Antler East Africa closes $13.5M fund to invest in early-stage startups – TechCrunch

Antler East Africa, the Nairobi office of VC firm and venture builder Antler, has closed a $13.5 million fund to invest in early-stage tech startups in the region.

The oversubscribed round — Antler intended to raise $10 million but ended up with an extra $3.5 million — has LPs that include Baillie Gifford, a well-known Tesla backer; family offices such as Canica; and institutional investors like the IFC.

Antler East Africa was launched in August 2019. It runs a full venture building model with two cohorts each year.

Five cohorts with 153 founders have passed through the accelerator programs so far, and the firm has made 14 investments. A few of them include AIfluence, Marketforce-subsidiary Digiduka, Honeycoin, Uncover Skincare, Try Cooked and Vybe.

However, its parent company, Antler, founded two years earlier by Magnus Grimeland, employs a mixed model where it acts as a venture builder and VC firm.

The firm, which invests from pre-seed to Series C, has cut checks in more than 250 companies from its $300 million fund.

Antler East Africa’s new fund allows it to embrace a similar approach: accepting founders who want to build their startups from scratch and investing in already formed teams that need capital to scale.

“We still do the venture building. That’s still the core of what we do. Just that now that the fund is closed, we have enough money to spend in existing businesses that are coming in,” Selam Kebede, the firm’s director, told TechCrunch over a call. “And we can invest in stuff that’s already been built with a pure kind of VCs type setup investment.”

Kebede is part of the all-female-led team that includes partners Melalite Ayenew and Marie Nielsen and program manager Joana Borges.

Antler said it would accept founders and teams on a rolling basis. Founders going for the venture building model to find a co-founder and launch an idea will stay within Antler’s community for up to six months.

For existing startups, two to six weeks is all that’s needed for Antler East Africa to work with the team before the firm cuts a check. Antler East Africa says it will invest up to $100,000 in these startups at a “mutually agreed valuation.” It plans to make 35 new investments from pre-seed to Series A over the next three years. There’s also an arrangement for the global Antler fund to follow up on some rounds all the way to Series C.

“What changed now is, in the past, we were going only from zero to like the first $100,000 ticket. But now we’re saying we can also take in existing teams and ideas that formed outside of Antler, but they can come to us and then we can invest just like any other VC would,” Kebede noted.

“So that changed a bit from what we typically used to do in the past three years. Now, we can start from literally day zero to support you and give you the first institutional ticket following up to Series C and D.”

Kebede told TechCrunch that Antler East Africa is sector agnostic. Nevertheless, the firm is keen on investing in startups solving problems in climate tech, agritech and fintech. She also said the team has already made a few investments with this new format but declined to disclose their names.

Being a female-led VC team, Antler East Africa is particular about investing more in startups founded and led by women in the region, Kebede said. It will try to improve the numbers from its venture building model, where 25% of the founders in its portfolio are women.

Meanwhile, female-run VC firms are impressively taking up their place in a male-dominated tech space as they try to address the funding gap that has plagued the industry for years. The Antler East Africa team, led by Ayenew and Nielsen, joins that list of such firms, including those specially dedicated to female-founded and led teams like Alitheia Capital and FirstCheck Africa.

“There are few or no female-run VC 100% that I know of, at least in Kenya. But our partners [Ayenew and Nielsen] and I, we’re all women,” expressed Kebede.

“And so it’s been super exciting to be able to do this, especially as first-time fund managers. It hasn’t been easy though because, you know, there’s the added kind of scrutiny and concern from other people when they see only women running it, but it has been exciting too.”

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