Harvard Case Study On Harambeans

Sneha Shah, Lubega H'16, Matshoba H'14, Eneyo H'16

– HBS Professor Anywhere Sikochi


Harvard Case Study on Harambeans

Harvard Business School’s Professor Sikochi moderated the plenary session titled ‘Scaling at the Speed of Trust’ during the Harambeans Global Summit 2022 held in Franschhoek, South Africa.  During this Guild Session, he drew Harambeans into a conversation that focused on stories from their personal experiences in the Alliance and how they had created avenues for them to scale their impact while putting them on a path towards Unicorn status. 

Creating a trust ecosystem

Professor Sikochi opened the session by reflecting on what he had learned about Harambe and the context for being a Harambean while doing research as a co-author of the HBS case study titled Harambe: Mobilizing Capital in Africa. He shared an Alibaba case study to highlight the importance of building trust among stakeholders. “When it comes to Harambe, the same level of trust is needed by and between investors and entrepreneurs,” said Sikochi. While capital markets have several checks and balances to keep role players trustworthy, in the absence of similar systems for African entrepreneurs, it was hard for investors to find the level of comfort and reassurance they needed to invest. People weren’t interested in Africa. Many were fed up with hearing about Africa and the same stories of corrupt governments, starving people and a hopeless continent. “African entrepreneurs were largely isolated in the absence of a system with no way to connect to local or global investors. Harambe solved this problem by forming an ecosystem that connects all role players, i.e. local and global investors, partners and entrepreneurs. Today Harambeans are not only entrepreneurs but also investors, advisors and partners. Harambe is a true ecosystem that recycles its ‘nutrients’ to sustain itself,” said Sikochi. 

Finding friends, team members and investors in the Alliance

Mr Iyinoluwa Aboyeji H’10 is the co-founder of Flutterwave and Future Africa and co-founder of two Harambean unicorns. He joined the Alliance from the University of Waterloo with Project Cheetah, an online learning platform to provide Africa’s top government and business leaders with high quality courses on innovation, leadership and public policy taught by leading African and global experts. Aboyeji remembers his early days in the Alliance and being in a group of inspiring people who didn’t think he was crazy. While at Waterloo he realized that Africa was not at the top of the agenda. “If you were an African at a global university focused on African issues, you were in the minority.  Having a community of people like Harambeans who could identify with what I was trying to do with my life was helpful and the relationships grew from there.” 

While Project Cheetah did not succeed, he presented his vision for his next venture, Fora, at a Harambean Colloquium at the Harvard Club in New York in 2013. Mr Pule Taukobong, a wealth manager from Investec was in the audience. He was so inspired by Aboyeji’s vision that he invested $10K of his own capital in the venture the next day – Taukobong was his first African investor. He was so excited by what Aboyeji was doing and the prospect of more entrepreneurs like him in Africa that he later teamed up with Pardon Makumbe to start what is now CRE Venture Capital, the largest Africa VC. Mr Idris Bellow H’11 was also an early investor in Fora. “I call Harambe a self-funded Alliance. All the seeds for my ventures came from within the Alliance. Having a group of people who believed in something that was at least ten years away from becoming mainstream and who were willing to make personal sacrifices to invest in me was very inspiring not to mention that I could not lose their money!” said Aboyeji. While Fora failed, he moved over to a new venture with all his Harambean investors. “My relationships with members of the Alliance are lifelong. I will always accept money from Harambeans before I accept it from anywhere else and in turn, I prioritize Harambeans when I fund. I want to support this community of people who believed in me early on and who share my values,” said Aboyeji. His Harambean portfolio at Future Africa currently includes 5 Harambean ventures. He says that he found ‘friends, team members and investors in the Alliance. 

It takes a village to grow a business

Mr Tesh Mbaabu H’21 is the founder and CEO of Marketforce360 and a Harambean Oppenheimer Fellow. He’d done his homework on the Alliance and several Harambeans before being accepted into the Alliance and knew he wanted to be part of a group of people who were doing great things on the continent. “Once you’re accepted to the Alliance, you find a family in entrepreneurship like no other,” he said. Using the analogy of ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ Mbaabu believes it takes a village to grow a business and believes that in Harambe he found a homestead. “When people believe in you, you start to believe that you can do anything. The meaningful connections I have formed within the Alliance have helped me to scale.” Six Harambeans including the Prosperity Fund have invested in Marketforce. “Before joining the Alliance, we hadn’t been accepted into Y Combinator and we hadn’t raised our pre-seed capital, but they believed in us. Harambe means community and family to me and every day I meet more inspiring people who are willing to help us as we grow,” said Mbaabu. 

Trust helps companies to scale faster

“In this Alliance, you aren’t told that you’re not crazy, but that they believe and trust in your crazy! We need crazy entrepreneurs with audacious goals to make the changes needed in Africa.” This was the opening statement from Ms Byeronie Epstein H’21, the co-founder of Deep Medical Therapeutics. Although Epstein only joined the Alliance in 2021, she already feels part of a family. During her Bretton Woods gathering, she recalled how she and fellow Harambeans were asked to share their biggest failure. “We had to be vulnerable among a room of strangers, but there is power in vulnerability. We all realized there was no need for egos or for anyone to be the best or to have raised the most money. We were there to help each other build towards this grand vision that we have. From then on, I have felt that I was not alone and that we have a family, which we’re going to need to build million-dollar companies.”  She highlighted the trust and support that she’d received from Alliance members, which she believes helps to scale companies faster. “The Harambean traditions and culture of rituals help us to build trust. What I have found unique in this Alliance is people’s willingness to help you succeed by sharing their learnings from a similar problem to yours or being willing to introduce you to one of their contacts.” 

Using our privilege to do harder things

“When we started this journey, believing in Africa was the hard thing. Now that we’re starting to see some fruit, the worst thing we could do is believe that we have arrived and stop there. We’re now in rooms we never dreamed we’d be in and must use that privilege to do harder things. The first five years of Harambe was building the people, the next ten years was building the businesses and now we must think about the economies. If the businesses in the Alliance over the next ten years cannot double Africa’s GDP, at the very least, then we have failed,” concluded Aboyeji.


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