The company bringing much needed expertise and investment to high level start up projects in Sub Saharan Africa

Where did the motivation come from to start the Baobab Network? How did you come together as founders of it and what is the significance of the name?

The concept of The Baobab Network was devised by Toby and I over a beer, reminiscing over time spent at university. The corporate world was not what we had expected, and like many of our peers we had become disillusioned at the lack of social impact they were having through their work. Having had a very diverse and dynamic learning experience at university, we were also shocked at the approach our employers took to talent development. Monotonous, classroom based learning sessions were adding little to our professional learning, and this was frustrating.

Aligned with this, was a boom in disruptive technology start-ups in Sub Saharan Africa and we spent some time investigating the start-up ecosystem across the continent, and consistently saw the same problems being faced; notably across fundraising, talent and missing skillsets. Knowing that the majority of people could not or would not give up their well-paid city jobs to help such start-ups, we designed a two-week programme on the ground in Kenya, matching the skillsets of consultants with the problems being faced by the start-ups. All of the start-ups we work with are focused on sectors which won't only help on a micro scale, but could potentially scale continent or even worldwide - education, healthcare, clean energy, agribusiness and fintech.

The Baobab Network now partners with global organisations who see the two week programme as not only a talent development initiative, but also an opportunity for social impact, diversity & millennial engagement agendas. The name and brand comes from the baobab tree, which to many is an iconic symbol of growth across Africa. We have built our company around this majestic tree, as we look for start-ups that can grow for years, support their communities and stay around for a long time.

What does the network do and how?          

Our core product is a five-day innovation programme that immerses high potential leaders from big corporates, into early stage tech start-ups in Africa. Cohorts are set a strategy project to deliver, and we run workshops on lean thinking, disruption and social business while on the ground.

We immerse top corporate talent into exciting, early stage businesses that are building products in the healthcare, finance, agri, education and clean tech spaces.

The learnings work in two ways; the start-ups get access to talent and expertise that they never would be able to afford, helping them develop their businesses by working on funding proposals, marketing plans and growth strategies; and the corporate teams get to learn about innovation and entrepreneurship from some of the world's most inspiring innovators that are solving big social problems across Africa.

In terms of our verticals - on the corporate side, we work with global companies in the finance, consulting, consumer goods and tech spaces, usually with a workforce of 10,000 plus. We offer these companies a new angle to their leadership development strategies - with a real focus on re-engaging young leaders and millennials that are looking for more impact in their work. On the start-up side, we work with pre-series A stage tech companies working in finance, education, agri, healthcare and clean energy spaces in Africa. We look for businesses that have robust business models, but also a clear social impact at their core.

What has life been like since you opened for business and what projects have been successfully delivered?

Since we ran our first programme in March 2016, it has been quite a journey! We have met some incredible people, working with teams from over 20 countries worldwide. We've now completed projects with 11 start-ups in Kenya, and will soon be opening our organisation up to become pan-African, as we have programmes in the diary in Zambia, Rwanda, Ghana and South Africa between now and March 2018.

Our project focus has been on early stage tech start-ups that are building scalable solutions to problems in the finance, healthcare, education, agri and clean energy spaces. These are all very exciting sectors across Africa at the moment, as there is huge potential for commercial growth and business scale, but also social impact. Our sweet spot is when we find a company that delivers impact as it scales, like an edtech app or a product helping small holder farmers.

Does the company now resemble the one you both had in mind in the planning stages?

We get asked this question a lot, and in some ways nothing has really changed since the initial planning and pilot. Our vision was to connect top global talent with Africa's best tech start-ups - and this is still the core of our model. However, what has changed is all of the different angles we now have to open the business up into new areas. What I don't think we initially realised, was the international scalability of the start-ups that we work with, as on first glance, they seem to just be solving local problems in their markets. However, when you get on the ground, meet the team and see the technology in action first hand, you realise that some of the innovations are truly revolutionary, and could be applied all over the world, if given the right resources and team.

How do you sell the idea to potential investors?

We were fortunate enough to raise a seed round last November, on Crowdcube, a UK based equity crowdfunding website. This finance has helped us to build a team, enter new countries and also scale up our corporate sales process which is fundamental to our model. We closed our funding round in just 11 days, and our investors got very excited about the fact that we are very plugged into an emerging sector in Africa. What is attractive about our business is that we have a clear revenue model in that we run great corporate innovation programmes, but we also have exciting growth opportunities in that we are building a portfolio of minority equity stakes in the start-ups in the network. This one day could be worth a huge amount, so I think this is why investors continue to show a lot of interest in our work.

What's the future looking like for The Baobab Network?

We are really excited about the future of the company. The great thing about our business is that there are so many potential angles for growth. The core of the model will always be delivering world class work with great start-ups in Africa, with clients from around the world. However, we have big plans to scale into even more countries, build an investor network, launch our own seed fund, scale up our corporate programmes and build out a ventures team that can offer ongoing support to our portfolio companies. A lot to keep us busy over the next few years!

The Baobab Network helps large organisations redefine their approach to millennial engagement and retention. They operate by taking top talent from global organisations, including the likes of IBM, Barclays and HSBC - and immersing them on five-day innovation programmes in Sub-Saharan Africa, with some of the most exciting emerging tech start-ups. To find out more about the work that they do, visit