VCs back Rwandan startup

Private equity attorney Rob Fogler and Rwandan-born entrepreneur Antoine Bigirimana have made their first investment in Rwanda.

Two two financiers raised $500,000 for Thousand Hills Venture Fund in 2005. Earlier this week, the two Denver-based partners made their first investment in a company called Rocket 2020, which provides rural business owners access to FedEx-like services in the African nation. The startup will use the $300,000 investment from Thousand Hills to build stores that will act as retailers for other merchants, hubs for computer and communications services and as a distribution channel for small businesses.

The startup’s name mirrors the name of President Paul Kagame’s plan to modernize Rwanda called “Vision 2020.” Rwanda has undergone government reform and privatization over the last decade and is growing its gross domestic product at an estimated 5.5%, according to the “CIA World Factbook.” Some 60% of the population is still below the poverty line, however.

Fogler, managing director of the firm, looks at the investment vehicle as an opportunity to help Rwandans develop their economy. He tells PE Week that the fund “encourages innovation and growth in developing countries without dependency on charity and aid.”

Fogler is quick to point out that he expects venture-style returns first and developmental gains second. But he sees successful small companies and economic development as intertwined and inseparable. “Entrepreneurs have the right incentives to make it sustainable and valuable to their customers,” he says. “People assume that foreign aid and charity are the only ways to engage. In fact, they’re not even the best way. They may even be the worst way.” —Alexander Haislip