneurship on the continent, Africa in 2020 accounted for less than one percent of global VC funding. I refuse to believe that there’s a monopoly on good ideas in any region. So what's the problem?
I read a report that said 70 percent of startups in the continent lack access to talent and capital to grow their businesses. Our desire to solve this problem is why we came up with Bantaba. Recognizing that there is a huge community called the Diaspora with talent and wealth, we aim to enable startups in Africa to gain access to this community.
What value does Bantaba provide to African startups?
We have two core value propositions for startups. One is access to talent, and the second is access to capital. We’re tackling these problems by building a digital platform that’s scalable and available to startups across the continent.
Access to talent:
Startups can create a page on our platform, tell their story, describe the problem they’re solving, and most importantly, share their talent needs (mentors, advisors, or consultants?)
The Diaspora can also create a profile on our platform to share their experience and share how they’d like to support and engage with startups on the continent. We’ll use this information to match startups with people in the Diaspora with the talent they are looking for.
For example, if a startup in Kenya needs someone to help them with UX Writing, they’ll see Nathan in the US has this skill, and more importantly, he is willing to engage with startups in Africa. This is how we intend to facilitate this knowledge transfer between the Diaspora and startups in Africa.
Access to capital:
We will work with local partners on the ground who will validate startups for us. Once validated, the startup can launch a fundraising campaign on the platform which has investors from the Diaspora.
Me (Lamin Darboe) I'm the CEO.
Fabrice Ouedraogo is our CTO. He’s from Burkina Faso, originally, but like me, he had to fight for scholarship opportunities. He went to Taiwan to do his undergraduate studies in computer science and eventually to the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden to do his master’s in cloud computing.
Catherine Kyule is our marketing and PR manager. She’s originally from Kenya and has experience within journalism there. She’s also worked at Coke Studio Africa and for Volvo cars here in Sweden.
Noufou Kafando is our CPO. He’s also from Burkina Faso. He got his bachelor’s in Sustainable Energy Engineering from a university in Taiwan and has a master’s in sustainable energy engineering from KTH Sweden.
Building network of African startups and experts/investors in the diaspora?
After graduating from undergrad in Taiwan, my CTO, Fabrice, moved back to the continent to start a tech company in Rwanda, which gave him a network of entrepreneurs from around East Africa.
For myself, I have experience in the early-stage investment ecosystem. I worked for a venture capital company and an incubator here in Stockholm. Based on my background, African entrepreneurs would reach out to me to get advice on their pitch decks and business plans. Through these experiences, I’ve been able to build a solid network of entrepreneurs as well.
In two months, 100+ startups have signed up for our whitelist. Within the Diaspora, we still have work to do but I’ve been connecting with people on LinkedIn and sharing our vision, and so far, the sentiment has been good.
The vision for Bantaba over the next 3-5 years?
Our vision is to become the link between global capital and Africa’s startup ecosystem. Starting with the diaspora community, we want to enable African startups to have equal opportunity to capital like their peers in other parts of the world, and we want our platform to facilitate that active engagement and collaboration between African startups and the diaspora community.
We have a very ambitious goal for the next 24 months: to connect 1,000 African startups to opportunities within the diaspora community, be it talent or capital.
Tips to other entrepreneurs in the diaspora?
Believe in your vision:
Make sure that you truly believe in your vision and what you want to achieve. That’s what will keep you going when the fan hits the belt, and trust me; it will happen. There will be challenging times, and in those moments, the only thing that will keep you going is knowing you’re working for a greater good, something that’s worth fighting for. Going the distance is not about competence or your network. It’s about believing in what you are doing and deciding to dedicate your time and effort to do it.
Follow your heart:
As an entrepreneur, you will get a lot of advice, and advice is nice to receive, but it’s hard to execute. At times you’ll even receive conflicting advice, and in those moments as an entrepreneur, it’s really important to follow your heart and do what you feel is right.
Enjoy the high-times:
As I mentioned, there will be many tough times. When people ask me how it's going, I’m honest and tell them there are fun and sad moments. And unfortunately, the sad moments, sometimes, are more frequent than the fun moments. My recommendation is that when the fun moments come, make sure to enjoy them.
Built In Africa. What does that mean to you?
Built In Africa signifies creating African solutions to African problems, which both of us are doing in different ways. At Bantaba, we’re enabling the Diaspora to be part of the solution to the continent’s problems.
People often ask if there are all these opportunities in Africa, why does it receive so little venture capital investment? My response is, if you look at the people that control the bulk of venture capital investment, it’s institutional investors based in Europe and the US, and most don’t know anything about Africa or our markets. And for every investor, the first threshold that they need to cross to consider investing is understanding the market.
This has contributed to the lack of capital flowing to Africa. But the Diaspora understands the African markets and can often relate to the problems that startups are solving. This makes a huge difference for African startups because you’re dealing with an investor who has a connection to Africa.
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