Helios Investment Partners: Investing in Africa

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Region: Africa
Sector: Investment funds

Challenge: Start-up enterprises and young companies throughout Sub-Saharan Africa are often starved for stable equity investment and strategic guidance to help them solidify their positions in competitive markets. Meanwhile, foreign equity investors are often hesitant to take risks on countries and firms they do not know well. As a result, some promising African firms have missed opportunities to grow, prosper, and create jobs.

Solution: OPIC began working in 2004 with Helios Investment Partners, one of the few independent, pan-African equity firms that is founded and managed by Africans. Helios was initially selected as a co-manager of a $110 million region-specific fund. In 2006, OPIC provided $50 million for a Helios fund focused on West Africa. In 2010, OPIC partnered with Helios by providing $100 million for another fund.

Impact: Helios invests in companies in a diverse range of sectors, helping them expand their operations and hire additional employees.

In Kenya, for example, an exporter of pink roses created horticultural jobs for workers in the Lake Naivasha region. In Ghana, a pharmaceutical company was able to create high-paying jobs and bring anti-malarial and anti-bacterial medicine to the market. In 14 countries throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, Helios has helped grow an outdoor advertising business, creating jobs and supplying consumer product information to Africa’s growing middle class.

Nicholas Aoama Oyiek (pictured), who owns a garage employing 20 people in Nairobi, is one of the small business owners who have benefited from the support of the Helios Investors II Africa Fund. The fund invested in various African businesses including Equity Bank, Kenya’s largest bank, which focused on serving individuals and small businesses who had previously lacked access to finance. Oyiek built his business with the help of loans from Equity Bank.

Helios now touches virtually every strata of the African economy, from SME lending to telecommunications to the oil and gas industry. In 2014, OPIC awarded Helios the OPIC Impact Award in the Private Equity category.  “Helios would not be standing here today without OPIC,” Helios Chief Operating Officer Henry Obi said during the ceremony. “OPIC gave us our first break in 2004, and now we manage over $2 billion, investing in all sorts of projects across Africa.”

This project was profiled in 2014