LAGOS, NIGERIA - At a nondescript building in Lagos’ Yaba neighborhood, startup Andela hires aspiring software developers for a four-year program that teaches them the skills they need to work for IBM, Microsoft and other tech firms.
The company won a huge vote of confidence last month, when it received a $24 million infusion of capital, most of it from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a company run by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan. They founded the initiative last year after the birth of their first child, with the goal of "advancing human potential and promoting equality."
Andela is the initiative's first investment.
"We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela's mission is to close that gap," Zuckerberg said in a statement.
Twenty-four million dollars isn’t an unheard-of amount of money in Africa’s tech startup world. Africa Internet Group, which runs Jumia, the continent’s leading e-commerce website, brought in nearly $300 million in investment this year.
iROKOtv, a movie-streaming website, took in $19 million from investors to expand its services across Africa.
Bankole Oluwafemi, editor of the technology website TechCabal, says what makes Andela unique is its emphasis on giving workers the skills to expand Africa’s tech industry when they eventually strike out on their own.
“They’re kind of unique in that they’re one of the first, if not the first, to attack that problem at scale, the problem of education,” Oluwafemi said.
Andela’s director of operations, Seni Sulyman, says emphasis on building talent is one reason the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative backed the company.
“Each of them has a pinpoint that is real that they felt at some point in their lives that they want to go address once they’re done with all this experience,” Sulyman said of the company’s “fellows.” “And I think that is the kind of passion and the kind of force that will change this continent.”
Every three months, Andela hires fellows to work at its offices in Nairobi and Lagos. The process is highly selective; Sulyman says there usually are 3,000 to 5,000 applicants, and only about 12 are chosen.
Those that come on board are taught programming languages and other skills they need to work on projects remotely for Andela’s clients, most of which are in the United States.
With the new $24 million investment, the company plans to expand its recruiting pipeline, find more clients and potentially open in a third African country.
“It seems like a lot of money, but there’s so many things we want to do that I’m sure we’ll figure out ways to spend it,” Sulyman said.