Undergraduate Blog / Career Development

Cocktails and Networking

I last wrote about my first few days at Growth Africa Capital in Nairobi, Kenya and how the intensity of the impact investing industry in Kenya provided me with absolutely no option but to immediately hit the ground running. I’m now a couple weeks deep into my internship at Growth Africa Capital and as the stories accumulate and I continue to cross off more and more tasks from my tasks lists, my experience continues to deeply enrich my entrepreneurial thought and action.

I’ve now listened to over 50 entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to me and I have been fortunate enough to also have met and interacted with several top angel investors and venture capitalists in the country. As is expected with such opportunities, you pick up a lot of very important lessons with every passing minute of the day, however, for me, the most important of all these lessons in the past few weeks has been fully understanding the power of networking.

While I had been spending most of the day listening to aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their ideas and helping them fine tune their business models , it became apparent that the majority of my evenings will be spent at networking/cocktail events for many of Nairobi’s top entrepreneurs and investors. The main goal for all these events was for the investors in Nairobi to bump ideas off each other and also to meet with a variety of local entrepreneurs that are seeking investment or some form of partnership. Despite the fact that the majority of these events were all after normal working hours and ate into a lot of time for other non-internship related activities, they were/are probably the most exciting part of the day.

The free cocktails and open bar is one thing, just one. For me, the most exciting part was seeing how quickly it would take people to approach, talk and connect with everyone in the room. For most of these events, my supervisor would send me with particular targets on exactly who she would want me to network with and exactly how many contacts she would like me to leave the event with. At first the task seemed rather overwhelming, and I would spend most of the event standing by the bar having completely irrelevant conversations with the bar tender. It was quite intimidating being surrounded by all these big time investors and entrepreneurs that I had only been able to read about in the paper; nothing more than that.

I soon realized that the trick to all this networking was confidence. It was all about believing that I had as much a right as everybody in that room to be there and dressing for the occasion also played a key role. I eventually began to feel more comfortable and after 3-4 of these events I was able to begin approaching many of these “targets” all alone and leave the event having talked to more than just the bar tender. I’m not saying a few cocktail events have in anyway made me a networking guru, but I am indeed along the path to becoming much more comfortable in such an environment. Hopefully this continues past the summer..