In Loving Memory of Nnena Nkongho

Kauffman Fellows mourns the loss of Nnena Nkongho of Class 23, who was laid to rest earlier this week. A ray of sunshine and always quick with a smile, Nnena was deeply passionate about her work and was a fierce advocate of the African tech ecosystem. We cherish every moment spent amidst her larger-than-life presence and honor her memory through stories and shared experiences from across the KF community. Rest in peace and power, dear friend. Your impact on the industry and all of us will never be forgotten.💙

The Nkongho family has started a charitable non-profit, the Otundi Nnena Patricia Foundation. All donations will go to organizations that honor Nnena’s passions and pursuit of helping others.

“Nnena’s personality was infectious; she was upbeat, open, and real! We developed a friendship that included everything from swapping notes on Peloton instructors, travel to discussing ways to support diverse fund managers. She was unstoppable. Nnena was everywhere; yet always present wherever I encountered her from our phone calls, impromptu dinner in Lagos and generously sharing networking advice and connections. Her perspective was invaluable and often stretched my thoughts on what is possible. I will miss her and feel blessed to have known her.”

Dia Martin, Class 24

Nnena had endless endurance. She traveled the globe, determined to bring people along on her vision. She always, always made time for Fellows and friends when visiting their cities, a reflection of the emphasis she put on relationships. I’ll always recall fondly her many trips to Chicago, and am grateful for those extra slices of time with her.”

Lindsay Knight, Class 23

"I met Nnena 3.5 years ago yet it feels as though I’ve lost a lifelong friend. She made such an impact on so many of us. We stayed together in an Airbnb for the London module. Nnena and I were two of the first to arrive and she insisted we grab a half pint at the pub down the street. How I wish I could remember the exact details of each of these precious moments I had with her. But I will never forget that each time I saw her in person, chatted via Zoom, or exchanged emails and texts, Nnena’s zest for life, never-ending optimism, and infectious laugh were always palpable in those interactions.”

Gale Wilkinson, Class 23

“To know Nnena was to love Nnena. She was thoughtful and kind, and she always exuded positive energy. She was also incredibly smart, hard-working, and innovative, and she cared a lot about personal and professional growth. I will miss geeking out on all things fund formation and tennis with her. I feel truly honored to have spent the time that I did with her.”

Jeff Harbach, Kauffman Fellows CEO

“Nnena was in my Kauffman class and she was one of the people I connected with instantly as she was so kind, positive, curious about others, and a caring soul. We shared an Airbnb in London and she came over to our home when visiting Singapore. She was filled with excitement and energy in helping African founders through her own fund. She dreamed and executed big visions with a passion I deeply admired. I am still processing this tragic news. May Nnena Rest in Peace and prayers to her family and loved ones.”

Phalgun Raju, Class 23

“I have two favorite memories of Nnena: First, earlier this year, Nnena smiling as she mentioned her pandemic activities of playing tennis and cycling on the Peloton. With a mischievous grin, said that she looked forward to “summer girl bod”, i.e. the summer after Covid where everybody will all want to hang out and show off their new toned muscles. She looked so happy thinking about the coming summer. Second, Nnena noticed that I was sitting there looking distraught during a Kauffman class. She whispered to me and asked me what’s up. She told me a story from when she was young and gave me the confidence and courage to face my challenges.”

Chang Xu, Class 23

— Jeremy Shure, Class 23

“I had one Zoom video call with Nnena. She came across as someone who is very genuine and authentic. It felt like I have known her for a long time. She cared for her community and wanted to give back. I remember my conversation with her and she made me feel like an old friend. Her comments about entrepreneurs in Africa were incredibly insightful. I will always remember her as someone who wanted to give back and help others in becoming a better version of themselves.”

Ashish Aggarwal, Class 24

— Deena Shakir, Class 23

— Michael Lints, Class 23

— Sara Zulkosky, Class 23

“A genuine, caring human being. She was smart and determined with an authentic passion for helping tech founders in Africa succeed. I’m confident others will continue to carry her light and make her vision a reality. Regardless, she will be missed by many — I will surely miss her dearly.”

Esteban Reyes, Class 23

“I don’t source deals, I nurture relationships. I am the person who says to entrepreneurs, “Why not?” or “Dream bigger.” Those were the first words Nnena said to me when she applied to the Kauffman Fellows Program. She was excited most by being an advocate for, as she put it, the brave individuals who are taking personal and professional risks to develop businesses that can further advance the African business ecosystem.

Nnena was no stranger to the setbacks that fate randomly deals out. What distinguished Nnena was her resilience and profound determination to come back stronger. Never for self-aggrandizement, but always in the service of others and for a higher good. Even during challenging times, it was Nnena’s eternal optimism and hope for a brighter future that I will remember most.

Nnena had a profound impact on people, sharing her knowledge, inspiring others by providing a living example of how far a keen intellect, grit, and tenacity could take you. Always in an honest and authentic way. She cared deeply about helping individuals to be all they could be, driven by her passion for and commitment to developing the African ecosystem. This was her life’s calling. She did it very well, as the outpouring from entrepreneurs and venture colleagues testifies.

Our conversations were never short. They were rich and deep and full of a fresh and thoughtful perspective. Our conversation in Santa Cruz in November was to be our last. Oh, how I will miss them. Rest peacefully, my friend. I am changed for having known you.

Jewel Savadelis, Former VP, Kauffman Fellows



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