South African VC firm Knife Capital gets first commitment for its $50M fund, to invest in 10-12 Series B rounds

Knife Capital, a South African venture capital firm, is raising a $50 million fund for startups looking to raise Series B financing. With Knife Fund III called the African Series B Expansion Fund, the firm seeks to directly invest in the aggressive expansion of South African breakout companies. It also plans to co-invest in companies across the rest of Africa.

The first fund, known as Knife Capital Fund I or HBD Venture Capital, was a closed private equity fund managed by Eben van Heerden and Keet van Zyl. The firm offered seed capital to startups. It also generated significant exits from its portfolio — VISA acquisition of fintech startup Fundamo, and orderTalk’s acquisition by UberEats come to mind.

In 2016, the VC firm launched its current 12J offering with Knife Capital Fund II. The fund (KNF Ventures) which invests primarily in Series A stage has eight startups in its portfolio. Last year the firm told TechCrunch of its intention to extend the Fund II and open to new investors. The plan was to give startups access to networks, money and expansion opportunities.

“We want to help South African and African companies internationalize,” said co-managing partner Andrea Bohmert at the time. A testament to its cause, one of its portfolio companies, DataProphet, raised $6 million Series A to expand into the U.S. and Europe.

Bohmert tells TechCrunch that the third fund aims to address the critical Series B funding gap that has characterised the venture capital asset class in South Africa, resulting in businesses not reaching full potential or exiting too early.

“Lately, we see an increase in companies able to raise $2 million to $5 million funding rounds. And while the companies are operating within their home country, in our case South Africa, such amounts take you far due to the local cost structure,” Bohmert says. “However, once these companies start gaining international traction and need to build an infrastructure outside of their home country, they need to raise significant amounts to afford so. There are currently hardly any South African VC funds, perhaps other than Naspers Foundry, that can write checks of $5 million or more and are willing to deploy them to finance the externalization of South African companies into larger markets.”

As a result, Bohmert argues that Africa has become an incubator for international VCs who can write these checks but cannot provide the local support most of these companies still need. Likewise, there are instances where international investors actively search for local co-investors in South Africa to invest in a round, and not finding one might blow the chances of them going further with the investment. This is the gap Knife Capital intends to fill by launching this fund, Bohmert says.

“We want to be the local lead investor of choice for South African technology companies looking to internationalise, co-investing with international investors who can lead the Series B discussion and further.”  

This week, Knife Capital secured $10 million out of the 50 from Mineworkers Investment Company (MIC), a South Africa-based investment firm. The commitment positions MIC as an anchor investor to the fund alongside other local and international investors.

Nchaupe Khaole, the CIO at MIC, explained that the move to change the way local institutional investors approach venture capital investment has been in MIC’s pipeline for a while. And by partnering with Knife Capital, this idea can begin to materialize.

“Our commitment brings to the table the investment, along with many of our strengths as an experienced player. One of which is our ability to influence the companies within our portfolio to partner with us and effect real, tangible change to the South African economy. We are delighted to be a key catalyst in the success of this funding round,” he said.

As per other details, Knife Capital aims for a first close by May and a final close by the end of the year. Most of its participation will be co-investing, and the idea is to that in 10 to 12 companies.

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