I may have done a fist pump when I saw that Helios Investment Partners raised $1.1 billion for its latest Africa-focused fund – a new record besting the $908 million the firm raised about three years ago. The notion of investing on the African continent is not such a novelty any longer. Sixty percent of the investors in Helios’ last fund participated in this round. Institutional investors showed up to participate in this round. So what, you ask?
There is much work to be done on the continent, and Africa-focused funds like Helios are securing the capital to ensure that work is done – that’s the hope at least. For example, one of Helios’ portfolio companies Helios Towers raised $630 million in its push for taking Africa’s cell tower infrastructure to the next level. Last year’s Ebola outbreak exposed the need for public health infrastructure in the affected countries. Africa’s agricultural potential remains largely untapped. Transportation is still very expensive within and among African countries. Millions of people are still trying to be productive with no power for light at night. The more capital that private equity firms like Helios, AFIG, ECP, and Kuramo have to deploy, I believe they will play their part in taking out larger chunks of these problems.
So we think the industry will take off in Africa, and we now think that probably the growth rate in private equity in Africa will probably be greater than it will be in any other part of the world. [But] it will take time.
David Rubenstein said this about the private equity industry in Africa during last year’s US-Africa Leaders Summit. It will be interesting to watch this prediction over the coming years. Rubenstein says we should give it 10 years. I wonder if we will see different models flourish on the continent in that time. Bob Diamond and Ashish Thakkar’s Atlas Mara made waves last year with its rapid acquisition of a few banks across Sub-Saharan Africa after raising around $725 million. During his keynote at last year’s Harvard Business School Africa Business Conference, Bob Diamond stated that he saw Atlas Mara serving as a catalyzer of copycats. We will have to see about that. Still others point to the holding company model as working better for the African context due to their not being subject to the 10 year limited partnerships of private equity firms.
Whatever model runs the day ten years from now, I am excited about Africa-focused funds securing the capital to do big things on the continent. I hope Helios’ raise opens the door for other funds to raise funds at the $1 billion plus level.