Africa Eats has a unique structure, blending the best parts of a venture capital fund, a business accelerator, and Berkshire Hathaway to create an investment holding company optimized to support fast-growing, mission-driven, for-profit African companies.
Africa Eats focuses on funding and growing for-profit solutions to hunger and poverty across Africa.
Most of the 1+ billion people living in Sub-Saharan Africa are farmers, spouses of farmers, or children of farmers.
Together they grow enough food to feed the continent (and more) but over a third of that food is lost on the way to a meal and the continent imports food to make up the difference.
It costs billions of dollars to import the food, dollars that must be financed from the Global North. While this isn’t the only cause of poverty but poverty can not be solved without food independence.
This problem grows each year as the population is projected to double by 2040.
Solving just hunger and poverty will take hundreds of billions of dollars. More than all the philanthropy and investments in Africa today.
Even more frustrating is the fact that tens of thousands of solutions already exist across the continent, created by homegrown African entrepreneurs, most of which are suffering from lack of capital as they are too small for institutional investors, too risky for banks, too large for grantors to fund, etc.
We know this as the Africa Eats management team has been finding and working with these entrepreneurs for the past decade, not just in Africa but all across the world.
The Fledge network of business accelerators found, trained, and invested in dozens of food/ag companies in Africa.
In 2020, Fledge took all of it’s African food/ag investees and moved that whole portfolio to a then-newly created Mauritius-domiciled holding company, Africa Eats.
Similar to a venture capital fund, Africa Eats owns a minority stake in each of these companies. Each company has its founding team in place and we are here to help them grow and succeed, letting them run their companies as founders who know their markets far better than any investors ever will.
While Africa Eats is not a conglomerate, a KPI we track is aggregate revenues, i.e. the total of all the revenues earned from customers across all of the companies.
At the close of 2021, aggregate revenues totaled $16.8 million. Up 10-fold over the last five years.
The revenues are stacked by company, ordered by total revenues for 2021.
What you can clearly see is the diversity of sizes. A handful of companies are still small, earning under $100,000 USD per year. All but one were that small five years ago. After a few years of rapid growth a handful of these companies are now over $1 million USD per year.
How long until these companies are collectively earning $100 million? Our projections say 2025, assuming no new companies get added to the portfolio (which is occurring organically as these entrepreneurs see more gaps to fill and new opportunities).
2025 assumes slower growth in the future than the past, as it tends to get harder to double revenues as companies get larger.
Food production underlies all these companies and all these companies rely on smallholder farmers to grow the food. Buying from those farmers increases their incomes by 40%-500%, pulling them from subsistence to middle class, reducing poverty along the way.
That said, Africa Eats doesn’t invest in farmers and very little of the food sold by these companies are produced by the companies themselves.
Instead, the secret is to invest in building the food/agriculture supply chain. Build an efficient supply chain and post-harvest losses drop, solving hunger along the way.
Most of the Africa Eats portfolio are what we call aggregator / processor / distributors. They buy from hundreds to thousands of smallholder farmers, do a little processing, and then distribute to restaurants, supermarkets, and retailers.
A few of our companies sell to smallholder farmers (e.g. seeds, animal feed, and agrovet supplies).
A few turn agricultural waste into cooking fuel, with Obamstove being second largest manufacturer of clean-burning, efficient cookstoves in Africa.
As our companies scale up, “the (wo)man with the van” can’t keep up with their logistics and our companies are themselves filling in that gap. We’re branding all those efforts in East Africa as TRUK.
Back to the story of growth, below are a few examples of just how fast can these companies grow?
The fastest growth in 2020 was Rogathe Dairy, growing nine-fold that year. We only met them in January of that year.
We met Swahili Honey way back in mid-2018. They’ve been doubling revenues each year for the past three years.
Most of the other companies are also growing 50%-100% every year for the past five years. All but two or three per year are profitable (due to weather, pandemic, etc.). Holding back their growth is sufficient working capital, sufficient transport, and once those challenges are met, sufficient equipment to increase production. The consumer demands these companies serve are typically 100x to 10,000x larger than their current production, domestically, before they need to look across a border to expand further.
Back to Africa Eats’ mashup of venture capital, accelerator, and Berkshire Hathaway, the piece of Warren Buffet we incorporated is the idea of investing in great companies and holding them indefinitely. Africa Eats would love to own our minority stakes in these companies for the next few centuries. If some get acquired before then, we’ll miss them, but unlike a venture capital fund, we don’t invest hoping to say goodbye after just 5-10 years.
With that long-term, permanent capital strategy in hand, Africa Eats asks the next logical question… what is missing from the African business ecosystem that is slowing our companies’ growth, that we can provide as services to them.
In talking with our portfolio companies, we’ve found five common challenges that Africa Eats can help solve.
First-time entrepreneurs running companies earning $10,000-$100,000 per year usually do their finances in their head, if not their gut. As the companies grow, these CEOs discover that they need formalized financials, and for that we discovered and invested in Built Accounting.
The national electric grids in Africa are unreliable. Solar is not only more reliable, it is less expensive than those national grids. Trouble is that solar equipment is expensive, so Africa Eats provides solar leases to our portfolio companies to make it affordable.
Truck manufacturers don’t offer (affordable) leases and banks don’t accept vehicle as collateral for loans. Africa Eats fills in this gap so that our companies can get the trucks they need for their logistics.
Fast-growing companies recycle all their earnings into more growth, especially when banks refuse to provide operational capital loans. To help with emergency financial needs, Africa Eats has created a “corporate SACCO” to help our companies pool their savings and provide credit to each other.
Less than 1,000 of the 100,000+ smallholder farmers working with our companies have insurance. Traditional insurance doesn’t make financial sense to those farmers. Africa Eats is working on a solution that doesn’t ask farmers for premiums. More on this when we are ready to launch.
The other lesson we learned from Berkshire Hathaway is to let the companies manage themselves, providing guidance and oversight with as little holdco overhead as possible.
Africa Eats is managed by a team of two. Jumaane in Africa, as are all our founders, plus our one mzungu CEO based in the States.
We are raising $10-$20 million, ideally split 50:50 debt:equity. This is on top of the $3 million portfolio we started with and the equity raised since launch.
If we don’t plan on any exits, how do equity investors earn a return?
One final lesson from Warren Buffett… take the holding company public. The plan is an IPO in Africa ASAP and an IPO in London as soon as the portfolio grows in value past £100 million. At the current growth rate, that last milestone is well within the 2020s, shorter than a 10 year VC or PE fund would take.
Investors are then welcome to enjoy the continued growth beyond then, watching Africa Eats grow the portfolio to hundreds and companies and, if all goes well, billions of dollars of value.
Plan B, if the IPO path gets blocked, is to sell the portfolio in whole or in parts to a private equity fund or family office, or to a strategic corporate investor interested in a food/agriculture supply chain spanning the continent.
If this sounds interesting, contact us for the rest of the details.