The first Black solo venture capital partner in Europe has raised $10 million to fund startups in Africa

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 21, 2024 3:30 PM EDT
Maria Rotilu. Photo credit: OpenseedVC

Maria Rotilu’s newly launched OpenseedVC has closed its first fund at $10 million. The operator-led venture capital firm intends to support experienced operators looking to launch their technology companies. Rotilu is Europe’s first Black solo General Partner (GP) and one of the first female solo GPs in Europe.

“If you’re supporting operators that have identified a problem and are making the leap into building their technology, you’ve likely recognized a common challenge: the need for capital and guidance from other experienced individuals. To address this, we focus on enhancing the operator network in four key areas. In the early stages, expertise in software engineering is crucial. You’d need someone who’s recruited technical talent, built teams and understands infrastructure design, offering invaluable firsthand experience,” Rotilu said about her strategy to support operators with funding.

Openseed will invest in operator-led startups in Europe and Africa where there is a looming gap for such investment. Operators – people involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup – from companies such as Andela, Paystack, Monzo, and Spotify are leaving to start their own ventures. Within the broader operator-focused lens, Rotilu is interested in investing in founders who are domain experts and second-time founders who have built and exited a startup. The fund’s focus areas include the future of commerce, the future of work, and digital health.

Rotilu’s strategy is to invest in startups even earlier than the pre-seed stage when founders might still be holding other jobs. The fund plans to provide funding of up to $150,000 for around a 5% stake in each company. It uses an open application process that allows founders to apply without needing an introduction. The goal is to invest in approximately 60 companies over the next five years. Openseed has already invested in a stealth U.K.-based AI-enabled supplier dispute resolution software and Intron, a speech-to-text transcription model for underserved accents, starting with Africa.

In addition to providing capital, Openseed gives new founders access to a supportive community of seasoned operators. Rotilu has leveraged her industry connections to build a community of more than 50 individuals, with many being people she has either worked with or received referrals for. This network is a support system designed to address common challenges operators face, such as the need for capital and guidance from experienced individuals. It provides them with valuable expertise in software engineering, product development, and go-to-market strategies.

Before launching Openseed, Rotilu served as country manager at Uber and general manager at Branch in Nigeria, where she helped both tech companies scale to millions of users. She served as managing director at the Oxford Seed Fund, one of the largest student-led funds in Europe while pursuing an MBA at Oxford. Rotilu then joined Octopus Ventures, one of Europe’s largest funds, as a principal and fund manager of First Cheque Fund, the firm’s £10 million early-stage fund. Here, she saw a need to focus more on the African market and was inspired to launch her firm.

Her fund’s unique approach has drawn the interest of a variety of backers, including founders, operators, and high-net-worth individuals, based in the US, Europe, and Africa.

“We chose Africa and Europe to apply our thesis to work in these regions. Our thesis is that by backing experienced operators early in their journey with the right capital and support from peer operators, you can build a diversified portfolio that generates incredible returns for investors and provides crucial support for ambitious operators when they need it most,” Rotilu explained her investment strategy.