Janade du Plessis is the co-founder of Launch Africa Ventures and Five35 Ventures, two venture firms that have invested in multiple startups across Africa. The founding of the companies was influenced by his childhood memories of seeing his mother and other women running businesses.
“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 ushered him into entrepreneurship at a very young age. He taught himself how to make things and sell them. He also sold vegetables, peanuts, and raisins to the community. For the South African entrepreneur, these were baby steps into entrepreneurship and learning the basics of cost management.
“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 an early-stage pan-African venture capital fund and has invested in 133 startups in 22 African countries closing over $36 million in its first round. Five35 Ventures, on the other hand, is a pan-African female-focused VC fund investing in Africa’s female tech founders. It has completed 18 investments, according to Forbes.
Prior to starting Launch Africa, Du Plessis spent 18 years in the corporate world including working at the African Development Bank (AfDB) in Nigeria and Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) in South Africa. After his post-graduate diploma in Actuarial Science from the University of Cape Town, he worked as a corporate finance analyst in Johannesburg for Standard Bank. He was on the trading desk and then in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) team.
He also worked at Goldman Sachs as an M&A analyst in New York for three years, which exposed him 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 went for an MBA degree from the London Business School and subsequently worked as Executive Assistant to South African business magnate Sol Kerzner, the founder of Kerzner International.
When he came to Johannesburg, he was appointed as a director with hospitality group Tsogo Sun, and he went on to get a role in corporate finance and M&A at RMB, where he was for seven years. He later moved to Nigeria and launched his own social impact fund, Abrazo Capital, in 2004, raising money from various outlets including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
According to Forbes Africa, the fund created 19 businesses in 14 African countries. While in Nigeria, he was appointed by the AfDB as their Chief Investment Officer (Private Sector), a position he held for four years.
He returned to South Africa following his appointment by Nedbank as the Head of Venture Capital & Alternative Investments in Johannesburg. Du Plessis went on to start Launch Africa Ventures during the pandemic in 2020 after meeting Zachariah George, a former Wall Street investment banker. The two of them started talking about startups where they realized that there was a massive gap at the seed stage.
After their VC firm closed the first fund, raising over $36 million in April last year, Seed Fund 2 was launched not too long ago with a target of $75 million to continue what they did in the first fund, they said.