Sohaila Ouffata invests in technology companies in the automotive industry through the BMW i Ventures. She is one of the few female venture capital investors in the auto tech industry and is committed to more diversity in the startup industry.
In this week’s edition of women in tech, we speak to Sohaila Ouffata Director of Platform at BMW i Ventures and Founder of, African tech vision. She takes me behind the scenes and we talk about her tech journey, what it means to be a female venture capitalist and the inspiration behind founding the African Tech Vision initiative.
Journey into tech
Sohaila Ouffata did not ever think she would find herself in tech but that was exactly what happened. Born to Moroccan parents on both sides but born and educated in Germany, growing up, Sohaila loved reading, writing and telling stories revealed she hoped to become a journalist but her strict parents insisted she studied Economics which she did on her way.
In her words “ I hoped to become a journalist because I loved reading, writing and telling stories but my parents were conservative and wanted me to study economics and do something in another field, so my trade-off was that I found something I could study which is a mixture of communication design, economics and technology.
While her hopes to become a journalist didn’t work out, Sohaila never envisaged she would find a career path in tech, let alone Autotech she says “ I never thought I would have a career in the tech space, but that is exactly what happened.
She tells me exactly how she started ” my first job was consulting for a tech company in the US, I worked in this job for three years and then I moved to the telecommunications industry which is where I got into the entrepreneurial space.
“This company at the time acquired a lot of startups and one of the startups was in Tel Aviv. My colleagues were just clueless about how to work with the startup. They were lost culturally and didn’t know how to act but for me, I am from Marrakech and we have a lot of cultural similarities, so it was easier for me to get along and work with the local team”, she said.
Founding the African tech vision
Sohaila is one of the few female venture capital investors in the auto tech industry and is committed to deepening diversity in the industry. At BMW i Ventures, Sohaila develops and implements strategic growth initiatives for startups in their portfolio, in her capacity as Director of Platform.
She tells me about the extent of the work they are doing:
” I never thought I would be in Autotech but I am now and it is very exciting as the companies we invest in are exciting. The fund I work for is a 300-million dollar venture capital fund and we invest in auto tech companies in Europe and the US.
Sohaila has been active in the startup and venture capital ecosystem for over 10 years. One of her goals is to increase equal opportunities in the industry. To achieve this, she founded the initiative “The African Tech Vision” which specifically supports women in Africa with start-up ambitions.
The motivation for founding the African Tech Vision, Sohaila tells me, was partly due to the desire to do something to feel connected to her African roots.
“I was missing the components of my home continent, I had no touch points with Morocco, no touch points with Africa as a whole and I wanted to change that. I started to wonder if there could be a way to have a more personal impact and I started to research and connect with a lot of entrepreneurs to understand the various ecosystems in Africa.”
The other reason is that funding and mentorship are real problems founders face. “What I learned in conversations with several entrepreneurs about the problems they face such as funding, no access to high-quality knowledge, and a lack of suitable mentors who know and understand the African tech ecosystems”, she explained.
African tech vision
African Tech Vision is a mentorship programme specifically created to train and equip African female founders with high interest to learn from international mentors from the tech and startup scene.
“Together with an amazing team of dedicated professionals from the global startup, I decided to build a network where women would be paired with high-quality mentors and coached in several business areas which are completely free of charge. The program lasts for 10 weeks but the access to the African Tech Vision community is for life”, Sohalia told me.
According to her, the aim of African tech vision is to create a platform for female tech founders to learn, share, network and grow as entrepreneurs.
Sohaila tells me that founding the African tech vision was born out of the fusion of the desire to see women grow and the need to promote the African heritage.
” I like to invest in women entrepreneurs and empower them because I truly believe in their potential. Climbing the ladder in my career path, I didn’t have women to support me, I had more women fighting me, trying to retain their place and keep me out, this made me resolve never to be that way to other women, instead, I will build them up and help them grow, this is one of the key motivations behind founding African Tech Vision”, Sohaila reveals
She tells me that the organisers and mentors believe in the entrepreneurial potential of African women and that when you empower a woman she reinvests in her family and community.
How does it work?
The program is a 10-week virtual hands-on program designed to help participants scale their businesses. The ATV mentorship program is held virtually.
The process of choosing the women to participate in the program can be quite gruelling as the team is responsible for asking the women several deep, probing questions until they identify the areas that the women require to work on in their business. This then informs the basis for deciding the mentor to assign each selected woman and the key areas to mentor her on.
While the entire program is free of charge and the participants aren’t expected to trade equity, the selected women have to work extra hard for those ten weeks and show that they take the program very seriously.
Challenges as a woman in tech
While Sohaila is committed to providing opportunities for African female start-up founders, she talks about the challenges she has had to face as a woman in tech, especially in the auto tech industry.
“One of the major problems I have faced is that there aren’t many women in auto-tech so I am missing female counterparts. If you are an investor in a board meeting and there’s no other woman, it changes the dynamic. But when there is at least one other woman it becomes more solution and problem-solving-oriented.”
“Being a woman in tech on the startup side there are fewer women founders so when investing in a company where there are no women I would typically ask the founder why and what they plan to do to change that. I believe that to get more women into tech, we have to be very proactive, but it’s a great experience working with such life-changing technology.”
One of her most memorable moments so far for Sohaila has been being able to provide quality training and connections for almost 50 women across 11 African countries. Being able to connect these women with the best people who can teach them what they need as women to grow their business.
Also important for Sohalia is the ability to create a program like the African tech vision mentorship program without no funding from any big organisation as well as connecting the women that have been through the programme to a community where they get to learn and acquire lifetime connections.
Advice for women in tech
For women who are looking to go into tech or are already in the tech space, Sohaila has this piece of advice to give;
“If you are interested in having a career in tech, you need to have a solid ground, you need good education and expertise because as a woman you will be viewed a lot harsher, there will be more criticism, so you need to know what you are doing, there needs to be a lot of substance, you need to be strong and a go-getter. To make it in tech you need to be strong, you need to have the right attitude, don’t take no for an answer, keep going until you get what you want”
Looking forward, Sohalia says that the plan is to make the ” African Tech Vision grow and bring more amazing mentors and founders into the program.”
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