BY TOM JACKSON
Born and raised in Nigeria, Mobolaji Adeoye relocated to the United States (US) at 16, where he studied at business school and started his investment career. Now he’s back in Nigeria, backing African tech startups with Consonance Investment Managers.
Having graduated from the University of Maryland, Adeoye moved to San Francisco in 2000 to work for hedge fund Farallon Capital.
“It was a pivotal point in my career – I discovered investing there and it’s when I started my investment career,” he said.
From there, he pursued an MBA at Columbia Business School, and then moved to Barclays Capital.
“I really didn’t like investment banking. It was during the recession, so it was a difficult period. I was grateful for a job and to spend two years there, but it wasn’t for me,” said Adeoye.
“It was funny because in my application essay for business school I wrote about a patient capital platform like Kuramo Capital, and I ended up meeting the Kuramo founder while at Barclays. He told me about his vision; I didn’t think twice about it. I packed my bags from the US and moved back to Lagos. No job title, no salary, no contract. Nothing. I just knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”
At Kuramo, he set up the office and team, and made investments worth US$100 million across Sub-Saharan Africa.
But he always dreamed of doing his own thing, and was becoming increasingly keen on the tech space.
“What really got me started in tech investing was that I made a few angel investments. I also made investments into tech companies while I was at Kuramo,” Adeoye said.
The chance to go it alone came along with Consonance, which launched in 2017 and was seeded by Kuramo. The firm invests in impactful and sustainable enterprises across Africa – companies like Gebeya, VerifyMe and Pezesha that are solving fundamental problems.
“We realised that there was a significant gap in early-stage investing in Africa.”
“Our strategy is not necessarily limited to tech, we’re more tech-enabled.”
Consonance, which also counts various institutional investors, endowment funds, pension funds, family offices, and DFIs as limited partners, has so far made around 20 investments. Adeoye said it has identified eight investment themes – food and distribution systems; access to finance and wealth creation; access to essential services like power, healthcare and education; culture and media; real estate and retail at scale; capital markets infrastructure; logistics and mobility; and technology infrastructure services.
Whatever the vertical, Adeoye believes there has never been a better time to invest in African tech.
“One of the key challenges that we face in Africa is overall low productivity and technology is a huge help; it has a tremendous multiplier effect. To build a large-scale enterprise in Africa, you need three ingredients – collaboration, trust, and innovation. Technology can help with all three,” he said.
To grow, the ecosystem needs several things. Money, of course, but also know-how and what Adeoye calls a “rebellious spirit”. With this in mind, Consonance tries to add value to its portfolio companies in ways other than simply providing capital.
“We set up a value creation group; we like to think of it as a SWAT team. We drive value creation in our portfolio companies. That means that we help build a business model, prepare pitch decks, think through strategy, and pursue business development,” he said.
“We also help our entrepreneurs analyse competition and differentiate themselves from their competitors. For us, we want to see our portfolio companies develop enterprise discipline, which is a devotion to continuous improvement.”
Consonance also has an initiative called “Enterprise Island”, which Adeoye says is like its “ivory tower”.
“We connect our entrepreneurs with mentors, give them access to a library, and introduce them to more experienced entrepreneurs,” he said.
The firm is aiming to raise more capital this year, with Adeoye saying so far it has only “scratched the surface”. Investor interest on the continent, he says, is “significant” and rising.
“Africa is, as people often say, the last continent to be properly built. It’s the last frontier. So, if you don’t have an Africa strategy, then you’re not serious as a capital allocator. But that being said policymakers need to obviously do more to attract more of that capital. It’s a two way thing but the opportunity is massive,” he said.