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AWS Startups, Digital Collective Africa, and AfricArena Announce Pledge to Close Gender Gap and Increase Funding for Women Founders in Africa

CAPE TOWN, 7 December 2023 – This week AfricArena hosted its 7th AfricArena Grand Summit in partnership with its anchor partner and sponsor, Amazon Web Services (AWS). As the summit kicked off, Sthe Shabangu, Head of Public Relations at AWS Sub-Saharan Africa formally announced the Gender Diversity Pledge.

She first spoke about the collaboration AWS has with AfricArena for the AWS Startup FemTech Innovation Challenge, which focuses on fostering female-led innovation across the African continent and allowing female founders and entrepreneurs to access networking and investment opportunities.

Shabangu expressed her excitement about this challenge, as she said “AWS is super excited about it, and we can’t wait to see the outcome of this challenge.” The grand winner of the AWS Startup FemTech Innovation Challenge will receive up to $25,000 worth of proof of concept and the opportunity to develop long-term strategic partnerships with AWS.

She then announced that AWS has collaborated with the Digital Collective Africa community to announce the Gender Diversity Pledge, which focuses on ensuring more funding is distributed to female founders and entrepreneurs.

Napa Onwusah, AWS Startups Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa said, “The Gender Diversity Pledge, which is aimed at driving much-needed change within the venture capital and investment landscape is the result of the hard work of the Digital Collective Africa community who saw a need to create a pledge that will firm up investors’ intention to distribute more funding to female founders and entrepreneurs and close the gender gap. This is pertinent, especially since as of 2022, investment in female-led startups stands at 3% and at 17% for startups with females being part of the founding team.”

Addressing women who are pioneering innovative tech startups across the African continent and within the African diaspora, Shabangu said, “This is your time now!”

Christophe Viarnaud, CEO and founder of AfricArena and Digital Collective Africa co-founder and council member said, “It is important to shift the narrative around the distribution of funds as for too long, male founders and entrepreneurs have received the lion’s share of funding, and it is time for this to change. In Africa, shifting the gender narrative makes sense as over half of the continent’s entrepreneurs are women.”

He continued, “We have seen how female-owned startups and female co-founders are at the forefront of  Africa’s booming tech ecosystem. Opening up funding for female entrepreneurs is becoming more important now than ever, as it becomes increasingly clear that women hold the keys to creative solutions that are solving global challenges. Women are driving Africa’s economic transformation

forward, resetting the continent’s economy, and are thus deserving of a greater proportion of available funding.” Indeed, it is an exciting time for many female founders and entrepreneurs and a time to celebrate and get to work as the gender gap begins to close, and new opportunities start opening up.

Lelemba Phiri, co-founder and partner at ATG Samata said, “ATG Samata welcomes the Gender Diversity Pledge, reinforcing our ongoing commitment as a gender lens investor to champion women entrepreneurs. This pledge aligns perfectly with our mission to create a more equitable and prosperous tech ecosystem in Africa.”

The venture capital sector has its work cut out to redress this gender imbalance, especially as women founders and entrepreneurs began to show their strengths in providing creative solutions, aimed at solving through leveraging creative technology solutions that propel growth and foster innovation.

Already, many of the leading venture capital firms and investors have signed the Gender Diversity Pledge, signaling that they are fully committed to empowering female-led and female-founded tech startups. These funds have already signed the public pledge with a target for the percentage of deals that they will aim to make into female-led and female-founded tech startups next year.

They are as follows: AWS Startups, Digital Africa Ventures, Catalyst Fund, Startupbootcamp AfriTech, Digital Africa (Proparco), FSATLabs, Grindstone Ventures, Founders Factory Africa, Breega, E Squared Investments, Newtown Partners, Jambaar Capital, ATG Samata and VestedWorld.

Interested venture capital firms and investors can sign the Gender Diversity Pledge here. “The power of making a public declaration is that it brings this critical issue to the forefront of the conversation. We invite all the active funds in the ecosystem to join in and set an aspirational target, recognizing that even if you fall short, the trend line will improve each year. This will also serve as the reference list for startups with female co-founders who are looking for investors that are committed to leveling the gender gap” said Philip Kiracofe, CEO of Startupbootcamp AfriTech.

“This pledge is not just a statement; it’s a pledge to action.” rallies Ben Marrel, co-founder and CEO of Breega. “Recognizing the imperative for change, we believe that the first crucial step towards progress is acknowledgment – identifying and dismantling our own unconscious biases. At Breega, we see genuine transformation emerging from a perpetual reevaluation of processes, continuous education of our team, and proactive cultivation of an inclusive culture that not only supports but actively promotes the diverse talent and potential of women entrepreneurs in Africa. Today we celebrate the African leaders in our team and portfolio Tosin Faniro Dada (Breega), Cynthia Wandia (Kwara), Jessica Hanuna (Klasha), Catherine Denis (Numida), Khadija Diop (Socium), and encourage you to join us as we stride purposefully towards a more equitable and prosperous future for all.”

Following this commitment to positive change, Gladwyn Leeuw, CEO of E Squared Investments, echoes this sentiment, “Recognising the critical need for gender diversity in venture capital, E Squared is honored to endorse the Gender Diversity Pledge. This pledge amplifies our commitment to effecting tangible change in funding distribution, with a particular focus on supporting female entrepreneurs. For us, diversity is not merely an intention; it is a fundamental aspect of our interactions. By participating in this pledge, we aim to cultivate an ecosystem that champions diversity, thereby unlocking the full potential of African innovation.”

The Gender Diversity Pledge, Shabangu said, “will ensure investors remain committed to shifting the funding dialogue within the African and global landscape for women, ensuring that women are not left behind in the funding conversation. The opposite is going to happen now. As the funding gates begin to unlock new streams of opportunities, innovative female techpreneurs will be catapulted into new investment opportunities that will help them grow, diversify, and scale at a faster rate.”

Best Deep Tech, Science & Innovation Startup Award Caption:

Amnova Tech founder Denislav Marinov won the Best Deep Tech, Science & Innovation Startup Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit that took place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Wednesday 6 December 2023.

Best FemTech Start-Up Award:

WISI-Oi founder Phumi Körber won the Best FemTech Start-Up Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Best Climate Tech Start-Up Award:

Miyonga Fresh Greens Director Yvonne Otieno won the Best FemTech Start-Up Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Best FinTech Start-Up Award :

Julaya co-founder Mathias Léopoldie won the Best FinTech Start-Up Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Best Seed Start-Up Award :

A-Trader co-founder and CEO Andrew Tesha won the Best Seed Start-Up Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Most Promising Entrepreneur Award:

Deaf Square co-founder and Chief Marketing Officer Nourelimen Nasfi won the Best Promising Entrepreneur Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Most Active Ecosystem Support Organisation:

The Technology Innovation Agency won the Most Active Ecosystem Support Organisation Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

Most Attractive Investor

Seedstars won the Most Attractive Investor Award at the AfricArena Grand Summit.

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