"I'm optimistic about Nigeria and Africa; there's no reason not to be." — Adebayo Adewolu, CEO, Trium 

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April 25, 2024
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5 min read
A portrait of Adebayo Adewolu. Managing Director and CEO of venture builder, Trium,

In 2021, Nigerian fintech, Sparkle raised $3.1 million from an all-Nigerian cast that included Leadway Assurance and Trium Networks.

A rare occurrence in Nigeria's startup ecosystem, CEO Uzoma Dozie explained that it was an intentional decision driven by the need to capitalise on the experience and network of its investors, all of whom operate businesses within Africa.

Foreign investors still provide the bulk of Africa's venture capital either as limited partners or as venture capital firms, causing local fund managers to seek ways to stimulate local participation in the asset class.

Adebayo Adewolu, Managing Director and CEO of venture builder, Trium, believes a multi-pronged approach is required to get local investors on the venture capital train.

Being a new asset class, most view it with some scepticism but Adewolu argues that educating them on the workings of VC could yield valuable results.

Beyond education, he adds that the ecosystem's maturity and the presence of exits could help convince many.

Adewolu has led Trium since 2022 when he replaced Adedeji Olowe as CEO but his journey to working with technology startups began after he joined Intercontinental Bank as an internal auditor.  

Despite studying accounting, he was often deployed to departments with a strong technological focus.

"Very quickly, I developed a reputation for being an accountant who had a strong bias for technology and it ended up with me moving departments quite a bit."

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In 2007, he took a year off for business school and joined PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) immediately after, helping financial services clients to set up digital services.

Ten years later, he joined Trium just after it launched. At the time, the thesis was to de-risk venture capital investments by deploying cash and services into startups but that has since evolved into venture building.

"The level of resources you can deploy as a VC is limited. Typically you are holding a small percentage, so even if you wanted to deploy more capital or more resources, there are some restrictions.

"With a venture builder, those restrictions don't exist. You can bring in all the capabilities you have within your ecosystem or your network to make your idea succeed."

A landscape picture of the Truim team
Trium team

Trium leverages its membership of the Coronation Group — a network of financial services businesses — in its venture-building efforts as it allows it access licences, learnings, and partnerships to validate products.

Going the venture-building route means the team at Trium can be more hands-on with the businesses they start but it also helps them maintain significant control while derisking the business.

So far, it has built and launched two products despite exploring more than 20 ideas. Trium's mission isn't just building businesses but solving transformational problems.

First, it gets ideas from its digital incubation team or industry partners before studying similar problems and how they've been solved in other emerging economies. It must then convince an investment committee to release the necessary funds.

"The beauty of some of the things that we do is that nothing is wasted. You may can something, and then all of a sudden, you find out that what you thought you had canned is useful in some other business or some other prototype that you are developing."

Betting on the future 

In the early 2010s, there was plenty optimism about Africa's growth, with its youthful population and positive economic outlook providing some hope. In the years since then, some of that optimism has dampened.

The continent remains the youngest, but its middle class has slowly been eroded while political instability and poor economic policies have seen some of its largest economies witness stunted growth. Still, Adewolu insists there's a lot to be optimistic about.

He points to increased entrepreneurial participation by young Africans and a growing willingness by some African governments to enact laws and policies that drive business growth

Trium believes that public service output must be great if it will produce policies and laws that enable the private sector so it works with African governments to boost the quality of services the public services provides.

"I'm optimistic about Nigeria and Africa; there's no reason not to be. We're gradually ticking the right boxes and you need to take a long-term view," he says.

Need for speed 

Speedy execution is embedded in startups’ DNA  and is responsible for the rise of phrases such as “move fast, break things.”

While it builds technology solutions, Adewolu shares that the team has a strong risk management framework embedded into its operations. However, he concedes that insisting on risk management can mean startups don't move as fast as they wish.

"We're conscious of the fact that there needs to be innovation but also of the fact that there's risk to innovation and that risk needs to be managed."

Startups often view regulations and regulators as opposed to innovation, but Adewolu stresses that success with regulators is often dependent on engaging them early and with respect.

"Many people think regulators don't listen but they do listen. Regulators understand systemic risks. That's one thing a lot of people don't realise. When the regulator is looking at an issue, they're not just looking at you; they're looking at the impact of what you are doing on the system."

He also advises that entrepreneurs go the extra mile to find jurisdictions where the laws they'd like have been enacted and share lessons from them with regulators.

Solve a problem 

Considering startups often operate with limited resources, partnerships can help create more value for businesses. Adewolu highlights that successful partnerships begin with solving problems for a prospective partner.

"When you solve a problem that is painful or adds value to that partner, the partner will come after you. In fact, you don't even need to go after the partner in some cases. So, solve a tangible problem and not something that's not really a problem."

Adewolu's views echo the thoughts expressed in this article where business leaders argued that parties in a partnership must approach them with a view to helping each other.

But with startups frequently needing to share plans during partnerships, many worry that their ideas could be stolen, but Adewolu insists that ideas are no good if they aren't accompanied by stellar execution abilities. "Anyone can have an idea. It's the execution that matters."


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Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.
Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.
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Accidental writer, covering Africa's startup landscape and its heroes. Find me on Twitter @chigo_nwokoma.

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