Eloho Gihan-Mbelu

Years in Tech


Current Role

Managing Director, Endeavor Nigeria

Interview Date

14th December 2018

Eloho Omame is a former investment banker and private equity investor. Before leaving to join Endeavor as pioneer Managing Director for Nigeria, she founded Amari, a proprietary firm focused on working with, and selectively investing in, early stage, innovation-driven companies in Nigeria. At Amari, she led consulting projects for public and private sector clients in the areas of corporate innovation, startup support and entrepreneurial ecosystem development, notably working with the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund to design, implement and launch a set of programs aimed at very early stage founders, branded ‘Lagos Innovates’.

Eloho has built a fifteen-year career so far, working with entrepreneurs, teams and companies across various sectors at different stages of development. She has worked for General Atlantic, a $20bn global growth private equity firm, where she led the firm’s efforts in Sub-Saharan Africa; First Bank of Nigeria, where she led the bank’s first Corporate Development team; and as an investment banker at Renaissance Capital, Lagos and Credit Suisse, London.

Eloho holds an MBA from the London Business School and an undergraduate degree in Economics from the London School of Economics.

What experiences led you to technology and how did you develop the skills to compete in the industry?

I don’t have a technical background. I know companies, I know entrepreneurs and I am committed to helping them grow. After 15+ years working with different types of companies at different stages in different markets, today, I run Endeavor’s operation in Nigeria. We launched about a year ago and have been fully operational for about six months. Endeavor is a global organisation committed to supporting the most impressive founders of high-impact companies at the scale-up and growth stages. We provide capital, global networks, active mentorship, tools, products and services to help them think bigger, make better decisions and ultimately, accelerate their growth trajectories. It’s been a personal journey of self-discovery, conviction and courage to get here and I am so proud of the work that we do. There is no other organisation like Endeavor in Nigeria.

I’ve always worked with exciting companies; first as an M&A investment banker right out of university and then in private equity after my MBA about six years ago, when I started working for the largest exclusively growth private equity firm in the world. It was in that role, sourcing great companies and investment opportunities for a global fund, that I first came across founders like Sim Shagaya (Konga) and Tayo Oviosu (Paga) who were building audacious, pioneering companies in Nigeria and who were determined to succeed against all odds. As I got to know them, what struck me was their sheer commitment to solving everyday challenges. And they understood that to truly make an impact, they’d need to deliver on strong value propositions at massive scale. That was also the first time that I had exposure to founders that were as early in their entrepreneurial journeys. I was used to companies that had raised several rounds already or were even post IPO and I became frustrated that because of the early stages of their companies, the fund I worked for couldn’t invest in their companies or support their scaling in an active way. Those founders would tell me even then, that their strongest need wasn’t capital, it was mentorship and thought-partnership. I started to make small angel investments in Nigerian tech companies and over time (I made some bad decisions and lost a few dollars along the way!), I gained the courage to walk away from a cushy private equity life in London towards better personal mission-alignment. I wanted to help Nigerian founders grow their companies. I started my own company, Amari, that amongst other things, worked with LSETF to plan, design, implement and launch ‘Lagos Innovates’ a couple of years ago, and somewhere on that path, I met the folks at Endeavor, who wanted to extend Endeavor’s very successful model for scaling companies in 33 countries (including many in Latin America, Asia and Africa) to Nigeria.

Endeavor truly is an inspiring and impressive organisation, built by Linda Rottenberg, a woman (and a force of nature!) and staffed by some of the most passionate, mission-driven people I have ever come across. Our model for scale-up entrepreneurship is proven, has been honed over more than 20 years in multiple emerging markets and inspires our founders, mentors and partners to work with us to build great companies and give back to their local ecosystems wholeheartedly.

Today, I wake up and I’m excited about the work I’m doing, inspired by the founders I help and encouraged by the momentum we’re building. So far, we have selected and work with three companies (BitPesa, Cars45 and Paga) who are each solving a unique problem that affects consumers and businesses in Nigeria. Paga is providing access to financial services for an otherwise excluded population, Cars45 is creating liquidity in the massive used car market, and BitPesa is helping small businesses trade across Africa and frontier market currencies more efficiently. We are supporting our companies in so many different areas, including helping them raise capital, establish meaningful partnerships, build out their product, sales and distribution capabilities and strategies; the list goes on. We are constituting advisory boards for some of them, made up of some of the most experienced and impressive senior professionals in Nigeria who donate their time to Endeavor because they believe in our work and our mission. We are helping our companies access markets as far away as Mexico.

The Nigerian tech ecosystem needs many more successful outcomes and I am proud to be at the forefront of helping Endeavor companies deliver on that goal.

How has your background helped/differentiated you in the tech industry?

I occupy a unique space in the entrepreneurship ecosystem, not just tech. At Endeavor, we work with scale-up stage founders and create structured linkages between a largely untapped network of business leaders in high-potential ecosystems like Lagos and an impressive community of Endeavor Entrepreneurs operating in 33 emerging markets like Nigeria, who are building high-impact companies with regional and global aspirations. Endeavor founders are pushing the boundaries of their markets and I’m lucky enough to be part of their scale journeys.

My background in investment banking and growth private equity meant exposure to many kinds of companies, many experts, many business leaders, and many entrepreneurs over time. And today, my partners and stakeholders at Endeavor trust that I have the experience and track record to guide our operation in Nigeria to deliver on our goals and drive the kinds of impact that we measure as an organisation. The opportunity and platform presented themselves because I had put in the work. It’s no longer cool to put your head down, do the work and forget about the accolades, the hashtags and the social media likes. I believe that ultimately, what differentiates any of us is outcomes. And that comes with commitment, grit and time.

What advice would you give to women considering a career in technology? What do you wish you had known?

There are multiple career paths in tech, across building, operating, investing or advising. My advice to women considering a career in anything, including tech, is much the same. I have three “rules” now that I wish I had discovered so much earlier on in my career. (1) Don’t ask for permission to do anything – just do it. At best, you’ll hit all your goals and more. At worst, you’ll make a few mistakes and you’ll learn from them. What you should be most afraid of is inertia, not being criticised or singled out for not staying in your lane. (2) Don’t wait until you have all the answers (or even know all the questions!). That’s a false promise. It never happens. “I’ll do it when I have everything in place” is a false sense of security. You should do it anyway and accept that absolute certainty is a fallacy. Rest in the knowledge that your male peers have been faking it till they made it for centuries! (3) Build an effective network. And this isn’t measured by the number of connections you have on LinkedIn. Be authentic, connect with people in person, curate a mix of people that you can learn from, people you can teach, people that trust you and that you trust, and find a confidante that understands and respects where you’re trying to go. Your best friend, your supportive partner, your mother, whoever. Build a community around you. It doesn’t have to be huge, but it must be high quality. Be discerning. I like to Marie Kondo my relationships these days. I wouldn’t go quite as far as asking that each one brings me joy, but they should leave me feeling empowered, respected, valued in some way. If a business or personal relationship doesn’t do any of those, I’ve learned to quickly walk away – it’s taken a while to learn that one, and I know now that it’s never worth the time.