Startups in East Africa have a new source for investment and mentorship.
Sweden’s Norrsken Foundation — a co-working space and investment fund based in Stockholm — opened its tech fund and entrepreneurship hub in Rwanda today to support ventures across the region.
Norrsken’s Kigali center is located on the former École Belge campus and will begin with seed investments of $25,000 to $100,000 for early-stage startups in all sectors starting this year, Norrsken CEO Erik Engellau-Nilsson told TechCrunch.
The fund size is still being determined, and Norrsken Kigali will extend the fund to larger series-stage investments from $100,000 to $1 million in the future.
Norrsken’s Fredrika Wessman is the head of Africa expansion and the organization is in the process of hiring a local director for its new Kigali operation.
The Swedish foundation’s move into Rwanda is strongly connected to the organization’s focus on the power of tech entrepreneurs to solve problems and generate capacity.
“We believe the single most important thing we can do here is help people get wealthy, because if that happens more investors will start to look at this region and see there’s business opportunities and bring more capital,” said Engellau-Nilsson.
“The aim is to build the biggest hub for entrepreneurship in East Africa.”
Startups that receive Norrsken funding from its Kigali center will receive mentorship and support of the overall Norrsken organization and network. “That includes unicorn founders, leading tech founders, and developers. We also look to expand that network to local accelerators and incubators,” said Engellau-Nilsson.
The Kigali center is Norrsken’s first launch outside of Sweden and the organization looks to open in 25 markets globally over the next decade.
Norrsken was formed in 2016 by Niklas Adalberth, the founder of Swedish payments solutions unicorn Klarna. Engellau-Nilsson was an exec with Adalberth at Klarna from 2013 to 2017, and both aimed to do more to support impact-driven, early-stage ventures.
“We wanted to use our experience and tech to solve real problems instead of finding another way to do things like deliver burrito’s faster,” said Engellau-Nilsson.
More than 340 entrepreneurs and 120 companies currently work out of Norrsken’s Stockholm location. The organization’s fund has invested in 17 ventures, including three Africa-focused startups — agtech company Wefarm, digital publisher Kognity and weather forecasting firm Ignitia.
Norrsken chose Rwanda as the base for its East Africa operations because of the country’s progress over the last decade on infrastructure, increasing internet penetration and improving its business environment. In 2019, Rwanda ranked higher than any African country on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list, 29th, before Spain.
Though the country has a relatively small population (12 million) and tech scene, the government of Rwanda has prioritized tech events and development in the country. This includes becoming a leader on drone delivery and regulatory systems, working most notably with San Francisco-based UAV startup Zipline.
Of the East African countries from which Norrksen will source investments, Kenya stands out as one of the continent’s top hubs for tech startup formation, VC and exits.
As for how ventures can reach out to pitch to Norrsken’s new fund, “If there are entrepreneurs who want to reach out to us, we’re ready to go,” said Engellau-Nilsson. Norrsken posted an informational and contact link for its Rwanda hub today.