The Gujarati Woman Who Broke Free to Set Up EFI Hub
Anu used to work at a Mumbai call centre for less than 10,000 rupees a month. Now she is slowly building a network of mentors and investors to help startups across Africa and India.
Anu Shah, CEO and cofounder of EFI Hub, an accelerator program, is working ground up to form a network that will help entrepreneurs who may not have been as fortunate as she was. She is also looking at starting an investment fund, EFI Capital.
Each accelerator has a dedicated goal and a type of startup they would like to mentor. Define EFI to us and describe what kind of startup you would like to mentor.
From my experience as a private equity professional, I have seen that it is relatively easy for A-list entrepreneurs (typically starting from IIT, IIM or Harvard) to leverage the alumni connections and build a network of mentors, investors and industry professionals. The same incentive is not applicable to the entrepreneurs not from Ivy League schools. But these entrepreneurs may still have a great business or product idea that can drive social innovation and change on a large scale. However, absence of a support system or inability to get access to capital leads to untimely death of a lot of startups which could have been a disruptor otherwise. Through EFI Hub I want to empower such businesses. I want to ensure that such businesses get the right guidance and access to capital.
Another aspect that I have observed is the lack of government policy infrastructure and government support to the startup community. Through EFI Hub I’d like to work closely with government officials and intermediaries to influence policy infrastructure, such that it would create a robust ecosystem to ensure sustainability of small and medium enterprises (which happens to be the back bone of the economy).
With this thought process and philosophy we are currently targeting emerging and frontier markets of Asia (India) and Africa (Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania). Though we are largely sector agnostic, we have realized that the most action in India is in tech, while in Africa, there is huge traction in education, healthcare and the tech segment.
Now that we know something about EFI, we realize we know very little about its founder. Tell us a bit about yourself, your areas of expertise and background
I wanted to break free from a conservative environment and stereotypes attached with a woman from small town in Gujarat. So in 2005, I ran away from my residence, with $40 in my pocket to work in a call centre in Mumbai. I fetched a meager salary of $100 a month and lived in a chawl (infested with rats and water leaking roof). Soon I switched jobs and started working as a sales representative selling consumer products from shop to shop in Mumbai. I would walk in the blazing heat of Mumbai for 8 hours and cover 40 shops a day, to achieve a sales target of $100 and a commission of mere $10. But I always exceeded my sales target and quickly rose through the ranks to become a brand manager in the same company.
Since then I have worked in four continents (Asia, Europe, North America and Africa) and 6 countries (Singapore, UAE, UK, Germany, USA and Rwanda) in some very male dominated industries such as M&A, Strategy Consulting and Private Equity with global firms like EY and A T Kearney.
Having experienced a lot of financial struggles and gender bias, I am very motivated to empower others (may that be the budding entrepreneurs or fellow professionals) in their quest to succeed and make a mark in society. This very underlining thought has led to the inception of EFI Hub.
We hear you started by consulting a brewery startup for free; what's your source of income if your services are pro bono?
My ambition or aspiration isn’t to be a millionaire through EFI Hub. My sole aim is to empower businesses that can bring about social change and drive innovation and impact the communities at large. At the moment I am investing my own personal savings in the business. We are currently in discussion with the IFC, World Bank, Rwanda Development Board and other development finance Institutes and exploring options to get financial support for EFI Hub to remain sustainable.
Going further, I wish to leverage this experience and my experience as a PE professional to set up my own impact investment fund – EFI Capital that will incentivize and invest in the businesses identified by EFI Hub.
How did EFI manage to get the founders of Innov8 and LogiNext to join as mentors?
I would call it synchrodestiny. My housemate in Cambridge, USA, and the earlier cofounder Chaitanya Chaudhary knew Ritesh Malik, CEO of Innov8, through common connections in Delhi. When I was toying with the idea of EFI Hub, Chaitanya recommended reaching out to Ritesh. I must admit I was very unsure if Ritesh Malik would agree. My first thought was that he is a very successful and busy guy, he will not oblige. But surprisingly he agreed right away. His first response was that he would really like to help the startup community in any possible way that he can.
This did increase my confidence and I reached out to Dhruvil Sanghvi, CEO of LogiNext. Dhruvil too agreed right away. Not just that his very first response was, “Anu, if you guys need any support with marketing or PR, please feel free to reach out to my team at LogiNext”. Since then I haven’t stopped bothering his Marketing Head, Sharjeel Siddiqui [she smiled after that line].
And similarly, I reached out to Kanika Tekriwal, CEO of JetSetGo, and Saket Modi, CEO of Lucedius, and others – all of who agreed to extend their support right away.
How many startups have you mentored so far, and how much funds have you raised so far and how much more funds will EFI need in the future?
We are currently mentoring two startups – Mergims (East Africa’s first digital payment platform) and Digiskool (an online/tech based education system in Africa). We have arranged a deal with East Africa Investments (a private equity fund based in UK) to secure an undisclosed amount of capital for Digiskool.
Similarly we are in conversations with large tech companies and a leading Indian tech entrepreneur to invest in Mergims. I am afraid I can’t disclose more about the Indian investor at this stage, but Iet me tell you he had one of the biggest startup exits in the tech space in the past few years.
Why is it important that EFI does succeed? India is already over run by accelerators and mentors!
As I mentioned earlier, many startups don’t reach their full potential because of absence of guidance. Sure there are many accelerators and mentors around but they aren’t on one platform. We are trying to make the process simpler by aggregating all the stake holders – that may be investors, entrepreneurs, government officials or government intermediaries. Additionally we are trying to leverage talent across continents. A startup based in Africa can leverage the expertise of extremely talented Indian professionals and beat market expectation. Similarly a startup in India can raise capital through investors in USA or Europe.
You work out of the US. Do you see the repealing of DACA as affecting the US startup ecosystem?
I work across three continents actually, [she smiled again]. Currently, I’m in Europe and by the end of the month I will be back in Rwanda. But I have been an immigrant/expat across four continents and I find the current global wave of xenophobia and racism extremely upsetting.
The contribution of immigrants to the American workforce, entrepreneurship, and innovation is vital. Some of the leading entrepreneurs and best innovators of our times, such as Elon Musk and Sergey Brin were immigrants. Immigrants make up an outsized proportion of the workforce and start companies at a rate far higher than native born citizens, boosting innovation and job creation in the US. In 2014, immigrants made up more than 20 percent of all US entrepreneurs, despite representing just 13 percent of the overall population. In fact, 40 percent of Fortune 500 firms have at least one first or second generation immigrant founder.
I feel sad for those 800,000 dreamers who if given a chance would make a significant contribution to the American economy and society.
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