Become Investor-Ready and Raise Your First Round

3 min read
01 Jan 2024

n 2016, Stephanie Nguku saw the investment market for SMEs and startups in Kenya change. “Lending in banks became frozen and SMEs were looking for alternatives to raise capital following the interest cap in September 2016 by the regulator Central Bank of Kenya,” she says. She began researching different funding options and building connections with investors and stakeholders across the country. Stephanie founded Upscale Consulting in the same year to help entrepreneurs successfully engage with investors and raise the funding they need to grow their businesses. “Our mission is to break the financial constraints that startups and entrepreneurs experience when looking for capital,” she says. “We help them access the capital they need to achieve their whole business potential.”

Stephanie has a professional background in finance, banking and accounting that includes over twelve years of experience in business development, credit analysis and risk management. Her previous roles involved supporting SMEs looking for credit and now she enjoys working alongside founders to help them raise capital. “Raising capital is not a walk in the park, but if you get the preparation right, you can increase your chances of getting investment,” she says.

For Stephanie, the first step to getting an investor’s attention is having a product that has achieved market fit. “To engage an investor even more successfully, the business opportunity has to show potential,” she says. “This can only be defined by the fact that the product you designed is truly what the market needs.” She suggests that founders at least have a prototype in the market and be actively engaging with customers to get feedback on their solution before approaching investors.

The next step is creating a targeted approach. This begins with deciding on the best type of funding for the company. “For startups, equity or grants are commonly recommended because they’re considered patient capital,” says Stephanie. Then, founders need to narrow down which investors to engage with based on their industry of expertise and investment thesis. “Having a targeted approach will increase your chances of success,” she says.

— Photo by Peter Irungu

Finally, it’s all about how the opportunity is presented. Stephanie works with startups to present their opportunity to investors, as well as create a pitch deck and business plan. “What we do in this journey specifically helps them define all the core areas so they can increase their chances of raising capital,” she says. To help startups with this preparation, Upscale Consulting runs a program called Become Investor Ready. Founders come out of the program with a clear explanation of the problem, how their product or service solves it and the business case, and a targeted list of investors.

As part of the process, Stephanie provides each company with an investor-readiness checklist. “This enables us to assess whether the investee is investor-ready,” she says. “We are able to identify the areas we need to dive into on the packaging.” The founder and Upscale Consulting then work together on the packaging — positioning the opportunity, creating a pitch deck and refining the pitch, creating a business plan, looking at legal aspects and business strategy. They also create a highly targeted investor list, focusing on those with relevant domain expertise. Then, Stephanie engages with the investors they’ve agreed to reach out to.

Raising capital is not a walk in the park, but if you get the preparation right, you can increase your chances of getting investment.

After a pitch, investors analyze the business plan, determine the valuation, issue a term sheet and begin due diligence into the company. “Interpretation of the term sheets is key because startups need to be sure of what they’re signing for on the dotted line,” says Stephanie. “We work with partners in legal, when it comes to structuring, and provide support in post-investment, such as financial management and following through the strategic plan.”

For impact-focused startups, Stephanie notes that investors in Kenya are particularly interested in ventures that positively impact social behavior, building economic capacity to alleviate poverty, improve healthcare and have environmental impact. She also emphasises that investors, unlike grants, will always look for a financial return alongside an increased benefit to society. 

Most important tips for startups:

  • Pitch the business and not the product. Investors want to know about the business and how it will scale, not only about the product and its features.
  • Identify the size of your market. Start from the market size, for example a country or city, then narrow it down to the addressable market, and eventually to your target market. You’ll see how your business could grow.
  • Build traction. Having a prototype in the market means you are clear on who your customer is, are collecting feedback on the product and are determining its market fit.
  • Be clear on the business model. Show investors how your business will make money. It’s the easiest way to explain why they should invest in you.
  • Network and reach out for help. Participate in pitching events. Even if you don’t win, you’ll get exposure. Find mentoring and training sessions to help you become a better entrepreneur.