Why MBTN is becoming an Accelerator for African Start-ups

Updated: Jan 24, 2019




Following the announcement that MBTN will now focus on being an Africa focused start-up accelerator, I wanted to follow up with some of the thoughts that went into that decision, why we did it, who we focus on now, what we do, and what you can expect from us going forward.


I thought I should start by telling the story of MBTN, and the journey we’ve been through so far.


MBTN was founded in 2013, initially to provide content (blog interviews) to professionals in the diaspora who were thinking about moving to Nigeria. We conducted weekly interviews of Nigerian returnees, asked what their journeys were like, what advice they had for prospective returnees etc and published these on our website and newsletter. After a short time, we gained traction with the interviews, which led to some traction (around 2014). Soon, we began providing recruitment services to Nigerian companies who wanted to target the diaspora and returnee communities (2015); we have also hosted regular events (2014 – present).


MBTN started as a side gig, however, I left my job at Barclays Investment Bank at the end of March 2016, really excited about growing the company under the original mission: To help diaspora and returnee professionals connect with career and networking opportunities.


Soon, the oil price and FX crisis hit the Nigerian Economy, and all of a sudden, moving back to Nigeria was not cool anymore.


If you were a Nigerian in the diaspora at that time, you likely weren’t thinking about moving to Nigeria. Almost no one was hiring, many companies were instead thinking about how to survive the downturn.


Due to these conditions, we broadened our market and began providing similar services in the UK.


Over the years providing “move back” content and events, MBTN built a network of over 10,000 African professionals in the diaspora and in Africa. Of this, more than 5,000 were in the UK alone, so we decided to create additional value by providing diversity & inclusion recruitment services to companies in London.


The diversity and inclusion recruitment service led to some successes, and challenges too.


As we explored diversity recruitment, we simultaneously built our MBTN Networking Events platform, which has always been a lot of fun.


The idea behind the events: bring professionals together, offer great content and speakers and encourage relationship building through networking, in a relaxed setting.



We've worked on various event formats, including, networking events, speed dating events, afrobeats parties, startup events etc, and delivered a successful and engaging experience to our customers.


Going into 2019 and beyond, we realise we should be more focused and concentrate our resources into where we are adding the most value i.e. into our events platform.


This is why we have decided to discontinue the recruitment service.


Now, this leads me to the startup accelerator and why!


If you think about it, a startup accelerator really is an organisation that hosts events such as conferences, seminars, demo days, workshops, networking etc and does this for a specific market, i.e. the startup ecosystem.


This is what we already do at MBTN.


In 2018, we hosted a number of events that successfully connected startups and investors.


One other aspect of a startup accelerator is that they operate as a community, and foster relationship building within it to drive a specific mission.


This is also what MBTN has been about in the events/ networking space. In 5 years, we have built an engaged community of African professionals and fostered relationship building within the community.


So, in a nutshell, becoming a startup accelerator allows us to be more focused and to direct our resources to the activity we are best at.


Why African Startups? Because we are an African startup ourselves and have experienced some of problems we are trying to solve in the ecosystem.


Speaking to startups in our network, the biggest challenge has been access to funding, an area we plan to play a key role in.


Consider this:


In 2017, $560m was invested into African startups by VCs focused on African markets. It was a 53% increase compared to 2016, 2x the funding amount of 2015 and 14x the fundraise amount in 2012.


For context, global VC investment was $155bn in 2017, so Africa is only 0.5% of that, but growing fast.


African startups require access to capital, networking and mentorship to scale, and this is the problem we are solving with our startup programs and events.


Therefore, we've updated our mission statement, which is now "to identify and scale the next generation of African start-ups through networking, mentorship and funding".


We also launched the MBTN Africa Innovation Accelerator which will run in London in March 2019. We'll also have a program in Lagos in June 2019, and one in New York in November 2019.


For the March program in London, we’ll put 10 African start-ups through a 4 week mentorship, networking and training program, which will culminate in Demo Day at our Accelerating Ideas Conference on 28th March, where they will pitch to our carefully selected line-up of Angel and VC investors, and connect with our Corporate Partners.


We'll continue having our regular networking events.


Start-ups looking to have a more tailored consultation with us on anything from fundraising and business model validation to investor targeting and business plan development should find out more here.




Quick Plug:


As part of our new mission:


“To identify and scale the next generation of African start-ups through networking, mentorship and funding."


We are looking to grow our team and have a number of roles in Investor Relations, Content Marketing, Corporate Partnerships, Social Media Marketing, Events and Program Management. If you would like to find out more about any of the roles, please send me an email at: adabara@mbtnglobal.com.




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