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Entrepreneur Turned Investor: A Diaspora Story

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Brian Waswani Odhiambo, Associate Director at Novastar Ventures, is the type to follow the right opportunity, wherever it leads him.

When he joined the venture capital firm Novastar Ventures in 2015, this Yale University graduate had already worked in Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Nigeria. In one of those countries, he had founded a distribution company that created employment and delivering energy solutions to low-income consumers. In another, he was part of the team that launched the e-commerce startup that eventually turned into Jumia, Africa’s largest e-commerce platform.

But yet, he still found his way back to Kenya.

For what I wanted to do, there were only so many places where I could be an investor and do it properly,” he says. “And one of those places is East Africa, and specifically Nairobi.

With Novastar Ventures, Brian found the perfect combination: a startup that helped startups. Kenyans Come Home placed him with a company that was created to invest in the next generation of exceptional entrepreneurs who are designing and executing innovative business models to profitably serve East Africa’s aspiring mass market.

But according to Brian, Novastar does more than just finance these new change-making ventures, they also provide necessary support and learning when needed.

"I knew there was a long-term story here, and what we are doing is new and transformational,” he says.  “But it's also about working with the entrepreneurs through their problems. Things like how do I stop my accountant from stealing from me? It's a problem I’ve had to learn myself, having already been an entrepreneur.

Brian has been both the entrepreneur and the investor, and with that insight says that now —more than ever—is the best time for startups and investors to enter the market.

"I don’t know if people who come later will be able to break into the space,” he says. “I think this is the time for anyone to dip his or her toes into this market because very quickly the opportunities will be few and far between and entrepreneurs will have many options.”

And with the wealth of great ideas available, and changing mindsets about how big startups are willing to grow, both foreign and local investors are seemingly ready to invest.

For me, I just think this is the right time to be doing [venture capital] and to be an entrepreneur, and I believe those universes are finally converging.