Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s charitable initiative has made its first private sector investment, funding a start-up that helps technology companies including Google and Microsoft hire engineers in Africa.
The Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative has led the $24m funding round for Andela, a two-year-old start-up. Founded by an education technology entrepreneur, it runs a highly selective programme for what it calls “genius-level” African software developers.
Mr Zuckerberg got to know the company through the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, which aims to give away 99 per cent of his Facebook shares in his lifetime to causes including education.
Jeremy Johnson, Andela chief executive, said he met Mr Zuckerberg in Palo Alto, California, and he was interested in how quickly the company was growing and attracted to ideas that can “unlock human potential at scale”.
“The idea is there’s a huge amount of human capital, of brain power, that doesn’t have a chance to really engage broadly, have the education or exposure needed to be able to live up to their potential,” he said. “In the next 10 years we want to find and create a platform for 100,000 genius-level software developers across Africa.”
Three-quarters of the nearly 200 engineers being trained already have a computer science or engineering degree and all have a passion for programming. “Virtually everyone has a story about taking their lunch money and downloading programming guides at a cyber café,” he said.
After six to eight months of paid training, they start work at one of Andela’s two campuses in Nigeria or Kenya and are paid “middle class” salaries for their country. Unlike traditional outsourcing, they are fully integrated as full-time employees into its team, rather than being hired on a project-to-project basis. Many begin the job by visiting their new employer’s offices, usually in the US.
Facebook uses the service and some start-ups are using Andela for the majority of their engineering team, said Mr Johnson.
The Chan-Zuckerberg initiative, announced last year on the birth of the couple’s first child, is structured as a limited liability company, so it can make investments in for-profit companies as well as engage in traditional philanthropy. Its education efforts are being led by Jim Shelton, the former deputy secretary of the US department of education and a former employee of the Gates Foundation.
GV, Google’s venture capital arm which also invested in the round, says that what sounds like a good cause is also good business. Blake Byers, general partner at Google Ventures, said Andela was solving the number one problem of all the VC’s portfolio companies: hiring engineering talent.
“They literally don’t have enough engineers to do all the projects companies want them to do,” he said.