Villgro Africa Expansion : Progress and Opportunities

Villgro Africa has embarked on a series of events as we expand our vision and services across the continent. Wilfred Njagi, Villgro Africa Co-founder & CEO takes us through the journey of replicating the Villgro incubation model in Africa.

Since 2015, Villgro Africa has disbursed $1M in funding across 20 enterprises, with the annual budget growing to $1.5M, We have touched and improved about 2.2 million lives in East Africa. Wilfred shares what it will take to amplify the impact and what he is looking forward to experience in this next phase of growth.

  1.     As Villgro Kenya has transitioned to Villgro Africa, what steps are you taking to expand to the rest of the continent? What has already been done? What is being planned?

We started with rebranding from Villgro Kenya to Villgro Africa in October last year.  We also joined Afrilabs, a network of incubators in Africa. We have gone on to reach out to 10 incubators in Africa that are interested in joining the Villgro family. These 10 incubators will be taken through months of training and refresher courses in incubation best practices and also periodic knowledge sharing sessions (Wednesday Wisdom Events). Villgro Africa will sponsor these incubators to go through a one year of training and handholding. At the end of the program a few incubators will be selected for a joint incubation program roll-out.

Villgro USA has curated the following training topics in the next 6 months:
(Note: VITALS - Villgro Information Tracking and Learning System, is a cloud-based MIS for incubation management - that greatly assists with workflow)

  1. Introduction to the Incubation Workflow and VITALS
  2. Pipeline Events Management and Deal evaluation - using VITALS
  3. Detailed Diligence - Managing the diligence process using VITALS
  4. Incubation Management - - using VITALS for efficiency
  5. Diagnostic Panel - 100 day incubation plans
  6. Building and maintaining a Mentor Network
  7. Putting together a Go-to-Market program
  8. Basics of Sales Planning / forecasting
  9. Building Partnerships - Incubatee centric approach
  10. Incubator to Impact fund: it's not all fun(ds)

The current batch of incubators have been selected from Ghana(4), Tanzania (1), Zambia (5)

Outside the structured training program the Wisdom Wednesday Series will be available for any interested incubators or ESOs to join free of cost. The calendar of events can be found on this link >>

  1.   What do you look for in a partner when it comes to expanding to another country? 

The incubators we select will be based on:

-        Impact focus - Committed to improving lives at the BoP

-        M&E - ability to continuously measure and report impact

-        Maturity & Stability - at least 3 years of operations

-        Should be open to learning from each other and adding value to the network

-        Willing to participate in periodic reviews

-        Willingness to be part of a network

-        Sizeable footprint (10-15 employees, sizeable portfolio, with at least 300K-500K annual budget

  1.   What area of Africa are you hoping to expand to first? Why? 

While the East Africa operations will remain predominantly healthcare focused, the  incubators we are working with in other regions are sector agnostic. We are open to new sectors as we expand across the continent.. The Villgro methodology works for any sector. In the last five years we have fairly covered East Africa. We are not biased but we would like to see some presence in West Africa and the SADC region. We will be happy to form partnerships that help us to cover those regions.

  1.   What most excites you about the expansion?

The speed of accelerating impact. If you look at what we have done in the last 5 years, we have touched 2M+ lives, unlocked $17M in follow on funding. There is a multiplier effect. We can achieve the same impact in half the time. If we add 10 more incubators in Africa, we will have touched 20M lives in the next 5 years.

Discoverability of startups in emerging ecosystems– In some of the African ecosystems we don’t hear a lot of transactions happening. Most of the deals in Africa are concentrated in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Ghana but we are a continent of 54 countries. We would like to shed some light on what’s happening in some of these less celebrated ecosystems. We look forward to discovering startups and helping improve deal flow by working with incubators in countries like Senegal, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone to support startups and help them unlock follow on funding.

As we scale across the continent we envision a Pan African call for innovations. Africa needs to build home grown solutions to the rising global challenges around disease outbreak surveillance,  food insecurity, planetary health (one health), cushioning livelihoods against pandemics like COVID -19 among many other challenges. We want to be a go to partner for anyone who wants to do pan-African thematic call for innovations that touch on these issues in a multi-country approach.

  1.   What do you see ahead as the primary challenges? 

Alignment with other incubators. We want to ensure a win-win scenario where we leverage each other's strengths. We will only work with incubators that are aligned and feel the same way about the partnership.

As Villgro we want to learn from these incubators because they understand the local context better than us, they have the in-county presence and that is something we cannot overlook. As we share with them the best case practices and processes and they will be sharing with us the local context, local networks and local resources in return.

  1.     As you grow Villgro, what have you seen in your experience with Villgro that encourages you most? 

"What encourages me most is that Villgro Kenya started from a very humble beginning. We started with less than $100K in funding from Lemelson Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada. We had three co-founders who were willing to sacrifice their time and even take pay cuts.". Today we have been able to disburse over $1M in funding across 20 enterprises, our annual budget has grown to $1.5M, We have touched and improved about 2.2 million lives in East Africa as per our 5 year impact report . That journey of growth is inspiring. We want the incubators we work with to have a similar success story to be able to grow and expand and leverage the Villgro brand and networks. The fact that the replication has been tried and tested is encouraging. Villgro has had success replicating its incubation model with other incubators within India and globally. We formed Villgro Africa in 2015 (to serve East Africa and Ethiopia) and Villgro Philippines in 2016 (to serve South East Asia) and started training incubators in South Asia (Bangladesh, Vietnam, Nepal, Myanmar, Tajikistan, and the Philippines).  I can’t wait for us to have a Villgro presence in Latin America, this is inspiring in itself.