Breaking into venture capital…with Jesse Opoku-Asiedu

It’s safe to say that entrepreneurial spirit runs through Jesse Opoku-Asiedu’s veins. From baby businessman to potential pizza franchise to impact investment and now Newton Venture Program alumni. Here’s Jesse’s story.

Starting up

“I didn’t grow up around anyone that was in a corporate or financial role like I am today. I grew up watching my parents and extended family members running their own businesses. They weren’t big businesses, but they worked for themselves. In Ghana, at that time, the term entrepreneur wasn’t heard of – it was all about ‘businessman’.”

And that’s exactly what Jesse channeled at nine or ten-years-old when he and his friend, Justice, decided they were businessmen. Taking branded water bottles and rebranding them with their homemade labels, they sold them on to their classmates. J&J Enterprise was born.

“I don’t know how much profit was made – if any!”   

Fast forward to university days and Jesse was studying Business Administration at Ashesi University and there was another venture around the corner. Based on a campus on the outskirts and an hour’s drive to the nearest pizza place in Accra, Jesse identified an opportunity for a lack of cuisine options for hungry students. He learned to make pizzas and before long was selling them across campus.

“It was really successful! From my second year through to my final year, other than paying my tuition fees, I never had to ask my parents for money.”

Despite scaling up the delivery model to work as a franchise and piquing the interest of investors, Jesse wanted to pursue another dream of working in finance. His first role post university was with Bank of America in London.

The real MVP

Together with three friends, Jesse has set up Moonshot Ventures Partners (MVP), an angel syndicate with other African investors to back emerging African tech companies. One of the partners at Moonshot had just completed the Newton Venture Program and told Jesse it was ‘fantastic’ and it would help him as a new investor in navigating the nuances of investing in early-stage companies. 

“Before Newton, I’d only done five or six deals so you second guess yourself about whether you’ve done the right thing. Did I do it the right way? In hindsight, I’ve made some good calls, but now I have a robust framework and some structure about how I approach sourcing deals and negotiations, which I didn’t have knowledge of before.

“In the very first module, Selma Ribica from First Circle, was talking through her presentation and I was watching closely as it focused on Africa. I recognised the companies she was talking about and at the point of sharing her portfolio, I spotted a company I’d also invested in last year! It was fantastic validation! Here’s this really accomplished investor and here I am, a new investor, that invested in the same round.”

Broadening perspectives

Jesse’s pivot from entrepreneur to investor came about when he realised how much he cared about businesses in Africa. 

“In the past seven years, there’s been a lot of attention on African tech companies. But the investment wasn’t coming from Africans, so the beneficiaries to any economic upside will not include Africans or people of African descent and that felt wrong. We needed to partake in the ecosystem, not just as operators but also investors.”

“Venture capital is niche and you need a specific skill set. Newton validated that it’s the right step for me. It’s given me so much more that I can use when looking at investments in Africa.”

Despite Jesse’s focus on Africa, his goal with VC Fundamentals was to gather different perspectives and approaches to investing in early-stage companies. 

“The network has been super useful. Everyone is very keen. In one of the virtual Newton networking events, I was paired with a lawyer for startups. A challenge we face at MVP is that we want to quickly complete transactions, but the admin process has many moving parts, which slows us down. I shared my problem and they recommended a new company that provides end to end legal support for syndicate platforms. That was fantastic as we wouldn’t have known about this service otherwise! The network has been beneficial and it’s very spontaneous.

“I went into investing with a very specific idea of how things should be done. Newton helped me to understand that there’s no right or one way to do this. There’s no blueprint for investing in early-stage companies. My cohort was diverse with people from all over the world. Investing in the UK is different from Ghana or Nigeria, so the program demystified the process and showed me that my perspectives matter. It was a really great experience, personally and professionally.

“My next step is to double down on building a platform that allows young Africans to engage in the burgeoning start-up ecosystem. Long term is to start a fund that will partner with entrepreneurs building the future of Africa. There’s some drawbacks to being a syndicate so a fund will offer us more opportunities. We want to be the first fully African owned and backed fund – so watch out for that!”

Start building your network in VC and check out the VC Fundamentals program here.

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