Africa is often associated with war, corruption, poverty among a host of other vices.This is a history that a breed of young entrepreneurs on the continent has vowed to rewrite and ultimately inspire the next generations.
How will they do this? How will they aid this ailing continent and set it on a path to live up to its expectations? Not even the brightest minds in academia can answer these questions, only the Africans themselves can find a solution.In this regard we have highlighted five budding African entrepreneurs who we think have figured out how to do it.
Barclay Paul Okari
Named after a bank and armed with a bachelor’s degree in Finance, the 23 year old Kenyan has come up with an affordable and reusable sanitary towel that serves as a better alternative to mainstream pads that locals can’t afford. So why would an educated young man from an affluent background want to go into such a business? He saw an opportunity that even women themselves have not. During a volunteer mission to an upcountry based high school, Paul noticed that girls from impoverished rural families were forced to stay home during their monthly periods as they could not afford pads available in the market. The solution to this problem was creating an inexpensive and reusable sanitary towel that will offer more utility than his competitors. His parents loaned him $1500 and Impact Africa Industries was born.
Today his company boasts of $300,000 in annual revenue and employs 23 full time staff 22 of whom are women.
His flagship product the ‘safi sanitary pad’ is now available in three countries with a view to expand all over Africa.
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Born in Addis Ababa, Bethlehem knew exactly how to harness her local resources and create employment opportunities for the local community. She founded soleRebels, an enterprise that makes hand-crafted shoes, in 2004 immediately after completing her university education.
Today the company has expanded to custom-designed sustainable luxury leather and is in the process of building a $20 million factory right in the heart of Ethiopia.
So how does a young woman raised in a small impoverished community achieve all this in less than eight years? It started with her noticing that people of her community were living in abject poverty despite possessing remarkable artisan skills. Most of them created a comfy sandal hand-crafted from recycled tires and locally sourced fibers such as Koba which has been grown in Ethiopia for several thousand years. Armed with borrowed capital from family she set out and set up an eCommerce site that would enable her to sell sandals, slip-ons and lace-up shoes globally. The company is expected to bring in $8 million in revenue this year.
Having worked at prestigious financial institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Valiant Capital Partners, the young Ghanaian decided to return to his motherland and fund the next generation of African startups rather than work his way up the corporate ladder. Some of the ventures his fund has backed so far include Solo Mobile in Nigeria, mPharma in Ghana and Zamsolar in Zambia as well as cleanacwa, a non-profit that aims to make clean water more accessible to residents. An MBA candidate at Harvard, Sangu Delle is no stranger to success having received a full merit scholarship to the Peddie School in New Jersey. GPI his parent company has built a portfolio around healthcare, real estate, agriculture and financial services. Sangu is just one of the many Africans that have come back home and decided to grow the continent rather than let western companies exploit the people and repatriate the profits abroad without aiding the community.
His company currently has a leverage of over $100 million and is credited as the first Pan-African Venture capital and Hedge Funds.
At 18 years old Paul and his friends were ready to leave their native Nigeria for the United States only for the Embassy to revoke his visa. Paul felt ashamed and dejected and opted to move to Lagos instead of going back home and being made fun off. It was there that the young man first had a taste of business as he helped out his uncle at the local market. He then joined a local university and studied business while he explored his available business opportunities. His breakthrough was a toy making company that would make African themed toys unlike those sold in supermarkets.
In 1997 Auldon Limited had a capital base of $30 but as we speak their turnover has just surged past the $7 million mark.
The company has a market in established African markets such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and a growing customer base in Europe. The 37 year old says that he is looking to build Africa’s own Disney Land as well as ensure that every African household has a toy bearing his companies name. A percentage of sales are set aside for the promotion of girl-child education.
You might have heard of the Heat Free Movement or spotted your favorite celebrity donning one of their weaves. The company’s flagship product is aimed at manufacturing virgin hair extensions exclusively for the kinky-haired end of the $ 500 billion weave market. The brainchild of this product is 28 year old Ngozi Opara a Nigerian native who decide that women of African descent shouldn’t have to rely on Brazilian or South American hair to suit their needs.
She had to quit her prized Wall Street job as a financial analyst and spent six weeks sleeping in a Chinese factory before she could realize her dream.
Her company now has end to end control of the value chain ensuring that she is positioned better than her competitors. She hopes that in the next few years more women with tough African hair will embrace her natural extensions enabling her to open stores in some of the fashion capitals of the world. Ngozi has attributed her business idea to the need to have a natural alternative to the synthetic products that the cosmetic world avails to women of African descent.
These are just some of the stories from budding entrepreneurs on the continent. There is hope after all for a land that has been previously labeled the ‘dark continent’.