The African tech ecosystem mourns the passing of Nnena Nkongho, an African investor who championed diversity and excellence. Nkongho died on December 18th, 2021.
Nkongho had over 15 years of experience in identifying, building, and capturing value for corporations and funds in Africa is the founding partner of Otundi Ventures, a pan-African early-stage fund. She was also a founding investor at Digital Growth Africa (DiGAME), one of Africa’s earliest (2016) institutional venture investing organisations, which has deployed about $35 million in the series A/B rounds of high-growth, tech-enabled businesses including Getsmarter (exited to 2U, Inc.), SWVL, 10X Investments, and Rhino Safaris Africa.
Prior to that, she was a founding team member at Nubuke Investments, a $75 million multi-strategy pan-African fund.
Outside investing, she briefly worked as an African c-suite executive via her roles as the Head of Business Development, SOLO Phone Nigeria, and Head of Strategy & Business Development, Etisalat Nigeria.
Earlier in her career, she spent seven years working at global financial services companies, Morgan Stanley (New York and Hong Kong) and at Merrill Lynch (London).
Nkongho was a Kauffman fellow, with an MBA from Columbia Business School and a B.A. from Princeton University.
As a Nigerian-American, Nkongho spent her formative years in the US, with occasional visits to Nigeria, especially to see her grandmother in eastern Nigeria. It was these visits that opened her eyes to the transformation that was taking place in Africa, making her shift her focus to working in the African investment space.
An ardent believer in the power of technology, she explained why she eagerly supports the African tech ecosystem, in this interview.
“My grandmother was a farmer in eastern Nigeria, but not a very [successful] one. She would wake up at the crack of dawn to fetch water. She would then carry large containers of water on her head to the rocky soil of her small plot of land. Over the past five years, I’ve seen technology change the lives of smallholder farmers like my grandmother. I’ve seen businesses use the mobile platform to offer value-added services—provide loans for better seeds, automatically irrigate land, and find better markets (and pricing) for harvested goods. Technology-enabled investing can transform lives. To me, that’s the most impactful thing that you can do.”
The African and global technology ecosystem mourns the loss of their colleague, friend, peer, and mentor. As a way of remembering Nkongho’s greatness and contribution to technology communities at home and abroad, TechCabal has been granted the opportunity to publish tributes sent to us by people who knew and worked with Nkongho during her lifetime. May her soul rest in eternal peace.
Eghosa Omoigui, founder, EchoVC Partners
Idris Bello, founder, LoftyInc
Very early on as we were figuring out our Fund journey at LoftyInc Capital, a mutual friend introduced me to Nnena who was then at Digame Investment. We met up and by the time we were done, she had shortened my VC journey, while sharing great insights from her own journey. Over the last year, I have kept tabs on her as she set up Otundi and worked harder than anyone I have seen to build her new fund. Hence, her death comes as a rude shock, especially at this opportune moment for venture capital on the African continent. On behalf of LoftyInc Capital, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Nnena’s family and friends and the folks at Otundi. She will be missed.
Tomiwa Aladekomo, Big Cabal Media
Nnenna was a wonderful person, generous, cheerful and helpful to a fault. She was a close friend and supporter of our work at TechCabal, ready to offer advice, connections and knowledge whenever we asked it of her. She checked in on us and offered encouragement at those times when it was most needed. She will be greatly missed by us all. May she rest her peace and God comfort her family and loved ones.
Emilian Popa, Ilara Health
You started out as a colleague and became a friend over the years. Your thoughtful advice and friendship will be missed. Rest in peace.
Dotun Olowoporoku, Novastar Ventures
I first met Nnena at a conference in Kigali in 2020. The last time we met was over dinner a few weeks ago at another conference in Abu Dhabi. I’m always grateful for the time we spent discussing and debating. Nnena was super thoughtful, willing to help and deeply insightful. She was one of a rare breed of institutional VCs in Africa who had been active for a long time in the region, and yet remained genuinely curious about what came next. It’s devastating that we’re losing her when we really need more African VC fund managers like her. She will be greatly missed.
Karim Shariff, Managing Partner, Majlis Investments
Nnena. What beautiful energy and willingness to listen to perspective. Her memory attached her to Africa. Her imagination will bring her back. A sense of culture, geography, and technology. Always tirelessly moving. We met, over the years, in New York, London, Dubai, and Nairobi. She knew these places intimately. I know I will miss her and her lens on everything.
Iyin Aboyeji, founder, Future Africa
Nnenna was a force of nature, a real one. She always had the courage to say what everyone was thinking but dreading to say. This was where we found a common cause. No one was ever in doubt of where they stood with her. Her impact in our industry was silent but potent. The Get Smarter deal is one for the ages. Our industry will miss her. May her soul Rest In Peace and may GOD give her family and friends the fortitude to bear the loss.
Steven Grin, managing partner, Lateral Capital.
Nnena was a friend, colleague, and an intellectual sparring partner with no BS, in a world filled with so much fakery. She was relentlessly curious and had that rare combination of being strong and vulnerable at the same time. She was a trailblazer and deeply committed to the African tech ecosystem, especially at a time when most LPs did not believe in the asset clas. I know she was particularly excited about the work she was doing with Kauffman, her new fund, Otundi, and her support to emerging female managers. Being one of a few female general partners in our space, we have lost a real lion. I can only trust, somehow, that we will all continue in her honour, doing our part, to keep up the work.
Marième Diop – Orange Ventures.
It’s been a few days since I heard the devastating news of Nnena’s passing. I have been processing it since then…, and after the tears, questions, sorrow, remembrance, and acceptance…, it still hurts to know that she’s gone forever.
I liked Nnena very much. I met her almost five years ago. We hit it off straight away and have stayed in touch ever since. She was always supportive, enthusiastic, empathetic, and so hard-working. These past six months after she started Otundi Ventures, we had wonderful conversations once or twice a week, and she always had great insights on how to address the root cause of gender inequality and biases in our industry.
She fought hard not only to get a seat at the table but to build her own and hence forge a path for women investors in Africa.
Nnena cared about people. She loved the arts and creative minds. Even when she was very busy, we sent each other encouraging messages, and she was always advising me to take care of myself. I am glad that she knew how much I valued her, which I told her for the umpteenth time in our last conversation, a few days before she left this world. Nnena, you will be really missed, and I will continue to hold you warmly in my heart. Rest in peace, my friend. My deepest condolences to her family and friends.
Wale Ayeni – IFC | World Bank Group
This is difficult to write. Nnena was a giant. She was ebullient, extremely dedicated, and cared deeply about Africa. Her passion for the ecosystem and for founders was palpable, and I will miss our hour-long conversations on the ecosystem. I, and we, have lost a colleague and trusted friend. Her energy is irreplaceable. We will miss you Nnena, and we won’t forget.
IK Kanu, founding partner, Atlantica Ventures
Nnena was always real to me and everyone that met her. She was always positive, smiling, and quick to lend an ear or hand. We met years ago, and strengthened our friendship during our Kauffman Fellowship. She was strong, confident, yet humble and kind. Always laughing and looking forward to better days ahead. Rest well with God my dear friend.
Romain Diaz – Founder & CEO, Satgana
I am deeply saddened that my mentor, Nnena P. Nkongho, has left this world. I met Nnena five years ago in Cape Town, and she has been one of the most important people in my professional development ever since. From a mentor, she became a friend, advisor, and confidant.
I am profoundly grateful for all the countless hours that she selflessly spent to help me figure things out, solve problems, strategise, and grow.
Every hour I spent with her equated to months of accelerated development, thanks to the right blend that she always brought between validating me and challenging me. She is the one who pushed me to pursue a vision that later gave birth to Satgana. She believed in me when I sometimes didn’t. I wish all entrepreneurs out there find their own Nnena.
If anything, as I have been told by another dear friend and business partner, I should honour her by making this company as successful as she believed it would become. Thank you for everything, Nnena. You’ll leave a hole in my life and those around you.
Rest in peace. Much love.
Arun Iyer – Alpha Direct Insurance
Nnena was an incredibly astute individual and investor. In the brief time in which I got to know her and the interactions we had, she became a friend and partner, giving me advice and being open, honest, and straightforward about everything she did, every interaction we had. She gave me the inspiration to aim higher and push harder because she believed in us founders as much as we believed in ourselves. She understood our business so quickly and well, and she had an incredible ability to be forthright and candid while staying supportive and encouraging. She thought like a founder, and her optimism and enthusiasm were infectious.
We lost a true gem of a human being. It’s a big loss for the entire African technology ecosystem and the world at large. May her soul rest in eternal peace, and I pray for her family and loved ones to find the strength and courage to deal with her loss.
Craig McLeod – Box Commerce
Nnena Nkongho was one of the greatest champions of the African tech ecosystem as a VC, leader, pioneer and, hands down, one of its smartest players. She was a great mentor, friend and peer. In an ecosystem of only a handful of giants, she stood tall. She will be missed.
Leonard Stiegeler – Founder, Pulse Africa
I was deeply saddened to hear of Nnenna’s passing.
She was a kind, joyous, and thoughtful person that I was lucky to meet in different places around Africa & in the UAE, over the years. Every time we met, we had great discussions and I left smarter than I had come.
Nnenna’s impact in the African technology and venture capital space will live on. Her support for entrepreneurs, businesses, and industries will facilitate opportunities for young people and economies for generations to come.
My thoughts are with her loved ones and friends.
Ibrahim Sagna – AFREXIMBANK
Some people show up in your life and leave without notice, not realising how they have impacted you. Such individuals are so consumed by their mission to share what they know that they are not counting or keeping tabs of their impact. Instead, they remain busy improving other people’s lives. Rumi—Persian poet and philosopher—reminds us that, “a candle never loses any of its light while lighting up another candle”.
Nnena Nkongho is such a candle. She is that sister who comes into your life without notice; that missionary who enlightens you with the breadth of her knowledge and network in African tech investment and leaves you forever impacted. I had just moved to Cairo, and in one small trip, she had managed to plug me into the local ecosystem and left me at first curious, then ultimately full of passion for the sector and its players.
The reality is that Nnena was not just remarkable because of her knowledge, network, or dedication to startups. She was remarkable because her fundamental character combined humility and ingenuity on the one hand, and calmness and a zest for life on the other. She gave and gave. She was selfless. We will all miss a phenomenal human.
Her departure leaves many of us in shock. May she rest in perfect peace. Hereby extending our most sincere condolences to her family.
Samer Salty, Managing Partner, Zouk Capital
You could always tell you are in the presence of a gentle soul when you are speaking with Nnena. She always cared about people, regardless of their walk of life. For her, doing good is good business. It was a great pleasure to have worked with her and known her. We will miss you, Nnena.
Ido Sum, Andreata, and the TLcom team
We met Nnena first in 2013, through a mutual friend at Kuramo, one of Africa’s very first fund of funds. She was just out of Columbia Business School, helping Africa founders in the very early days of the African tech ecosystem, and keen to play a role in its formation. Our first chat was a sign for the years to come. She was a super open, honest, smart, nice, deliberate, and driven person.
We remained friends, and over the years after she joined DiGAME, started sharing investment opportunities and insights with each other. Nnena was a voice we listened to. Grounded, rounded, thoughtful, and most importantly, in the early days of African tech, a true optimist.
In the coming years, our paths crossed many more times. Drinks in Cape Town, dinners in Kigali, Zooms, WhatsApp messages… She was always keen to collaborate. She was full of good humour and lightened the load of life with a good laugh. When Nnena decided to launch her own fund, we couldn’t have been happier. A women-led team, with a great perspective of the scene’s evolvement and exits expertise, nothing could stand in her way.
Our last catch up was just a few weeks back. As always, future-looking, with her eyes set to conquer the next summit ahead. Little did we know at that time…
We stand broken-hearted at the loss of one of our true friends in this journey. Nnena will forever be in our hearts. A true leader, early visionary and, above all, a mensch. You will forever be in our hearts.
Raj Kulasingam, Senior Counsel, Dentons
I met Nnena many years ago when venture in Africa was a desert. Since then, whenever we met, I was always struck by her warmth, genuineness, and willingness to share her experience and knowledge.
Her passing will be felt by many I know. I hope we can remember her not only for the contributions she made but also for her warmth and humanity.
Stephan Breban, CEO, Giants’ Shoulders Capital Limited
The first thing to say is that this has hit me far more than I expected. Maybe because she was always so full of life. I’ve lost people closer to me, and in the current environment, it should not be too shocking. But this is. I know many people know her and remember her fondly. There will be many tributes to her intelligence and general investment and tech brilliance, and so I’m going for another angle. I’m going to share my favourite memory of Nnena. We met many times in many different cities, and she would always know the best spot for coffee. She was a proper authority. The first time I met her in London, I knew I had to do something special. No coffee was ever going to impress her, so I took her here, a Victorian urinal that had been converted to a coffee shop. Not sure I can say she loved it, but I made an impression! If you ever get to London, please visit Fitzrovia, have a coffee there, and try to imagine Nnena’s reaction.