2022 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Anfani, University of Oxford (Saïd)


Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford

Industry: FinTech, CleanTech

Founding Student Name(s): Ishaq Bolarinwa

Brief Description of Solution: Anfani is the energy broker for the unbanked and underserved in sub-Saharan Africa. We are a brokering platform that connects Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs), Capital Providers, and Renewable (Solar) Tech Providers together where we handle customer acquisition for these providers and at the same time provide SMEs with increased access to affordable, high quality renewable energy for electricity provision.

Funding Dollars: We are currently going through a seed raise.

What led you to launch this venture? As a Nigerian, I have witnessed first-hand the energy issues and how businesses struggle due to lack of electricity. After embarking on market research for a few years, my research showed that the issue of electricity generation through renewable/solar energy in the last decade in Nigeria has shifted from availability to the consumer to affordability by the consumer. As a result of this, I founded Anfani, utilizing my decade of experience in Energy to developing a solution to profitably increase affordability of existing renewable energy technology for SMEs, thereby closing the enormous energy gap in the region. The most populous country sometimes called the ‘Giant of Africa’, Nigeria has been known to lead the rest of Africa in economic metrices. So, when our solutions have the required impact, we can easily and more comfortably scale to the continent, and other emerging markets with similar issues.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our platform is driven by partnerships with certain strategic stakeholders, primary of which are SMEs. As such, our biggest accomplishment so far has been the validation from SMEs we have engaged with in a few countries over the course of our ideation and post-ideation processes. We are quite excited about what the next year brings in terms of executing our brokerage with our stakeholders.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? The MBA has helped in more ways than I can express. This includes meeting my teammate, Alison Filler (who has experience in renewable energy technologies in Africa), getting advice and priceless knowledge from faculty at the business school, utilizing this venture as part of a module called the Entrepreneurship Project, and interacting frequently with the Entrepreneurship ecosystems at the Business School, the wider Oxford University, and the Oxford city itself. During the Entrepreneurship Project specifically, Alison and I were fortunate enough to have three other colleagues of ours (Alexandra Thornton, Amit Chopra, and Suraj Yadav) further develop this idea through engaging brainstorming sessions to the extent that we felt comfortable enough taking this further post-MBA.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Mo Ibrahim. Mo is a businessman who found opportunity where no one else did and built a market-creating innovation where none existed. He was a pioneer with creating a pan-African telecommunications network against all odds by providing affordable telecommunication services to Africans. This innovation transformed the continent in the immediate-term and the long-term. Without his idea at the time and the sheer determination to turn his plans into action, Africa would have been further behind the rest of the world in economic and technological development. Considering that my venture is also focused on emerging markets and sub-Saharan Africa where there are certain barriers, Mo is motivational to me as someone who surmounted even greater barriers two decades ago to build a successful business to the benefit of the continent.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? In building Anfani, the most valuable MBA Class was an elective called Entrepreneurial Finance Project. The biggest lesson from this was understanding ventures from both the entrepreneur’s angle and an investor’s angle (e.g. VC). For anyone looking to go into entrepreneurship, this course detailed frameworks in venture evaluation, term sheets, negotiations, staged financing, and exiting as well. It is such a brilliantly rounded module that provided me with a foundation to engage required stakeholders in building, funding and scaling Anfani.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Thomas Hellmann made a significant contribution in two ways. First, he taught the Entrepreneurial Finance Project elective which was the most valuable class in building my startup. During this class, we used the coursework and frameworks in a book also co-written by Thomas Hellmann known as Fundamentals of Entrepreneurial Finance. Professor Hellmann’s teachings, his book, his frameworks, and his class made a significant contribution to my plans. Second, Professor Hellmann also oversaw the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) in Oxford, which is an incubator and mentoring program for startups in the UK. As an MBA student on the CDL program, I was able to work with start-ups in CDL under his and other mentors’ tutelage learning from their interactions with, and advice to, more established startups.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? The local Oxford and Oxford university ecosystem has helped immensely brainstorm and build the venture to what it is today. Ecosystems such as the OX1 incubator which I was a part of, had several events like Demo Days tailored at entrepreneurs associated with the university. In addition, Oxford Entrepreneurs group also provided an opportunity to connect to the wider Oxford Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, where I have met and engaged with other entrepreneurs and advisors, some of whom have now become mentors for Anfani. Enterprising Oxford and the Entrepreneurship Centre at the Business School also helped connect to entrepreneurial people, places and programmes in Oxfordshire and beyond.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? My long-term goal is to expand our services at Anfani beyond Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa to other developing and emerging markets. In addition to scaling geographically, we are also looking to expand our services to other brokerage, financial, and technology services for businesses in these countries to develop these economies on a micro and macro level and further close the gap with the developed world.


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