Whether Tom Fairburn, co-founder of The Baobab Network, was inspired by Ed Milliband’s talk of compassionate capitalism during the 2015 election campaign or not, he’s a much better poster child for the potential fruits of its global labours than the hapless former leader of the opposition. Aged 25 he’s brimful of energy and entrepreneurial zeal, drawing on a childhood in Kenya to spark his startup boosting startup into life.
He and business partner, Toby Hanington ditched corporate careers at Sainsbury’s and UBS respectively to set up a company that places business consultants from top companies in the developed world into innovative, fledgeling firms in Africa to help them get a foothold.
After 18 months its just finished its first round of crowdfunding, netting £150,000 in the process.
But it’s in corporate partnerships with firms such as those inhabiting Canary Wharf’s towers that Tom sees the future.
“We really believe people going out to help these companies get as much from it as the startups themselves,” he said.
“We’re focussed on four key areas when selecting startups to work with – finance, agribusiness, education and healthcare.
“Partly because those are big markets that are in need of disruption in that part of the world but also because in those markets if you scale a good business there’s a chance to have a really strong social impact.
"When we started we were running individual programmes where consultants would come out either with a bit of sponsorship from their employer or they would self-fund.
"We then did a funding round ourselves through but more and more now we’re trying to drive through corporate partnerships as we see that as a key opportunity to set up as a hybrid between a talent programme and a social impact programme.
"Once we’ve really got that kicked off we’re really keen to set up what we’re going to be calling Baobab Seed – our own fund to enable us to put some money into the best companies we work with.
"Our intention would then be to pump money back into startups with any profit we might make."
Although work with the startups is conducted on a pro bono basis the network is driven by profit and vets the firms it helps with both for potential to support the society’s they are born in.
Tom said: “The Baobab Network is named after the baobab tree, which is very well known in Africa.
“It’s a cool brand to build and we like it because the sorts of companies we work with share some of its attributes.
“The trees start very, very small but they become huge, last for years and are at the centre of communities.
“We believe corporates can have a much bigger effect and impact in these countries, empowering local businesses.
“I think our job selecting the right startups is essential.
"We want to be working with businesses that are for profit but will have a beneficial social impact too. That’s the sort of virtuous circle we promote.”
Having run its first programme in Nairobi 14 months ago, the network is already expanding across the continent, with initiatives planned in Zambia, Ghana and Rwanda for 2017.
Tom said: “For the startups we want to help them scale their businesses, get those early funding rounds.
"For the corporates what we wanted to set up was a way for their staff to do this sort of project, gaining skills that they could take back to their day jobs, without having to take six months off or do a full sabbatical, which can be problematic.”
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