Janade du Plessis: Meet the Co-founder of Launch Africa, One of Africa’s Biggest VC Funds That Has Supported 133 Startups

Janade du Plessis is the co-founder of Launch Africa Ventures and Five35 Ventures, two venture capital firms that have invested in numerous African entrepreneurs. His childhood recollections of observing his mother and other women run enterprises informed the creation of the companies.

“I come from a family of female entrepreneurs, so the first six years of my life before school, all I saw was hustle and women running businesses. They always went somewhere and came back really tired afterwards. My mom was hustling to feed the family, my aunt had a bakery…the women were doing things in their communities. This was stuff I learned from a young age,” he told Forbes Africa.

Those experiences also pushed him to become an entrepreneur at an early age. He taught himself how to create and sell goods. He also sold veggies, peanuts, and raisins in the neighborhood. These were baby steps into entrepreneurship and mastering the fundamentals of cost management for the South African entrepreneur.

“I always saw my mother struggle as an entrepreneur. Had the environment been ready, she would have been a fantastic leader in a big organization, but she never got the opportunity…That is why I am so deeply passionate about investing in women.”

Launch Africa is a pan-African early-stage venture capital firm that has invested in 133 startups across 22 African nations, raising approximately $36 million in its first round. Five35 Ventures, on the other hand, is a pan-African female-focused venture capital firm that invests in Africa’s female digital entrepreneurs. According to Forbes, it has completed 18 investments.

Prior to founding Launch Africa, Du Plessis worked for the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Nigeria and the Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) in South Africa for 18 years. Following his post-graduate diploma in Actuarial Science from the University of Cape Town, he worked for Standard Bank in Johannesburg as a corporate finance analyst. He worked on the trading floor before moving on to the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team.

He also spent three years working as an M&A analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York, where he was exposed to the world.

“People said, ‘oh, you lived in New York’ and I was like, ‘I did not see anything, I was working’. But obviously, the world opened up for me. And looking back now, Africa really opened up to me. Nobody knew my name. They would just call me ‘Africa’, because I was the only intake from the continent,” he recalled.

Du Plessis also earned an MBA from the London Business School and served as the Executive Assistant to South African business giant Sol Kerzner, the creator of Kerzner International.

When he arrived in Johannesburg, he was employed as a director with hotel business Tsogo Sun, and he moved on to work in corporate finance and M&A at RMB for seven years. He eventually relocated to Nigeria and established his own social impact fund, Abrazo Capital, in 2004, with funding from a variety of sources, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to Forbes Africa, the fund established 19 companies in 14 African countries. He was appointed by the AfDB as their Chief Investment Officer (Private Sector) while in Nigeria, a position he maintained for four years.

He returned to South Africa after being appointed as the Head of Venture Capital & Alternative Investments at Nedbank in Johannesburg. After meeting Zachariah George, a veteran Wall Street investment banker, Du Plessis went on to start Launch Africa Ventures during the pandemic in 2020. When they started discussing about startups, they noticed there was a huge gap at the seed level.

After their venture capital firm completed the first fund in April last year, raising over $36 million, Seed Fund 2 was formed not long ago with a target of $75 million to continue what they did in the first fund, they added.


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