Helios Digital Ventures appoints Wale Ayeni as its new head

AFRICA – Wale Ayeni, one of Africa’s well-known investors, has been appointed as the head of Helios Digital Ventures, the venture capital strategy of private equity firm Helios Investment Partners.

This appointment comes a month after Ayeni left the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, where he led venture capital investments across Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia for over 5 years.

Under Ayeni’s watch across three roles in the IFC, the organization backed more than a dozen African tech companies. Some of them include unicorns Andela and Wave; he led the firm’s investments in the latter, as well as Africa’s Talking, Kobo360, MaxAB, Brimore, TradeDepot and Twiga. He was a board director at some of these startups.

Ayeni has a similar function at Helios Digital Ventures: to spot and back disruptive startups in frontier markets, particularly in Africa and the Middle East.

Prior to joining the IFC, Ayeni led venture capital investments in Silicon Valley for Orange, the French telecoms company. He started his career as a microprocessor design engineer with Intel Corp. and later Qualcomm, before moving to JP Morgan’s Technology Investment Banking group in San Francisco.

Helios Digital Ventures will support founders at the early-growth stage to build long-lasting businesses using technology to rethink and deliver impact to the mass-market, focusing on large addressable market segments including education, food security, financial services, healthcare, and sustainability.

There are five broad sectors Ayeni said Helios Digital Ventures would be targeting: financial services, food security, talent and human capital, healthcare and sustainability.

Wale mentioned that the fund would scout for startups in other sectors — that is, frontier technologies such as crypto, web3 and biotech — especially as venture capital keeps evolving quickly.

“I think that you get the greatest impact or provide a lot of value when you match frontier technology with frontier markets, regions with no legacy from an adoption perspective,” he stated.

Helios Investment Partners has experienced great success as a private equity firm since Tope Lawani and Babatunde Soyoye launched it in 2004. The firm manages funds totalling US$3.6 billion.

The firm is still raising money, hence its hesitancy to disclose some details. Yet, achieving its fund target will determine if the team can replicate similar levels of success in the VC world, particularly in a funding environment that has done an about-face from last year, resulting in enormous losses for hedge funds like Tiger Global.

This market downturn also affects startups, big and small, as their finances and valuations take a beating. But despite market forecasts of peril in startup land, Ayeni is upbeat and believes the VC firm will back legacy businesses in frontier markets just as its Helios Investment Partners did with Interswitch and Fawry, decades-old fintechs that it has partially exited.

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