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Zidicircle: Making Investing in Africa Simple

By Ophelie Lawson

Launching a business that aims to support African businesses by enabling entrepreneurs in Africa to raise capital internationally in the form of business loans through an online platform is quite an innovative challenge, but not an impossible one. And it’s a challenge that Fridah Ntarangwi and her company, Zidicircle, are willing to take. 

Fridah’s business, Zidicircle, echoes well with the hope of all my fellow African sisters and brothers. By allowing investments to be made simple and creating a platform that directly connects investors and businesses in need of growth capital, Zidicircle is giving a chance to African businesses to prosper, supporting the economy into progress along its way.

And this is just what Africa needs.

Fridah gave me the opportunity to interview her about her inspiring company. From putting down her first business plan to finding her very first investors, she tells us everything about Zidicirle. 

Zidicircle 

It all started by putting down a business plan. Then, gather inspiration by talking to other players in the market. After getting herself a business coach, she joined an incubator (TEC Europe), a group/facility established to facilitate young European start-ups during their early months.

In Swahili, Zidi is a name meaning to exceed. Zidicirle is a social network/web not only for entrepreneurs but also for investors together with partners.

Initially,  Zidicircle started off as an advisory/consulting firm supporting both debt and equity transactions flowing into small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in emerging markets. But after realizing that creating a peer-to-peer online lending platform where international investors could fund African entrepreneurs directly was more sustainable, the business decided that it will rather go in this direction.

From small businesses to medium size companies, Zidicircle helps to finance any African company with a need for growth capital, but who can also prove a traceable outcome in terms of social-economic development. To minimise the risk of failure, Zidicircle also offers business coaching and monitoring.

“Even an investment of as little as Euro 500 can affect so many on the value chain. Think of a casual labourer in a small manufacturing company who is paid 3 Euros per day, yet has a family of 5 to feed, clothe, educate and shelter. If the company receives a good capital injection and they are able to pay their workers a decent salary, look at how many household benefits, it means happy employees,  more productivity, more taxes…isn’t this wholesome social-economic development?”, she lamented.

She went on saying that “we believe that for a business to prosper it needs not only financing but to be driven professionally. We coach them to make them ‘investor worthy/ready and continue to monitor and coach them during the investment period as well”.  She said that this is possible through their pool of coaching volunteers and local partners. Fridah Ntarangwi further noted hat to be able to deliver affordable financing, one needs cutting edge technology that reduces middlemen intervention to deliver low-cost financing and that is Zidi’s priority.

When I asked Fridah what motivated her to start her business, she first told me that, coming from Africa herself, it was her desire to support Africa’s development. 

Fridah said “the much-needed capital to grow businesses in Africa is not there or it is too costly. Can you imagine paying a personal loan alone, moreover a business loan at 30-50% interest? That’s what really disturbs me. That the needed capital comes at a very high price and chokes the businesses. To me, financial inclusion has to go hand in hand with affordability. I have seen it practically that if you finance a well-run business, it does not only create employment but trickles down positive effects to the society and the economy.”  

Having been privileged to have worked for great companies in both Africa and Europe, Fridah gained a lot of exposure in business, finance, and information technology. Back in Kenya, she was involved in the issuance of treasury bills and bonds. She handled both individual investors and very large institutional investors. In the Netherlands, she worked for a pension fund that exposed her to responsible investments and circular economy financing models. She also participated in several projects of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Those projects were directed/geared towards fostering finance for Agriculture SMEs lending in several African countries.  She also helped establish a supply chain finance company in Kenya. All those experiences gave her a chance to take a closer look at the African economy. She could observe that one of the greatest driving forces of Africa is entrepreneurship; along with the issue of unemployment deeply affecting the living standards of the local populations. 

If there is one thing investing in African businesses could do, is stimulate the socio-economic development of local populations by creating more jobs. But whether or not international businesses are aware of Africa’s investment opportunities, it often depends on the direction these businesses want to take. And because of the unfortunate negative publicity, the reputation of Africa being ‘poor’ and stuck in it, international companies tend to avoid exploring business opportunities in Africa. But some are realising and choosing to tap into the market.

Fridah said: 

“We all need to change the mindset and stop viewing Africa with sympathy, but view the market as any other market, with opportunities and challenges. Luckily Africans living abroad are also investing more and more in their countries of origin and they have supported us by embracing our platform as the avenue of choice to deliver these investments.  Zidi also holds monthly meetups to sensitise people about investment opportunities in Africa.”

In the Netherlands and most European countries, there are good structures and support for all businesses. If African businesses are given enough attention in the international market, it would always be questioned. I think the question here is whether African oriented businesses attract funding as other businesses. The answer is it depends. Africa as a continent is struggling with trust issues, and that is what African oriented businesses in Europe face. In my fundraising journey, I could see potential funders were struggling with trust. And of course, if you have an EU citizen co-founder, the situation is different. That being said, I have received a lot of support from all corners. Our network of investors is very diverse.” 

For Friday, access to affordable finance can unlock the potential of the most vulnerable among us. Just as more investment in businesses that need growth capital (in other words a chance to prosper) will definitely positively impact Africa’s development on empowering them by financing them.

In the early stage, Fridah self-funded her business with her own resources as attracting funding first turned out to be quite challenging. She was busy fundraising Zidicircle until an investment flopped after spending too much time chasing it. Then she remembered what her mentor used to tell her, that best entrepreneurs start with what they have. What started from scratch then rapidly developed into an online lending platform bringing together African start-ups and international investors.

While talking to Fridah, she also emphasises the fact that investors are everywhere. In her opinion, almost every individual is a potential investor, but the real challenge is the uptake of risks and the willingness to diversify. If the interests are aligned in terms of returns on investments and expected outcome, then there is a match. All of her negotiating/business sessions usually start with asserting to everyone that no matter the size of their wallet and the price they are willing to invest, they are investors. Every small investment cannot only earn returns, but can change lives, society and the world.

If you like to contribute or become an investor yourself, please take a look at their website: https://zidicircle.com

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