Meet Catherine Denis, a Business Leader Financing Small Businesses Across Africa
From the moment she set foot in Uganda in 2006, Catherine Denis was captivated by the dynamic entrepreneurial spirit of the country’s small business scene. She observed the ingenuity and hard work of indigenous entrepreneurs, whose spirits and comradery play a major part in the economy of the East African country.
Catherine could see the potential for these small businesses to scale, but the difficulty they faced in accessing finance was also an opportunity area to give a serious look. These small businesses usually obtained loans from family, loan sharks and traditional microfinance institutions who charged them exorbitant interests. Having championed the building of healthier homes in Rwanda during her time as the Chief Operating Officer EnableEarth, as well as consulting for the World Bank, she wasn’t going to sit back and watch.
In 2017, Catherine co-founded Numida, a digital microfinance institution focused on providing financial support for small businesses in Uganda and across Africa.
Business Elites Africa caught up with Catherine on the inspiration behind Numida, the female startup scene and what to expect for the future.
What inspired the launch of Numida?
Micro and small businesses are critical to job creation and economic development in Africa, yet most of them struggle to grow beyond subsistence businesses. Traditional microfinance institutions struggle to serve this market segment because of the high underwriting costs and the relatively high risk associated with their informality and lack of collateral. This inspired us to build a digital microfinance institution (MFI) focused on serving these micro and small businesses (MSBs), starting in Uganda. Thanks to our proprietary technology and credit processes, we conduct fully remote underwriting via our Numida app in order to provide growth and working capital to verified MSBs.
Why do you think African female-led startups struggle with venture funding?
I think that the historically male-dominated business world creates substantial inertia that holds female-led startups back in multiple insidious ways. Of course, investors trust and invest in what is familiar to them and looks like them. So the predominantly male investor community struggles to connect with or take bets on women founders. This challenge extends to the actual running of these businesses, not just in building relationships with investors. Many potential partners or client organisations are disproportionately run by men, making business deals a little extra challenging for many of the womenfolk. And this can affect business outcomes in real or perceived ways, and by extension funding attractiveness. Finally, there is a relatively small proportion of experienced female entrepreneurs on which younger female entrepreneurs can lean on as mentors – and it’s no secret that great mentors are critical in one’s entrepreneurial journey.
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