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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 December 2006, 16:17 GMT
Wanted: venture capitalists in Ghana
By Orla Ryan
Accra, Ghana

Rooms at Maxwell Owusu's planned $14m (7m) hotel in Accra are unlikely to come cheap.

Cresta Royale
There are only a handful of high quality hotels in Accra

But there are not that many 4 star hotels to choose from in Accra, so visiting businessmen, tourists, airhostesses and diplomats are unlikely to complain too much about the price tag.

Mr Owusu's track record as a hotelier has enabled him to get on with the project.

But in general - although there is a shortage of hotel rooms - getting long-term finance for major developments is difficult, even for established business people.

Mr Owusu will raise some of the money from banks, but he is also putting his faith in one of the city's few venture capital funds, Fidelity Capital Partners.

Around the world, venture capitalists are known for taking equity in new, struggling and growing businesses in return for cash.

For Mr Owusu and others, their existence is key for Ghana's and Africa's development.

Without them, the new businesses needed to sustain the West African country's growth would struggle to get off the ground.

Enter the venture capitalists

For visionaries with a dream, or simply businessmen with a plan, raising long-term finance is not easy in Ghana.

Few banks are likely to offer the 15-year term ideal for a hotel project.

Most would offer a maximum of seven years, according to Mr Owusu.

"In Europe, you get long term funding for construction. It is a typical mortgage," he says.

"We don't have these facilities."

Getting the right kind of finance can make or break a project.

"It is crucial. A lot of good projects fail because the type of funding is wrong," says Mr Owusu.

"You may have a hotel which, if you have 20-year loan is very good [while] if you have seven-year loan is a bad project."

Risk and reward

Mr Owusu is currently in talks with Fidelity Capital Partners, one of only three venture capital funds in the country.

The most recent arrival is the government-run Venture Capital Trust Fund, which started operations earlier this year.

With $25m to invest via its five finance partners, it is part of a government initiative to kickstart the country's venture capital industry.

"The government saw a vacuum and is trying to fill it," says chief executive Nana Osei-Bonsu.

"Business demands [for long-term cash] are not being fulfilled. The government saw a need to establish an institution."

The slow birth of the country's industry has its roots in bank caution as well as the wariness of local businesses, Mr Osei-Bonsu adds.

A depreciating currency means that early venture capital funds were unlikely to be successful, says Steve Antwi-Asimeng, managing director of Fidelity Capital Partners.

"It would have been magical to achieve any meaningful return.

"Venture capital is a high risk activity, investors require good returns. You needed exceptionally high returns to compensate for the risk."

Poor transparency

Ghana is now one of the most stable countries in West Africa, politically and economically, so venture capitalists may feel confident to look at the market.

Maxwell Owusu
Most of the projects are already successful businesses
Maxwell Owusu

But local businesses, often family run, are reluctant to open their books to provide the level of disclosure wanted by venture capitalists, whose only security lies in the quality of the firm they take a stake in.

Assessing people's true worth can be difficult, says Mr Nana Osei-Bonsu.

"The problem is documentation and ascertaining the claims that people make. There is no source of data."

Many businesses need to be made more professional, says Fidelity's Antwi-Asimeng.

"There is little structure by way of management. They hardly keep any good records. They are an amateur business.

"We have more than enough demand. Do we have enough that meet criteria? Yes, we do. We still have some we need to take through a process."

Nervous investors

But few of the venture capitalists that have dipped their toe into Ghanaian waters are really prepared to take risks, says Mr Owusu.

"They are not prepared to take on visionaries, they are already looking for success stories.

"It is not real venture capitalists [like those] you get in Europe or America. Most of the projects are already successful businesses."

For the dreamers and adventurers, getting the finance needed to take that first step on the capitalist ladder is likely to remain as difficult as ever.

For them, says Mr Owusu, it remains "impossible" to get funding.

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