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Ovamba — a finance solution for Africa

In this interview, Viola Llewellyn talks about her effort to increase funding to small businesses in Cameroon through Ovamba Solutions, Inc.

Ovamba Solutions, Inc. is a micro-finance initiative that connects small and medium enterprises to short term funding opportunities using mobile phone technology. Launched in 2013, Ovamba has over 60 employees, has helped over 100 businesses in Cameroon gain access to funds and is planning to launch in Nigeria and South Africa.

Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer of Ovamba, Viola Llewellyn, talks more about the enterprise.

When did you conceive the idea for Ovamba? What happened next?

Starting in early 2010, Marvin Cole, my business partner and co-founder had previously been involved in the usual “business in Africa” activities of trying to bring investors, commodities, private public partnership and project finance.  None of which was effective at solving the real problems we saw which were access to credit and helping businesses to grow and become regional champions. In 2012 I started leading trade missions to Cameroon and visited other countries to see what the realities were and what solutions were being rolled out.  We saw very little, but we did see the rise of peer-to-peer and market place lending in Western markets.  It seemed to be a logical idea to take the best-in-breed of this new asset class and remittances from the diaspora as a source of capital to fund African entrepreneurs.  However, this idea had some flaws.  The African diaspora remit more than $160bn each year but the idea was not scalable.  So we created the platform, www.Ovamba.com, and the mobile app “Ovamba Plus” to match institutional investment to the MSMEs who were applying for funding.  This model had the added bonus of introducing institutional investors to the private sector of Africa

How do you get institutional lenders involved and how does this serve their interest?

Institutional investors are looking for great returns and Africa has all of the best features of a good investment. With our track record in alternative investments and Marvin Cole’s previous career at McKinsey we are both very experienced with investors and how to manage their expectations of emerging market investments.  We work with local African investors, high net worth investors and global institutional investors. We offer them access to the great returns of emerging market private investment options via the fast growing SME sector and the benefits of having a positive social impact on the continent.

Llewellyn. Photo: blog.homestrings.com
Viola Llewellyn C.O.O of Ovamba. Photo: blog.homestrings.com

What are the criteria for choosing a beneficiary?

If by “beneficiary” you mean, SME/entrepreneur then criteria for pre-qualification is:

  • Must be over 21
  • Must have a formally registered business
  • Company must be at least 2 years old
  • Company must have a track record of profitability
  • Must have a bank account
  • Company must operate in the approved sectors of activity

How does your Ovamba differ from a micro-finance bank?

  • We don’t take deposits from the public
  • We don’t underwrite like banks
  • You don’t need to have an account with us to get funding from Ovamba
  • Ovamba is a FinTech company which does eCommerce (buys and sells). Banks cannot buy on behalf of customers or sell to them

So far, what are the high-points of running the enterprise?

Great staff!  The ability to train people for a fantastic career.  Being the first in Africa to do what we do – we really impact our ecosystem by the standard of business that we maintain.  We really love our customers and are committed to seeing them grow and fulfil their potential.  Being the first to produce “Ovamba Plus” as a wonderful app/tool so that businesses can stay on the move and still manage funding from anywhere.

How would you assess your impact?

  • Ovamba has had 20 great interns who have learnt so much from us
  • We created over 60 jobs at Ovamba alone and even our customers have been able to create over 100 extra jobs because they grew
  • We have helped increase the occurrence of light manufacturing in-country – some have doubled the number of containers per month
  • We have helped some customers increase their volume of imports in order to have more to sell
  • We have introduced the world to Africa as a real destination for investment

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