Yasmin Belo-Osagie and Afua Osei’s paths first crossed when they worked together at McKinsey & Company. But the idea to start a pitch competition and entrepreneurial training organization for women-owned, African companies was birthed a few years later during a women’s conference.
“We both had a background in empowering and supporting women, especially high potential women. We ran into each other at A Women’s Excellence conference in May. We were both a similar vision, to support women leaders in Africa. We talked about putting together a pitch contest for entrepreneurs and we soon realized that it could be much bigger,” says Belo-Osagie.
Osei and Belo-Osagie identified four barriers female entrepreneurs face when starting a company in Africa: unequal access to education, limited access to financing, cultural stereotypes and limited access to professional networks. They knew they could change this by leveraging their networks. She Leads Africa began with “The Entrepreneur Showcase,” a pitch competition, seeking to empower women by connecting them with venture capitalists, investors and business development services. But, Osei and Belo-Osagie see She Leads Africa as bigger than a pitch competition. They want to spur women to start and lead $100 million, African-based, companies.
“She Leads Africa couldn’t have come at a better time. We were crystallizing our work and She Leads Africa quickened the process. I wanted validation for the company. I didn’t want to create a solution for a problem without knowing if people really wanted it,” says Cherae Robinson, the Founder of Rare Customs and Tastemakers Africa, the world’s only mobile app dedicated to buying upscale, curated experiences on the African continent.
Robinson and Rare Customs received first prize at the Entrepreneur Showcase. Out of 380 applicants, 10 were selected to pitch to a group of investors. Robinson and Rare Customs were awarded $10,000, consulting support, legal advice, brand development, mentors and access to a network of investors committed to developing Africa’s economy.
“Now, we are ramping up our seed round from the momentum we’ve built from She Leads Africa. We are speaking with investors now,” says Robinson.
Belo-Osagie comes from a family of female entrepreneurs and knows that it takes passion and ambition to compete in a man’s world.
“Both of my grandmothers are entrepreneurs. I’ve seen ambitious women and I know that you start a business about something you think about every day. Africa is what we think about and empowering women business leaders to make an impact on the continent,” says Belo-Osagie.
Robinson confirms the dedication of the She Leads Africa Team.
“She Leads Africa doesn’t just want you to win their competition. They want you to win in life. You are going to be part of an organization that sees your success as their success,” states Robinson.