Eloho Omane, fondatrice de FirstCheck Africa-DR

Eloho Omame “Advancing equity, capital and leadership for a generation of women through technology “

Eloho Omame, a Nigerian, is founder of FirstCheck Africa and CEO of Endeavour Nigeria. She is piloting a fund made up of a community of women business angels and investors, focused on women, to make it easier for African digital entrepreneurs to raise capital. She is the winner of the Margaret Intrapreneur Africa 2021 award. Interview.

Interview by DBM

What is the story behind FirstCheck Africa? 

I’m an economist by training. I studied at the London School of Economics for my undergraduate degree. I’ve also got an MBA from the London Business School. I first started working in the Nigerian tech ecosystem about five or six years ago. I consulted for the Lagos State government, a subnational government, and one of the largest governments in Africa on the Lagos Innovates, a portfolio of startup support programs that I ideated and pitched to the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund. They loved it, so we built and launched Lagos Innovates, and I handed it over to the team. Lagos Innovates has supported hundreds of tech entrepreneurs to get off zero with various programs, including its flagship workspace voucher scheme. After that, I launched Endeavor in Nigeria, also an entrepreneur support organisation, but focused on tech companies that have reached a more significant scale. They’re usually venture-backed and have raised a Series A round. Working with tech companies at that stage, the diversity issues quickly became stark. 

After three years at Endeavor, and very recently, I launched FirstCheck Africa, an angel fund and community for African women in tech. Our mission is to “advance equity, capital and leadership for a generation of women in Africa through technology and entrepreneurship.” We’re motivated by the disturbing gender gaps in power, wealth and professional achievement all over the continent. We believe that the world would be a better place if women were more evenly represented in all spaces where decisions are being made and where the future is being built. 

As a woman in tech, how do you explain the under-representation of women in the digital economy? 

A big stumbling block to a more equal representation of women in tech is, of course, the rates at which girls study computer science and STEM subjects and the rates of attrition between school, university and their first career roles. For career switchers, that is, women who are breaking into tech from other traditional roles, the stumbling blocks are mostly artificial, but they can feel significant. For technical roles, there’s some investment and training required, and there are programs for that. But regardless of how technical one’s role is, to be somewhat tech-literate, and there, it can be hard to figure out what experiences, training, or communities can help bridge that gap. They do exist. Networks are also important, and of course, women struggle to break into the male-centric networks that can help them transition into male-dominated industries. I am a big fan of female-first communities, including FirstCheck Africa’s First Movers, which raise women’s visibility and help them connect and build networks that help them succeed in tech. 

On the demand side, in general, the technology industry doesn’t do a good job of marketing itself to women. Startup teams and venture capital are heavily male-dominated, and those kinds of environments tend to be culturally tricky for women. When fundraising, female founders have markedly different experiences from their male colleagues. Women-only teams raise significantly less capital, and diverse teams led by women also raise less money than all-male teams. The prevailing narratives tend to blame women for their lack of success in tech: we’re not ambitious enough, we’re not gritty enough, there’s a pipeline problem….These are all variations on the same theme: “there’s not a lot that we can do as an industry if women won’t show up as the men do.” It’s a lazy response, in my view. 

Rather than throw up their hands at the problem, I’d like to see more startups, founder and investors, not only make public their diversity consciousness but make public their diversity goals. Having more diverse teams in general, especially where women are in leadership and decision-making roles, will help pull more women into implementing solutions to make the industry more inclusive and attract more women to the top of the funnel because representation matters. Until there’s an intentional and concerted effort to draw women in, we’ll see baby steps, not the giant leaps we need to make. 

The gender gaps in tech exist everywhere globally, by the way, certainly not just in Africa. 

How can digital technology create a more equal world for women and men? 

Women all over the world, especially in Africa, face massive wealth gaps compared to men. We estimate that for every $1 in wealth that a man in Africa owns, a woman owns less than 30 cents. There are multiple reasons for this, starting with the gender pay gap on the continent, which mean that women can earn 20 or 30 per cent less than men, and unpaid household labour, and gender norms, which mean that women are “time poor” compared to men. This is true in Africa regardless of social status. 

Technology is changing lives on our continent, not just by delivering better products that fix a myriad of issues but also by creating new, dynamic jobs of the future and minting a new class of wealth. It’s important that women are fully represented across the entire ecosystem, from employees or operators to founders to early-stage investors, so that the future, which is fast approaching, produces significantly better outcomes for African women’s wealth and power. 

You have just won the Les Margaret Award in the Africa Entrepreneur category, how did you react when you found out?

 I was surprised and excited when I found out about winning the prestigious Les Margaret Award, especially in this category. The award is emblematic of the things that I personally stand for, women’s achievement and the power of technology to provide strong leverage to bridge gender gaps. It was humbling to be counted in the same category as so many exceptional women who were also nominated, and I honestly didn’t expect to win. The award was extra special because it was announced on March 8, 2021, International Women’s Day. I look forward to working under the platform of Les Margaret to help drive the overall mission of driving equality for women in Africa through digital industry & entrepreneurship. 

What are your priorities for 2021, and what can we expect from FirstCheck Africa in the months to come? 

FirstCheck Africa invests in women at the very earliest stages of their ventures, anywhere from ideation to launching the first version of their technology product. We love to invest in women-led or diverse teams where female founders have equitable shares of the equity and important roles in decision-making. In parallel, we are building First Movers, Africa’s largest community of ambitious women in technology, supporting them with events and programming to help them collaborate, ideate and build together. In a few months, we are launching an investor collective that focuses on women by giving them access to some of the most promising tech startups on the continent and democratises that access by making it easier for women to write angel checks. We want to create pathways for more women to be successful in tech, helping them win on the journey from operator to founder to investor. 

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