The Top 10: # 5 Banafsheh Fathieh, principal, Prosus Ventures

There are few countries Prosus, the Netherlands-based internet assets arm of South Africa-headquartered media and e-commerce group Naspers, have yet to do a corporate venturing deal in but Mexico was one.

Until Banafsheh “B” Fathieh, a principal at Prosus Ventures, its eponymous corporate venturing unit, took an interest. She modelled how Mexico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem was developing a few years behind Brazil’s and explored which startups might fit the thesis. Last year, therefore, saw Fathieh source Prosus’ investment in Mexico-based digital bank Klar.

Martin Tschopp, chief operating officer of Prosus Ventures, said: “One of our top investment criteria is that we align well with the founding teams of potential investments and we typically spend substantial time with the team before issuing a term sheet.

“This year has introduced significant challenges, preventing us from travelling around the globe to spend that quality in-person time with the teams of potential investments. Despite these challenges, Banafsheh has continued to build a strong portfolio of companies, finding new ways to connect with the founding teams to ensure we are maintaining high standards when it comes to adding new businesses to the Prosus Ventures portfolio.

“Banafsheh’s knowledge of startups in emerging markets is impressive and her knack for identifying early-stage, innovative technologies that are addressing big societal needs give the Prosus Ventures team a unique advantage.”

Fathieh has been leading the unit’s earlier-stage deals globally as an investment lead for about four years. She said: “My role in the organisation is to scout new markets and verticals for the group [to be] the first or second check into a high-growth market or category where we could see ourselves getting meaningfully involved in the next five to 10 years. My role spans category identification, thesis creation, deal sourcing, execution and post-transaction work as a board member.”

Her other investments include homecare provider Honor, blockchain analysis platform developer DappRadar and Immutable, a blockchain gaming company. She also led thesis, sourcing, deal execution and board oversight for digital bank Klar and logistics company Shipper. Fathieh is also involved in edtech and fintech deals in emerging markets that are soon to be announced.

“Our mandate is extremely broad by design – we are one of the only players in the world that is truly stage, vertical and geographically agnostic. The biggest challenge is deciding where, when and how much to invest. Unlike many of our peers, we do not have many strategic or investment constraints and have the freedom to explore any theme in pretty much any geography at any stage. This sort of freedom comes with its own set of unique challenges – I would say the primary one for me is deciding where best to direct and allocate my team’s focused time and attention.

She added: “There are many categories that require patience to meaningfully transform and, as a result, need a different vantage point than traditional venture capital. Since we invest off of our balance sheet, we have the ability and luxury to be extremely patient and partner with entrepreneurs in solving some of the world’s toughest problems. Themes like ‘access to better education’, ‘healthcare’ and ‘financial inclusion’ are rarely meaningfully solved in seven to 10 years (the length of a traditional venture fund). I like that we have the ability to participate at an early stage and support companies for multiple decades if that is what it takes! To me, that is pretty exciting work.”

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.