In this week’s focus on women entrepreneurs in Mauritius, we get to meet Aysha Tegally, Founder of Future Female Invest (FFI)! She talks about the financing gap towards women and people of colour, about helping female founded companies in Mauritius and Africa to grow and also about the role of FFI in building a world where women have a fair share in the entrepreneurship universe.
Before we talk about Future Female Invest, please tell us more about your professional career before launching this company.
Before Future Female Invest, I was working and living in the UK. I was born and raised, and have most of my professional career there. I was mostly in PR and celebrity booking. I also worked with young people, teaching them how to be a journalist, how to work in media, how to create films and about issues that were important to them. Then, I was with the NHS to help in making the sexual and reproductive health more accessible to young people. After that, I started a social enterprise with my former husband to work with young people: the objective was to enable them to have their voices heard using media. We also worked with women in marginalised communities to help them set up their own enterprises, which led me to become a consultant and to start working with incubators and accelerators to help people set up social enterprises and then actual businesses. Then came my time with different capital ventures firms to help them bring more underrepresented founders into their pipelines, i.e. help them invest their money into people that don’t normally receive money, like women and people of colour. Less than 2% of venture capital goes to women and one of the reasons FFI was set up is to address that capital gap! We know when you invest in women, you invest in a community, you invest in families, you invest in education, you invest in better health services. So, by supporting female founders, it’s not only good for profits, but it’s also good for society!
In launching FFI, what was your primary aim and objectives?
Close that financing gap and put more money into the hands of women who were running businesses that are having an impact on society, are making profits and that really has the potential for scale. On the other hand, we also wanted to see more women allocating capital! We want to see women who are investors, we want to see more women on investment committees, we want to see more women who are at senior levels in financial institutions and we want to see more women who are in senior levels in funds and who are running funds! This is why we exist and what we want to do! Success for us is seeing that women are seen, heard and funded! We want women to be seen for the amazing business people that they are, we want to also hear the issues or the wonderful business that they are running and we want to ensure that they are funded, that the capital flows to those women.
Is the focus of FFI solely on Mauritius? Or do you also venture internationally?
FFI is based in Mauritius and we mainly work with Mauritian women entrepreneurs. We also launched an accelerator for women entrepreneurs who have been running businesses for at least 2 years to help them scale and grow. But we also worked with women from different countries in Africa, including Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Madagascar as well. Prior to Covid-19, we were travelling, but during the lockdowns and closed border period, we did a lot of virtual interventions like webinars, virtual coaching and mentor matching to Angels investors…
When you say coaching, what do you mean, and what are the goals?
When we have a business that we would like to invest into or when we think there is potential to invest, we would run some coaching sessions with them, usually via Zoom if they are not in Mauritius. Those coaching sessions help to understand what their businesses are about, where they want to go with it, what they are looking for in an investor, and we look at how we can match them up to their finance. Sometimes that finance comes from our network of women investors and sometimes it would come from our side when we connect them with other investors who may be interested in them.
In terms of coaching done in Mauritius, we do open courses, we meet with the entrepreneurs either face to face or via Zoom on a regular basis to see where they are at with their business and give them challenges and targets to achieve.
How does the relationship between entrepreneurs and investors work?
We always say to entrepreneurs and investors that investing in a company is a two-way relationship! It’s not because you’ve given the money that you now own the business and you can tell everybody what to do. And the same for the entrepreneur, it’s not because the investors have given the money that you don’t have to listen to their advice or ideas. We really make sure that both sides are comfortable with each other because it’s a long-term relationship. When we invest, we always look to add more value as well than just the money that is put in. We give our time with coaching and expertise. We have a range of experts in our network, in digital marketing, health sector, finance, and legal field. All of them provide an input on how to really develop, launch, grow and commercialise the business.
Can you give us an example of what FFI does for a company?
Early 2021, we were funded by Accenture to work with two female founded companies who had a sustainability element to them. One of them was Double Life (a clothes consignment Pop up shop). We worked with them to solidify their financial model, to finalise their founders’ agreement (their roles in the business) and gave them access to some really great marketing workshops which they said really helped their business.
On top of that, we had an event with the Australian High Commission where they were introduced to some women diplomats in Mauritius: this helped to expand their customer base. It was the same with the other business we work with, which is Recyclean, a door-to-door recycling collectable company, run by Sharon Lennon an amazing woman entrepreneur with passion and tenacity. She was also introduced to the Australian High Commission and the diplomats to expand her network.
We are a listening ear to them as well: they can soundboard any problem or issues that they are facing in their business because being an entrepreneur can sometimes be a lonely journey, so there is not always somebody to celebrate successes with or commiserate sad times, so we try to be THAT person for the entrepreneur.
Based on your experience in the UK and around the world, how does the Mauritian woman entrepreneur sector compare?
Mauritius is a very interesting place with a small population compared to other places like Nigeria where there are 200 million people… For me, Mauritius is a fantastic place for entrepreneurship because it is a real opportunity to launch something and then scale it to other countries and territories as the island is the gateway to Africa and India. This provides huge opportunities for entrepreneurs. And I feel like there is a lot of support for entrepreneurs here, particularly women with not only Future Female Invest, but also other NGOs like We Empower, government organisations like MRIC for funding opportunities. So, I think Mauritius is a brilliant place to get started. There are a lot of amazing women here. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of events, conferences, etc. So it’s a great place to meet and network with people. I believe that, for women entrepreneurs in particular, the sky is the limit and that you get out what you put in! If you want to work hard to make your business a reality, just do it.
If you had to improve anything to provide more support to women entrepreneurship, what would you do?
For women entrepreneurs, financing is always a barrier. So, I would like to put something in place for that, like grant funding, forgivable loans to enable women to go to their MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) place and have some sort of traction within their business. I think that’s the gap that’s missing in Mauritius and all over the world. Not making a generalisation, but as I have seen, women are more likely to have their businesses as a side hustle, as something they do in their spare time or in part-time so they don’t jeopardise their full-time job. In doing so they don’t have to worry about the money to pay extra for a nanny after-hours, for example. Having that financing will enable them to do that!
What are Future Female Invest objectives in the mid and long-term?
We are really excited about the program with ABSA Bank which will allow 10 women entrepreneurs from Mauritius to benefit from our help to grow and scale their businesses. This will help them see what’s out there. We also want to build a bigger network of women Angels investors (those who invest in the early stage of the project) across Africa. We want to continue to pursue those women with businesses that are investable, that are scalable and need that capital to really catalyse their growth. Ultimately, in the long term, we want to have our own fund. We want to be running a venture capital firm that invest in female founded companies!