“But how do I sell shares, and who would buy?”
I already knew the type of equity capital I needed. It was called “venture capital,” but everyone I spoke to in Zimbabwe had no idea what I was talking about. That was 1990, after all, and I was just turning 30 years old.
I was treated with a combination of derision and even suspicion. And as I will show you later, it almost cost me my life!
“The World Bank has a private sector arm called the International Finance Corporation which mostly finances very large businesses, but they are thinking of setting up a venture capital fund to help small businesses and African entrepreneurs,” said the article. (Yes, I still always read the newspaper with a pen in my hand!)
“Venture Capital Fund for Africa!” I was screaming and shouting: “This is for me!”
I wrote to them. Within a few weeks, I got a phone call, and for sure they were interested in talking to me.
“Do you have a business plan?” asked the guy from the World Bank Office in Washington. His name was Dr Lawrence Clarke. He was young banker from Guyana in the Caribbean, and was so intrigued that I had heard about it.
“You will probably be the first, because we are just setting it up.”
Lawrence Clarke arrived to Harare to begin a due diligence process, which included seeing my customers and visiting my projects. He worked out of my office for weeks, creating models, and they even hired an engineer from Uganda to review my business. His name was Ibrahim Waligo, and he had at one time acted as President of Uganda during the transition from Idi Amin.
It was like being on Shark Tank for six months continuous, and . . . I made it! I got my $250,000 equity and debt facility for a 25% stake.
It was big news. I made the national press.
__For an entrepreneur at my stage, this was like winning an Olympic Gold medal!
“Mama, I’m in the newspaper! The World Bank is investing in my company!”
The Minister of Finance, Dr Bernard Chidzero, called me about it, and invited me to his office. He congratulated me, but warned that not everyone else in government understood how important it was for the country. He seemed concerned for me, and I was soon to find out why.
A few weeks later, I was first followed by a vehicle, then picked up in my office by two armed men who told me they were from the Central Intelligence Organisation, or the dreaded “CIO”! They took me to a secret detention center where they interrogated me for hours, asking me over and over again about the funding and why “America was supporting me”!
It was a terrifying experience. I was bewildered and confused, as they threatened to kill me! When my abductors went outside, I kneeled down and prayed.
Following my abrupt release (due to the intervention of a relative who worked for the then President), I was told it was a “rogue element within the agency”! No one was arrested, and they never seemed to end their “investigations” on anything I did.
I was a marked man, and within a few years, after some even more dangerous run-ins, I decided to leave the country to pursue my (entrepreneurial) career elsewhere. That was nearly 20 years ago now.
Well, this was about entrepreneurship. I got my first equity investment and I was on a roll. I had already set my goal on the next key milestone: a listing on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange, but that would also be on a path of fire.
To be continued. . .