Here it is, the most talked about FORBES AFRICA list; 30 of the brightest, hungriest and most successful entrepreneurs under the age of 30. These are our cover stories in 10 years’ time, or maybe even sooner. The list is in no particular order.
Class of 2017 in numbers:
- The average age of the class is 27
- Women make up 33% of the class
- The average age of women is 28.2 while the average age of men on the list is 26.4
- 9 members on the list are from South Africa
- 53% of nominees on the list are from Southern Africa while West and East Africa make up 23.3% each
Under 30 2018
The 2018 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 is our authentic and most definitive list of Africa’s most promising young change-makers. This year is our fourth edition of the list and for the first time, inspired by the growing number of young men and women entrepreneurs, we have expanded it to bring you 30 game-changers, all under the age of 30, in each the three sectors – business, technology and creative. The 90 in total are challenging conventions and rewriting the rules for the next generation of entrepreneurs, creatives and tech gurus.
We put in months of rigorous research, sifting through over 600 nominations, vetting them for weeks, verifying and investigating them. We favored entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and took into account their business size, revenue, location, potential, struggles, social impact and resilience. A panel of judges then debated the final 90. You may not know many of their names now and they may not be richest people in Africa, but they could be the billionaires of tomorrow gracing our future covers. This compilation is exciting, inspiring and offers a sneak peek into Africa’s future. Meet the class of 2018. The list is in no particular order.
Under 30 Technology
- Rivo Mhlari, 23, South Africa
Mhlari is a master of perseverance. When he first created an information management system using big data and artificial intelligence to solve problems for vehicles such as predicting and detecting vehicle breakdowns, he was rejected 11 times by the manufacturers and insurance companies he approached. The rejections were his greatest motivation.
“I realized we were rejected not because what we were doing was not novel or attractive; we were rejected because they thought what Rikatec wanted to do was impossible. We were simply ahead of our time,” says Mhlari.
He founded a marketing consultancy, where he hosted events and advised small business on strategy; made money and funded the development of Rikatec prototypes. He also made a noise about the difficulties of support and funding for tech startups. It earned him a R500,000 ($40,000) investment to commercially test the product in exchange for 5% equity in the business.
Today, Rikatec simultaneously provides a connection to the nearest help option within five minutes of breakdown detection. The company also provides predictive maintenance for fleets, monitors driving habits, wear and tear and uses big data and analytics to provide valuable information that can help reduce operational costs.
2. Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi, 27, Nigeria
Samuel-Biyi has been at the forefront of some of the most innovative technology ventures in Africa, either as a critical employee, investor, or entrepreneur.
With the help of his co-founders, Adeoye Ojo and Babafemi Lawal, Samuel-Biyi launched SureGifts, a digital shopping voucher aggregator and retailer in 2014.
“We pioneered the concept of gift cards in Nigeria and partnered with the biggest brands on the continent such as Game, Spar, Samsung and Jumia to power their digital gift card programs,” he says.
Today, the company operates in Nigeria and Kenya with over 200 retail brands and utility service providers on their network. SureGifts vouchers are used by over 250 major companies across the world like Airtel, KPMG and Coca-Cola for their employee and customer rewards programs.
His company also developed a project called SureRemit, a non-cash remittance product that will leverage cryptocurrency to power remittances intended for non-cash use-cases like utility payments, groceries and medicine, leveraging the SureGifts merchant network and other global partners.
“Again, my team finally brought Africa into the Blockchain playing field by executing the most successful Initial Coin Offering (ICO) out of Africa yet, raising $7 million within two days from participants in 65 countries, including participation from the largest cryptocurrency fund in South Korea.”
The SureRemit cryptocurrency, $RMT, is currently on the market. They employ 30 people
Prior to SureGifts, he managed data-intensive projects in commercial planning, business intelligence, and financial analysis at Jumia in Nigeria. He is also a senior consultant at Venture Garden Group, advising on startup investing, business risk, strategy, and finance and supports early-stage African entrepreneurs as a Venture Partner at Greenhouse Capital.
3. Isaya Yunge, 28, Tanzania
Founder: SomaApps Technologies Company Limited
Yunge had a difficult childhood. His parents never married so he was born and raised an outcast. He was raised by his grandmother and spent his childhood herding goats, cows and chasing birds on rice plantations.
“Life was tough and hard because sometimes I had to miss school and spend the entire day on the farm, so I escaped to search for my parents, both of who by then, had their separate families which made it difficult for me to be accepted by any of them,” he says.
Peaceful as he was, he says he was always rejected, whether by his step-mother or step-father. It made his upbringing unstable and unpredictable. He had to live from one foster family to another. He was forced to live by himself from the second year of secondary school. He worked after school to earn money for food and rent.
“In 2012, I was at my lowest point and life was hard as I struggled with basic needs, school fees and rent. I almost gave up on education because of the chaos around me. One thing that kept me going was the FORBES list. As a young boy, I would hear on the news from time to time about Africans making it on the FORBES list and I aspired to one day be on it.”
In 2014, he became curious about the tech industry, particularly the app business.
“I remember I started asking myself questions like ‘if I am using Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat for free how come these companies are wealthy and growing in terms of revenue and user base?’ So, my desperation to understand the industry sparked my interest to study the digital economy and the app business.
That year, he attended a talk about the fourth industrial revolution, the sharing economy and collaborative commons, by Jeremy Rifkin, an American economist. It was affirmation he would one day solve Africa’s problems through digital technology.
“I had to sleep in the office for six months eating bananas every day… It was during this time a girl I really liked dumped me because I sounded crazy talking about my startup,” says Yunge.
Today, SomaApps is a scholarship-matching app that lists and matches students with thousands of domestic and international scholarships. His aim is to accelerate the advent of mobile software technologies, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things in Tanzania. He employs 12 people.
“With SomaApps, the impact I am making is helping students from low-income families access fully-funded scholarships to attain quality education around the world. Within just two years, we’ve helped 550 students.”
Along his journey, he has collected a number of accolades. In 2006, he was elected to become the chairperson of the Junior Council of the United Republic of Tanzania, spoke at the G8 Summit at the age of 17, won the GSMA Mobile Money Africa Hackathon as best startup in Africa in 2017, won the prestigious Queens Young Leaders Award and won at the Start-up Turkey Award as one of the top three startups in the world.
4. Mahmood Oyewo, 26, Nigeria
From an early age, Oyewo participated in science fairs and always wanted to know how things worked. This inquisitiveness led him to start his first company, Mabtech Solutions, before university.
“I made radio transmitter circuits as a hobbyist and sold to friends who played pranks by broadcasting messages. I also wrote C++ applications and sold to secondary schools. These experiences really convinced me I could create an impact with my knowledge and also make a living out of it,” he says.
In 2009, Oyewo and his brother, Mukhtar, built a mobile airtime top-up solution.
“The solution was to be tied to Globacom’s airtime APIs. We presented this solution to a director then and of course because we were young lads, we were never taken seriously.”
They didn’t let that disappointment affect them. Instead, they registered an app development and management company called MobiQube.
In 2012, with the intention of collating innovative mobile applications in Africa and offering locally relevant apps to users based on their location, they built a location-based mobile app aggregator.
“This was in response to the complaint that many African apps get lost in the app stores which kept potential users from finding them. We unfortunately faced the same fate as we were trying to save other African apps from, the RubiQube mobile app itself got lost in the noise that characterizes the Google Play and Apple App stores,” says Oyewo.
In late 2015, they decided to pivot from a mobile application to the current video advertising service called RubiQube. It is an advertising technology company with focus on video and other super rich media, with a goal to acquire high-value users and drive customer engagement through its state-of-the-art advertising services.
Today, RubiQube Limited has worked with some of the top brands in Nigeria, which include Nestle, GSK, Visa, Zenith Bank, UBA and Coca-Cola.
5. Kevin Lubega, 28, Uganda
From as far back as his early teenage years, Lubega used every opportunity he had to work with and learn from his father.
“I have greatly benefitted from watching him come from very humble beginnings to grow various businesses from the ground into multinational organizations making a profound impact on Africans,” he says.
He was inspired to solve Africa’s problems through technology. To date, he has founded five companies in diverse industries, including e-commerce, real estate, financial services and oil and gas.
“Through these ventures, my goal has been to provide sustainable and lasting solutions to Uganda’s and Africa’s unique challenges.”
Incorporated in 2012, EzeeMoney is a fintech firm offering electronic money services to clients with or without a mobile phone or formal bank accounts wishing to receive and make multiple payments. They also offer to pay bills, do collections, and offer point of sale money transfers and other e-money services to banks, non-bank corporations, government and NGOs.
EzeeMoney operates in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They directly employ 80 people and indirectly about 8,000.
6. Berno Potgieter & Thatoyaona Marumo, 28, South Africa
Potgieter and Marumo met while studying at Stellenbosch University. They both had a dream of one day starting their own business. Passionate about the tech industry and empowering domestic workers to find better work opportunities, they founded Domestly, a technology platform that allows consumers to find and hire cleaning professionals.
“Initially, when we started, our operations were entirely and wholly bootstrapped. In December 2014, we started speaking to investors. At this stage, the business had done well in delivering lucrative numbers. By April 2015, we had four investors on board and have continued to successfully attract more investors since,” says Marumo.
In June 2017, they announced the business had secured its first round of institutional funding from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC). They have a footprint in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban and have created about 1,500 jobs.
The company has received many awards including being in the top five startup companies in South Africa in 2015, winner of the MTN App of the year award and best consumer app of the year in 2016, e-commerce awards runnerup behind Takealot in 2016, Cape Town business awards’ finalist in 2016 and Africa’s most disruptive app award winner for 2016.
7. Leonida Mutuku, 29, Kenya
While working at iHub, one of the tech hubs in Kenya, Mutuku discovered data science and its potential to transform the way we do business in Africa.
“I was excited to see how data science and analytics change a business to better respond to users. When I decided to leave employment, it was pretty clear these kinds of technologies were still not widely in use here and I was keen to step up and fill this gap,” she says.
In 2015, she founded Intelipro, a company that develops cloud-based applications to help businesses make data work for them. They create advanced analytics solutions to help their clients build a deep knowledge about their business operations, their brand, their customers and their industry. Their clients include MTN, Bank of Africa Ghana and Revoltura.
8. Chris Kwekowe, 25, & Emerald Kwekowe, 21, Nigeria
Slatecube helps job seekers develop job-relevant skills, gain work experience, and land well-paying jobs through up-skilling courses and virtual internships.
“We aim to bridge the gap between qualification and employment which has, for so long, been a leading factor in the high unemployment rate of youth all over sub-Saharan Africa,” says Chris.
Since launching in 2014, the company has helped hundreds of graduates get into full-time employment, trained over 13,000 graduates in full-stack web development, design (graphics design and animations), and digital marketing across Nigeria and Ghana and have 7,000 active users taking online programs.
“Ten percent of our beta testers have gone on to start their own businesses and also got access to funding ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.”
Slatecube won the Anzisha Prize in 2015, presented at the African Union during the e-Learning Africa Conference in 2016 and was invited by former US President Barack Obama to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in San Francisco.
9. Phiwa Nkambule, 26, Swaziland
Nkambule discovered his love for tech in 2006 fixing computers with his uncle in a small township in Swaziland. He got his first experience of unlimited internet when he went to the University of Pretoria in South Africa 2011. He used it to teach himself web and app development.
In 2014, he moved to a quiet suburb in Pretoria where he founded his first technology company, Cybatar, in his garage. Here, he developed cloud computing and Internet of Things technology, an on-demand fuel delivery application, a social network and a tuition crowdfunding platform. Cybatar won Best Cloud Computing Startup Africa at the 2015 African Corporate Excellence Awards.
In 2015, Nkambule co-founded Riovic, an insurance technology company. The company provides a risk-sharing network where a group of associated or like-minded individuals pool their premiums together to insure against a risk. It connects those seeking insurance with investors who are willing to share the risk of a pay-out in exchange for returns in the form of premiums.
Riovic was named one of the 100 Best Fin-Tech Companies in Africa, was a nominee in the 2016 African Fin-Tech Awards and was part of the Top 26 Fin-Tech startups in South Africa according to Ventureburn. Riovic owns fintech platforms such as PolicyLedge, NeoMutual and Kr8iv Capital.
10. Sunkanmi Ola, 26, Nigeria
Founder: Syracuse Digital
Established in 2012, Syracuse Digital is a digital advertising and product development agency. They help businesses grow through digital engagement marketing. Syracuse counts Adidas, Tecno Mobile, Mitsubishi Motors and Infinix among its clients. The company has reached Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Cameroon and the UK.
Ola also initiated a globally focused startup, Hirefreehands, through Syracuse Digital. It has an African outlook, backed by a Seattle-based Blockchain venture firm. He turns over close to half a million dollars each year.
Ola’s hard work has earned him many awards. In 2014, he was a finalist for the Anzisha Awards for Successful African Entrepreneurs Under 21, he was the first Nigerian to be admitted into the Young Lions Planners Academy at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, and is the youngest-ever candidate admitted into the global executive MBA program at Hult International Business School, London.
Syracuse Digital also won the Digital Marketing Agency of the Year award at the African Quality Achievement Awards in 2015 and has had multiple features in Lürzer’s Archive.
11. Perseus Mlambo, 29, Zambia
Founder: Zazu Africa Limited
The idea for Zazu came when Mlambo was on a bus at 4AM. He met Dorica, an 80-year-old who was traveling to sell her fruit and vegetables.
“Before then, I had never thought about how food moves from the farm, to the shelf or market and eventually to my plate,” he says.
He wanted to make the process of selling easier for people like Dorica. Then he realized most of them didn’t have bank accounts. As such, the first part of problem-solving was to make sure they had simplified access to formal financial services.
He founded Zazu, a fintech company.
“Picture this, you download the Zazu app on your phone, and you sign up to get an account. You submit a selfie and your identification documents. Less than two minutes later, you have an account. In two days, Zazu delivers the card to your house/office/farm and you can start spending. You can finally sell things online or buy from Amazon. If you want, you can pay for electricity/TV/water/taxes via the Zazu app or buy airtime,” he says.
For each transaction, the Zazu app categorizes it and at the end of the month shows you how well you are managing your money eg., 36% spent on groceries, 10% alcohol or 30% rent. If you want, you can set a budget in the app and when you spend money, if needed, the app encourages you to save or slow down with your spending.
“But more than the app, we also realized a lot of people do not use banks or financial service providers because very few people know what they do. So we approached the Financial Sector Deepening Zambia and together, developed five courses around finance. We uploaded these courses on our USSD platform and anytime that someone dials *619#, they get taught about income, loans, insurance, savings & digital financial services.”
In less than a month of introducing it, they taught over 2,000 courses in one district alone.
12. Kola Olajide, 26, Nigeria
Co-founder: Bridge Labs
Olajide co-founded Bridge Labs and has designed solutions in education, marketing, insurance and banking.
He has partnered with insurance companies to design technology that empowers brokers to have a stronger value proposition and offer more personalized products, worked with banks and credit unions to rethink credit scores by writing more inclusive algorithms driven by data and built learning platforms that enable teachers to make their content accessible outside the four walls of a classroom.
His wit and hard work have earned him many accolades, among them a Microsoft technology partnership, a R500,000 ($40,000) innovation prize at the annual SAB innovation awards and a United Nations recognition for best innovation in education to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
13. Nneile Nkholise, 29, South Africa
Founder: iMed Tech
Nkholise was an entrepreneur since primary school. She first sold a pig to make money for her school fees and made more money either selling goods or doing hair.
“I still remember when I was around eight, some lady who owned a tuck-shop in our street asked us [kids from the street] to go and sell bananas for her because she had bought a lot and no one was buying them and so they were about to go off. I took more than anyone in our group and somehow all the other kids didn’t know how or where to sell. I just went street to street, knocked on every door selling,” she says.
In 2015, she had a dream to start a medical design, engineering and technology company. She entered and won the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award. At the time, she had nothing but a big dream and designs on paper.
“To have people believe in us at that moment is the greatest achievement because we had so many writings on the wall telling us we cannot make it and that we were creating products that can never fit into the South African market.”
She gambled her pension fund money from her previous job and added to the SAB prize money to start iMed Tech.
“Self-doubt is the greatest hardship I faced in my business. Self-doubt is the reason why in 2016 my business was close to failure, because the disease of self-doubt created symptoms of bankruptcy, poor business management, poor strategy development and execution.”
Nkholise stood strong and today, iMed Tech employs five people and primarily focuses on medical prosthetic and bio-implant design and manufacturing.
14. Bamai Namata, 26, Cameroon
Namata grew up in the small town of Mundemba on the Cameroon-Nigeria border. Here, he learned how to sell products and build a client base from his mother, a petty trader.
“I have always been fascinated by computers and electronics. Everyone else in my surroundings was encouraged to become either a teacher or join the armed forces but I always had a bigger vision and knew long-term thinking was the way to go,” he says.
After completing a degree in mass communication, he tried and failed to secure a loan from family and friends to start a business. The only other option was to work and save money. First, he worked as a plantation laborer for $28 dollars a month. He swapped this job with another at a local NGO, where he worked for three years and saved up enough money for his startup.
In 2015, he founded Maibeta.com a digital on-demand service platform connecting people to professional technicians for repairs, maintenance and construction jobs. The company makes over $150,000, employs nine people, has conducted 2,300+ transactions and impacted more than 9,000 people.
Namata also received a Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme award in 2016, Avance Media’s Cameroon’s most influential in business award in 2017 and was one of Cameroon News Agency’s entrepreneurs to watch out for list in 2017.
15. Riaz Moola, 26, South Africa
Founder: Hyperion Development
While studying computer science in South Africa, Moola noticed that over 80% of his classmates in first year failed due to a lack of foundational programming languages.
“I initially formed Hyperion as a university volunteering community for students studying at southern African universities, connecting top computer science students to mentor poorer performing students in programming via an online platform,” he says.
Hyperion then grew to be a code-review centric, mentor-led online course platform for coding education. The company sources and trains specialist online code reviewers, from the top 5% tech talent in Africa, allowing them to improve educational outcomes for students around the world.
“Hyperion has scaled human review of code at 50 times cheaper than its current cost in the global market by leveraging African talent. We integrate this review into mentor-led coding education programs around the world to lower the cost of effective software development education as a means to solve the tech skills gap globally,” he says.
He adds Hyperion is currently the largest provider of coding education in Africa and expanding into over 72 countries. It was recently recognized as one of the top five education technology startups in South Africa and won second prize in the TechCrunch Pitch-Off London 2017, won first in Facebook’s Africa Innovation Challenge award as the leading ed-tech startup in Africa, won three funding awards from Google, including a Google Computer Science For High School grant, and is supported by the South African government, City of London Co-Investment Fund, and University of Cambridge.
16. Leonard Stiegeler, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder: Zando, Jumia & Director: Ringier Africa AG
Stiegeler attributes his entry into business to his mother.
“When I was 16, she suggested I help out in a local fair trade retail shop in our small village in Southern Germany, where I was born,” he says.
Selling baskets, instruments and food from countries in Africa, he got interested to learn more about the continent. He visited Ghana at age 17 and before going to university, he lived in Uganda for a year, working with the German Development Cooperation on policy projects.
While at university at the London School of Economics and Political Science, he was asked to be part of the founding team of an e-commerce company in Cape Town. He agreed and in 2011 co-founded Zando, which then became one of the leading fashion e-commerce companies in South Africa.
He then moved to Nigeria, to co-found Jumia, now a leading general merchandise e-commerce company in Africa, outside of South Africa, employing 3,000 people.
Later, when Jumia started to be established in Nigeria, he was eager to explore more industries in the sector with an even wider impact generated by digital. He partnered with Ringier to launch digital media and marketplace companies on the continent. Ringier Africa operates the leading classifieds and media groups in sub-Saharan Africa. They have operations in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. The company has 700 direct employees across sub-Saharan Africa and 100 million+ user reach.
17. Kofi Genfi & Nii Osae Osae Dade, 24, Ghana
Founders: CYST Company Limited
This duo founded CYST, a software innovation company that specializes in artificial intelligence to create technology solutions in 2013. CYST has a research arm called CYST Research Institute, which focuses on artificial intelligence-based research and development such as natural language processing. In partnership with the telecommunications companies, CYST has access to over 15 million subscribers through its platforms. They count MTN Ghana, Vodafone Ghana, AirtelTigo Ghana, Unity Link and Data Protection Commission among their affiliates. It means over 15 million subscribers through its platforms.
CYST’s flagship product, Mazzuma, is a mobile money payment system that utilizes distributed secure infrastructure and cryptocurrency to enable seamless payments. The Mazzuma token, referred to as MAZ, is a key payment medium in the Mazzuma ecosystem. Transactions made on the Mazzuma platform are instantaneous.
18. Jaun Pienaar, 27, South Africa
Founder: Apex Media
Pienaar says he admires how his parents worked over 40 years for the same company but never saw himself working for anyone.
Music was his first love. He spent almost a year convincing his parents to let him drop out of high school to study music. He later graduated with majors in Guitar Performance and Theory and Production from the Campus of Performing Arts in association with the Academy of Contemporary Music in the UK. His parents loaned him money to convert their garage and adjoining room into a recording studio.
“I lined up a few musicians who would need demos and reels to come and record at my studio and wrote a few hip-hop tracks that would be used by a few well-known artistes and radio stations as part of their on-air identity,” he says.
Apex Multimedia was born, with his long-time friend Kyle Engelsman. In 2011, they rebranded the business to Apex Media with the vision of creating a world-class production facility for Africa and expanded the service offering to include design, website development, video production and photography, recruiting Devan Lowery to help build out the visual offering.
In 2014, Pienaar met Damon Boyd after a merger with Omnicom PR giant FleishmanHillard, where they were tasked with establishing ‘ContentWorks’ – a production hub for content in Africa for the FleishmanHillard network. A year later, the pair embarked on building a business together that focuses on delivering industry-changing, sustainable solutions for their clients through platforms, products and messaging, be it a Virtual Reality tour, a mobile app, content marketing, a corporate video or digital business process and policy improvement. Pienaar enjoys all things technical and loves when technology-driven solutions deliver long-lasting change and meaningful growth.
He was elected a World Economic Forum Global Shaper in 2017 and has a passion for the enablement and advancement of grassroots entrepreneurs, having played active roles in Tomorrow Entrepreneur, Suits & Sneakers, I am an Entrepreneur and Impello.
19. Timothy Adeyele, 29, Nigeria
Founder: Optiweb Communications
Adeyele grew up poor. His father was a painter and his mother a petty trader. Getting food to eat was hard and they lived in one bedroom. His parents struggled to pay public school fees of just under $1.50 per term.
“I was usually sent out of school for not paying my fees. For every time I was sent out, I will go to a cybercafé that was close to my school to learn how computers work. The idea of being able to operate a computer was fascinating to me and I was very curious,” he says.
These frequent visits caught the manager’s attention.
“He then decided to teach me operations, which seemed to be the only thing he could teach me then. I enjoyed every bit of my free lessons with Mr. Ayo who I fondly called Uncle AY.”
The more he learned, the more curious he got. He had a dream to start a tech company.
“A number of times, I got the opportunity to share my dreams with older people including my parents, I was always called lazy because they felt I was being unrealistic and wasn’t serious about life. They usually encouraged me to forget about the dream of owning a technology business and focus on getting a day-to-day job and at least earn to feed,” says Adeyele.
He wanted more out of life. After his secondary education, he got admitted into a leading ICT institution in northern Nigeria. He struggled to sponsor himself through the training and dropped out. He moved to Lagos and took up a job as a cement store sales attendant. He used the little earnings to research about the technology space, send proposals and attend business meetings.
“I faced challenges at the point of setting up my business. From struggling to get my startup capital, pitching my ideas to various companies only to be told ‘no’ discouraged me at some point. In fact, I was ready to give up but something in me kept telling me to push on.”
He did until he got a breakthrough with a Globacom partnership to found Glo Mobile School, an interactive educational SMS platform that inspires students to learn outside traditional classes.
It opened the door for the birth of Optiweb, a digital and mobile solutions company that specializes in mobile educational solutions, digital content, social media solutions, specialized CRBT, contest & gaming, mobile insurance solutions, among other services.
Optiweb has won many awards including Etisalat’s Most Innovative Service Provider of the Year, 2016, Africa’s Most Innovative Digital Mobile Service Provider of the Year award and the African Brand Leadership Merit award, 2017.
The company has operations in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Ivory Coast.
Optiweb Communications also serves as the holding company to the many startups and foundations in Nigeria and abroad.
20. Maya Horgan Famodu, 27, Nigeria
Famodu founded Ingressive, a tech integration company that provides market entry services and tech research for corporates and investors.
“I launched Ingressive LLC to solve the funding pipeline, redirecting global focus and capital to the continent,” she says.
Famodu also founded Ingressive Capital, a multi-million dollar venture fund focused on early-stage African tech.
“We have worked with thousands of African tech-enabled youths. Our client list includes over 50 investors and technology companies. Our clients have gone on to fund more than 20 African startups. I have funded three high-growth African technology companies, and we’re continuing to invest now.”
Last year, several of their past clients and partners became investors in the fund, including Michael Seibel, CEO at Y Combinator; Jason Seats, Partner at Techstars; and Gbenga Oyebode, Founder of Aluko & Oyebode, among other top entrepreneurs and investors.
21. Abraham Omani Quaye, 28, Ghana
After completing his undergraduate degree in agricultural sciences, he decided to go into farming. During his search for land, he came across farmers who complained about their produce going to waste because of low fresh sales.
“To avoid this, they’ll have to sell their produce off cheaply to the middlemen to avoid getting nothing out of their hard work. I also discovered in Ghana, farmers suffer over 30% post-harvest losses which is really unfortunate,” he says.
Quaye was motivated to not just be a farmer but a digital farmer and help other farmers have access to a ready market, reduce post-harvest losses and increase their return on investments. He founded Farmart, an online farmers’ market that links farmers to households and businesses. When an order is placed on their website, they source fresh produce from farmers and deliver to the client. They deliver produce and groceries in Accra, Tema and Kasoa.
“When we started the business, we didn’t have enough bikes to make deliveries which made us lose some deliveries and we quickly partnered with logistics firms who now support us when there’s a spike in orders. We also faced lots of challenges with lack of some produce and we decided to start Farmart.”
It has won recognition such as the 2017 Pitch AgriHack Africa winner by Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation.
22. Melvyn Lubega, 28, South Africa
Necessity kick-started Lubega’s entrepreneurial journey; he started his first business when he was a scholarship student in high school.
“The main school tuckshop was closed in the evenings and over the weekend, so I saw the opportunity to run a tuckshop out of the boarding house. Luckily my need for money was met and surpassed by my boarding mates’ desire for food and drinks, making the business a success,” he says.
The business grew to employ a number of his dorm mates. After finishing his undergraduate studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), he joined the Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm. He worked in 11 countries and in some of the big global companies in Africa.
“There was a range of problems we were brought in to solve for these clients. A number of these challenges could be traced back to the issue of companies not investing in their staff adequately.”
He noticed a similar pattern when he had started an investment business with friends while at UCT. Many of the smaller companies they worked with thought they were too small to care about training and development and the bigger companies did not leverage the best-in-class tools to invest in their staff.
After his time with the Boston Consulting Group, he went to the University of Oxford where he studied for a master’s in Educational Learning and Technology. Here, he met one of his co-founders, Andrew Barnes.
“Andrew had already been building websites for a number of years and he had actually built a web design business. He had been in the learning space as well, which is how we ended up in the same program at Oxford,” says Lubega.
Together, they founded GO1, a training solution that brings together training content which is accessed through an easy-to-use online platform. Today, the company is recognized as a world leader in employee compliance, professional development and on-boarding training. It is backed by investment from the likes of Y Combinator, the University of Oxford and leading venture capitalists.
The company employs over 157 people, was listed in the global Disrupt100 as one of the most disruptive companies in the world and was listed in the Deloitte Technology Fast 500, based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth over three years.
23. Huston Malande, 28, Kenya
Founder: Skyline Design
Malande is a smart man. He was ranked as one of the top 24 students out of about 400,000 that sat for his high school final exams in 2007. He then took a two-year gap before going to university. During that time, he interned as a computer repair assistant when he got an opportunity to fix a send/receive email problem for a bank manager.
“That may be a small problem, but, for a bank manager, it was actually pretty crippling and costly back in 2008. Within 15 minutes or so, I had found out where the problem lay and fixed it… He took out his cheque book and wrote me a cheque of 15,000 shillings,” he says.
Malande says he walked out of there in a daze. He had made 15,000 shillings in 15 minutes. That’s when it dawned on him people value having their problems solved, and they care little about who does it.
He started looking for problems around him to solve and make money. He saw a demand for blank CDs so people could store information. He bought packs at about 10 shillings each, made a poster advert detailing he could “burn” documents on a CD at 20 shillings. Within a week, he had sold the entire pack.
“Sadly, I was asked by the owners to stop selling the CDs, so I quit. They of course went ahead to offer the service… in fact, a few years later, about half the space of the cyber café was converted into an accessories section.”
That year, Malande taught himself web programming and design, registered Skyline Design, got his first two clients before the end of the year, and ended up incorporating the business into a limited company.
Skyline Design Ltd is a youth-led design firm focused on designing bespoke websites and brands for corporate clients since 2008. Currently, it has six permanent employees and 12 consultants with active contracts. He and his partners have also formed a group of companies, four subsidiaries were registered and are operational and six more being set up this year. They turn over hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
24. Cukia Kimani, 26, & Ben Myres, 25, South Africa
Founders: Nyamakop Games
Since forming Nyamakop in 2015, Kimani and Myres have built their studio into one of the most promising emerging startups in African game development. Their debut game, Semblance, has been exhibited all over the world at consumer shows such as E3, PAX East, Gamescom and EGX in addition to more than a dozen intimate arts festivals such as Slamdance Film Festival, South by South West (SXSW), A MAZE and Out of Index. They have also participated in prestigious residencies such as the Stugan retreat and ‘Train Jam’.
During this time, Semblance received coverage in large outlets, both gaming and mainstream. Rolling Stone labelled it “addictive”, while The Guardian ascribes it as “cute”.
Commercially, the duo and their company are poised for success, having run the studio as a lean startup using their own money, they found early investment in late 2016. By end 2017, Nyamakop had signed a multi-million rand publishing deal with renowned videogames publisher, Good Shepherd Entertainment and courted a rare access to Nintendo’s newest console, the Nintendo Switch. The game would be the first African developed IP to release on a Nintendo platform ever.
Kimani holds degrees in computer science, maths, and digital art and was the winner of the inaugural A MAZE. / Johannesburg award in 2015. Also a Wits graduate, Myres co-curated Africade, the first gallery exhibition to focus solely on African video games. In 2015, Myres was named one of Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 to watch.
25. Ink Eze, 28, Nigeria
Founder: Aso Ebi Bella
Ink Eze is the founder of Aso Ebi Bella, an online community connecting traditional fashion enthusiasts with SMEs in the fashion, beauty and wedding industry primarily in Nigeria with growing interests across Africa and beyond.
“The #AsoEbiBella journey started with a hashtag I created in 2013 while I was an employee of BellaNaija.com where I convinced my employer to launch a then bi-weekly, now weekly AsoEbiBella feature on their site as it garnered millions of website views, it became my side hustle,” she says.
This fashion tech startup has over 17 million organic weekly impressions, over 1.5 million followers across social media, while their platform, AsoEbiBella.com, has garnered over 600,000 page views in the last 11 months. The company has delivered campaigns and collaborated with Nigerian and international brands including Orijin, Renaissance (now Radisson Blu) Hotels and Unilever’s Sunlight detergent.
26. June Syowia, 23, Kenya
Founder: Beiless Group
Syowia loves innovating. She co-founded a social venture in the slum area where she grew up immediately after finishing high school in 2013. It propelled her to discover the power of the internet in enabling small organizations and businesses to scale up through online sales and visibility. So, while in her second year at university, she attended a Google digital training class that sparked her interest in technology and digital advertising. After the training, she bought a laptop and pitched her marketing services for free to friends.
“One of them who owned a car bazaar agreed and I did such a remarkable job he referred me to his friends,” she says.
In 2015, she founded Beiless, a company that provides creative advertising and technology solutions for businesses. Services include online media campaigns, social media management, strategic online communication, digital advertising and content creation. They count Kikapu Online, Masaku 7s and Tennis Kenya among clients.
Last year, she won the Global Student Entrepreneur Award in Kenya, was named one of 100 Brightest Young Minds in Africa by BYM Africa 2017, was named one of 100 Most Influential Young Kenyans in 2016, and received the founder of the year award nomination by The Founder Kenya in 2016.
27. Obinna Okwodu, 27, Nigeria
Growing up, Okwodu spent a lot of weekends at building sites with his civil engineer father. He developed a love for real estate, went off to study at MIT where he was one of the co-founders of Exposure Robotics Academy, a six-week summer robotics training camp that teaches secondary school kids how to program robots.
“We raised $100,000 worth of sponsorship from various companies for this and ran this program for three years up until my graduation in 2014.”
After graduation, he worked with the real estate team at Morgan Stanley in New York before returning home to Nigeria. He spent nine months looking for problems to solve, particularly where housing and technology were involved.
“I found that the issue for most of middle class Nigerians was not solely one of availability of homes but that there was a big problem in terms of accessibility. It was very difficult to find homes to live in and it was also very tough to cough up two years’ worth of rent upfront,” he says.
He realized this made it difficult for landlords to make consistent cash flow from their assets. In 2016, he founded Fibre, a real estate booking startup that allows middle-income tenants to rent homes and pay monthly. The company employs 11 people, have raised $630,000 in funding and have booked over a million dollars in tenant revenue.
28. Abdellah Mallek, 28, Algeria
When Mallek was at university, he launched two startups, a student mentoring platform and an e-tourism platform, which failed. He didn’t let failure deter him. A little over two years ago, he founded Sylabs, a startup accelerator in the heart of Algiers, the capital of Algeria.
“This is a tech hub founded to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among Algerians, by proposing a bunch of services like trainings, working space, a very large corporate network, mentoring, acceleration and many more. In two years, we supported 21 small businesses and startups to launch or grow their business. Ten of them were established in Sylabs and they created 39 full-time jobs in two years,” he says.
The company has five permanent staff and Sylabs can reach up to 15 employees for big projects.
29. Yasmine El Baggari, 25, Morocco
El Baggari is passionate about connecting people and bridging cultures.
“After traveling around the world to 50 countries and every American state, welcomed in over 150+ homes, I was inspired to bring my experiences to the world through entrepreneurship,” she says.
She launched Voyaj, an online platform that connects people from around the globe for one-on-one meaningful exchanges to foster global understanding. Similar to Airbnb, with Vojaj, you can travel as a guest and welcome others as a host.
For the past four years, her reach has included work with the World Bank, research at Harvard University, and the US State Department as a Youth Moroccan Ambassador to the United States. She has spoken at international conferences, including the World Economic Forum, the Middle East Studies Association, and Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
El Baggari has also received the Royal Air Maroc Award from the African Studies Association, Hampshire College’s $60,000 Award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and two Ingenuity Awards.
30. Simba Mubvuma, 26, Zimbabwe
Co-founder: Lexware Inc
Mubvuma co-founded Lexware Inc., a tech company based in Zimbabwe growing as a leader in innovative technological solutions for the legal profession in Africa. The idea of the company began in 2014, when he and a university friend created a program called Lex Mobile, which allowed law students to access court judgments and legislation from smart phones without the need for the internet.
“This ensured that in a time where broadband coverage was limited and expensive, students could still access key legal resources from their phones,” he says.
Today, Lexware focuses on increasing efficiency in legal systems, placing its clients as market leaders in the various countries in which it operates. Over the past two years, the company has worked with over 50 young freelance developers, creating opportunities for them to utilize their skills in software development. They have done business with many prestigious law firms around the continent.
Under 30 Business
- Yannick Nzonde, 29, DRC
Co-Founder: ATI Groupe
Nzonde is a brave man. Five years ago, he founded ATI Groupe, a construction company, with the R6,000 ($478) he earned from renting out his friend’s BMW that he had borrowed for a weekend. He is also the founder of Mulundu Investment Holdings, which houses ATI Groupe and Chi Groupe, a management consulting firm. Mulundu Investment Holdings turns over a million dollars in revenue each year for the 29-year-old.
This is a long way from where it all began when he was only 14. Nzonde is a brave man. “I had bought a watch from a local market place in DRC for $5. One of my younger brother’s friends loved it so much he offered to buy it from me for $20. The next day, someone else offered me more for the same watch,” he says.
It marked the start of a rewarding entrepreneurship journey. He sold everything he could get his hands on. At 15, he relocated to South Africa where he started buying computers, solar lights, fat burners and pool tables and selling them back home.
“I have always been the person to find solutions to problems and people have always come to me. I have always been the person to jump on opportunities once I see a gap in the market. I have also always wanted to leave a legacy.”
Nzonde says he lives by the words of American marketing specialist Guy Kawasaki: “The best reason to start an organization is to make meaning; to create a product or service to make the world a better place.”
One of the many ways he is making the world better is through providing power solutions in rural DRC.
“We are the second company to have brought solar energy solutions to the DRC in the Katanga region. This changed many lives as people are used to generators while some had never seen electricity before,” says Nzonde.
Not bad for a man who comes from a family of 24 and walked 15km to school.
2. Leroy Mwasaru, 20, Kenya
This 20-year-old is making money from waste while solving a serious problem. He is the founder of Greenpact, a company which produces and distributes affordable and high-quality innovative biogas digester systems to get bio-gas from both agricultural and human refuse. His mission is guided by the overarching vision to become the leading provider of clean household energy solutions across East Africa. He has won many accolades including the Innovate Kenya challenge in 2013.
3. Ladipo Lawani, 29, Nigeria
Founder: L&L Foods
L&L foods is a food processing and packaging company focused on the Nigerian market. They source agricultural produce from local farmers and transform them into quality snacks. Their primary line of products is a premium brand of nuts called Mr Ekpa. Lawani employs 12 people.
4. Emmanuel Ademola Ayilara, 29, Nigeria
Founder: LandWey Investment Limited
LandWey is a real estate development and management company turning over $14 million per year. It started with just five employees. Today, they employ 42 full-time staff, 370 realtors and 16,000 consultants.
Ayilara’s journey to entrepreneurship started when he was in school. His first stint was at a coaching center in Abeokuta, Ogun State in Nigeria. The business failed. He tried his hand again, this time, running a vocational training program with over 3,600 students.
“Once I had a taste of success, there was no turning back. Starting and running businesses became my turf and all I had to do was build more capacity. I always believed opportunities would come to those who were most prepared so I put in the hard work even when no one noticed,” he says.
5. Mwiya Musokotwane, 28, Zambia
Founder: Thebe Investment Management
Musokotwane knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur at age 16 after reading US billionaire Warren Buffet’s biography. It inspired him to secure a degree in finance. His first venture in business was when he co-founded a tech startup while pursuing his Master’s. The business failed. At 23, he had a dream to build a mega city. Armed with lessons from the first business, he worked tactfully. At 24, he left his job to pursue it. With the help of his family, he founded Thebe Investment Management. The company is the owner and developer of Nkwashi, a 3,100 acre mega-project in Lusaka, Zambia. By age 25, he had generated $1 million in cash flow. He employs 80 people.
6. Nomvula Mhambi, 29, Zimbabwe
Founder: Disruptive Innovation
When her mother couldn’t afford to take her to university because of the economic and political downturn in Zimbabwe, Mhambi turned to entrepreneurship. She registered a catering and events management company at age 19. She was later invited to work on a concert that featured Akon and Sean Paul. It opened doors.
A year later, she was called to assist with artiste logistics for a concert that hosted Ciara, Phat Joe, Lil’ Kim and DJ Scratch. At age 22, her company was contracted by DStv Zimbabwe to host their Big Brother events. She saw a gap in the advertising industry and founded Disruptive Innovation, a full service media communications and advertising social enterprise.
For the first two years of the business, many doors were shut in her face. When she was close to giving up, she was selected for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) where she won a $25,000 grant towards her restroom advertising pilot project.
“I tackle urban hygiene and sanitation issues using market-based approaches improving public amenities through social innovation initiatives with my advertising and marketing social enterprise,” she says.
Mhambi has partnered with local municipalities, renovating dilapidated public toilets, and charging people for use.
This revenue is used to maintain the sites, assist schools in need of sanitation hardware and help clients get their product to their consumers.
Mhambi also runs a hair and nail lounge and is also into agriculture, growing button and oyster mushrooms, which she supplies to a majority of Zimbabwe’s supermarkets and restaurants producing over 1,000 punnets per week. She employs 25 full-time and 12 part-time staff.
7. Abubakar Sadiq Mohammed Falalu, 28, Nigera
Falalu saw an opportunity to make money when he realized Nigeria consumes about seven million metric tonnes of rice and only produces 2.7 million metric tonnes, forcing the country to spend more than $2 billion in imports. “I always had an interest in farming, I remember writing in our high school’s yearbook under feature ambition that I wanted to be a farmer,” he says.
With a total annual capacity to produce more than 5,000 metric tonnes, he founded FaLGates, a rice mill producing a variety of rice products. They employ 30 people in Kaduna and over 150 people at their anchored farms in Niger and Kebbi. They turned over about $450,000 in 2017.
Falalu holds a degree in Computer Science and a Master’s in Management from Swinburne University of Technology, Australia. He also holds an MSc Degree in Entrepreneurship from the University of Nottingham.
8. Roger Boniface, 29, South Africa
Boniface is the founder of EDISIM, a training provider that uses simulation to bring real-world learning experiences to the classroom. In less than three years, he has integrated the business simulations into some of Africa’s top business schools. He lectures at Wits and GIBS in South Africa and Strathmore Business School in Nairobi.
“I spend my weekends at different flea markets around Johannesburg and Pretoria and there is no better way to learn about business. My first counterfeit note experience happened at a flea market. I got paid for something I sold with a counterfeit R100 ($8) note,” says Boniface, also the founder of Artson, an events company that hosts art and wine tasting experiences to explore and develop the creativity that people often lose throughout the conveyor belt of life. He also runs JCB, a small textile wholesaler concentrating on the promotional market and mainly focusing on t-shirts, golf shirts and caps. While this business has been successful for over 30 years, Boniface has been running it since 2015. He turns over about R13 million ($1 million) a year.
9. Gilbert Eugene Peters, 29, Zimbabwe
Founder: Spidex Media
This story started like many successful entrepreneurship stories. Peters would buy and sell satellite dishes to his community in Harare. Through word of mouth, this business grew until he employed two people. Together, they installed over 2,000 satellite dishes. All this before he was 19 years old. The demand waned and Peters went into formal employment as a graphic designer.
At 21, armed with $300, he registered Spidex Media with the hope of addressing the need for faster advertising and design services in 24 hours.
“I would go where I was needed to design since I had no office, and only a laptop and business cards. I became a CEO, finance manager, marketer and salesman,” says Peters.
His girlfriend at the time, now his wife, provided her entire $160 salary from working as an ice cream shop attendant to rent office space. The investment paid off.
Today, Spidex has offices in Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia. It’s one of the largest advertising companies in Zimbabwe with a majority market share in the financial sector handling brand portfolios worth over $870 million. He has won 12 business and entrepreneurship awards in Zimbabwe, a businessman of the year award at just 25 years old, and employs 55 people.
10. Sihle Ndlela, 28, South Africa
Co-Founder: Majozi Bros Construction
This construction company started from humble beginnings and went on to become one of the leading construction companies in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). Ndlela co-founded the company with Simphiwe Majozi. The two met on a cold call, formed a friendship and went into business together.
“We both had a string of businesses from primary school right through to high school, ranging from selling sweets, loan sharking, throwing parties and selling hot dogs on street corners,” he says.
The two saw a gap in the township construction market.
“We decided to become a turnkey building contracting business offering services from plan drawing, plan submission, general building and renovations. So we became a one-stop construction business,” says Ndlela.
The business grew quickly and their clients now range from malls to residential estates. They also bought 51% of a 35-year-old tool hire business called Hire which has three branches in KZN. They were awarded a $105 million project alongside WBHO as a partner.
Before joining Majozi, Ndlela had been running a successful glass and aluminium business. Together, the duo went on to take the construction industry by storm.
11. Vere Shaba, 29, South Africa
Founder: Shaba & Ramplin Green Building Solutions
This 29-year-old has been the one to watch since 2010, when she was a part of the winning team for the international design competition on Peace and Environmental Studies by Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai.
“In 2008, while still a student, I did my mechanical engineering practical training at the Volkswagen South Africa plant in Uitenhage and watched as the rolling blackouts and load shedding affected their productivity. When the power went off, the machines would come off and thousands of workers would sit outside in the sun,” says Shaba.
She became an entrepreneur out of frustration.
“The frustration came when I kept on being put in a box. Having graduated as a mechanical engineer, I was either seen as a green building consultant or a mechanical engineer but never both.”
She resigned from her job in 2016 and founded a company that uses the Integrated Green Design approach in engineering. Now, Shaba & Ramplin Green Building Solutions is a multi-disciplinary consulting firm specializing in engineering, green buildings and interiors services.
Shaba was selected as one of 10 Top Women in Engineering for the annual Standard Bank Topco Top 100 Women in Business & Government, Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans for Environment, the Kingdom of Netherlands’ Inspiring 50 Women in South Africa in STEM, and most recently, has been selected as a finalist for the inaugural Gauteng Premier’s Women Excellence Awards for Young Achievers.
“I still sit in boardrooms as a minority in the boardroom, as the sector is still quite white male dominated, but I know that every day I am in the boardroom is changing mind-sets and creating a platform for the future generations,” she says.
12. Thomas Duncan, 28, Namibia
Anticor is a water treatment and chemical specialist company based in Windhoek specializing in products for the agricultural, commercial, domestic and industrial markets. Duncan inherited Anticor from his late father when he was 24 years old. The business was stagnant and loss-making. In just four years, he turned it around into a profitable business. The company employs 11 people. He also owns Analytical Laboratory Services, Namibia’s largest privately accredited and owned laboratory which has three analytical sections, for water quality, microbiology and food chemistry and soil. It employs 15 people.
13. Wesley Beneke, 29, South Africa
Founder: WCB Construction
Beneke grew up in an entrepreneurial family. His mother taught him that running a business was possible as she was an entrepreneur herself.
“I face hardships every single day as I am a black man playing in the ‘white rich man’ space. The system is built to exclude us and in most cases, my firm and I are constantly found to be precluded from what is so easily achievable by white monopoly. I have had various large clients not pay me and in so doing, completely wipe out my cash flow. However, my family and staff have stuck by me in those times and made the mountains feel like hills,” says Beneke.
He employs 40 permanent staff, has in excess of 150 contract staff and has deals worth over $12 million. He counts the Western Cape government and the South African Roads Agency among his clients.
14. Anita Adetola Adetoye, 26, Nigeria
Founder: Anita Brows Beauty
Adetoye, popularly known as ‘Anita Brows’, is an Irish-Nigerian professional makeup artist, beauty educator, and entrepreneur. She is also the founder of Anita Brows Beauty based in Lagos. With over seven years of experience, she has single-handedly built an award-winning brand, creating jobs for young Nigerians.
“My move to Nigeria was the defining moment for me in the beauty industry. It was the moment my hobby became a livelihood and then became a business. I didn’t choose this path by faith, this path chose me. My goal is to change the face of makeup and beauty artistry,” she says.
She is sought-after worldwide. Over the years, she has featured and liaised with the founder of international brand ‘Iman Cosmetics’, and worked with numerous celebrities across the globe. She has also been recognized in Uganda as the best makeup artist in West Africa and won the Future Awards Prize for beauty. Adetoye employs 13 people and has several sold-out makeup classes in Europe, the US and East Africa. This year, Anita Brows will launch a cosmetic range.
15. Akinwande Durojaye, 28, Nigeria
While at Covenant University, Durojaye saw the need for a printing and branding business. He started doing business as an intermediary between the students’ association and the print world. In 2014, he used this experience to start JustBrandIt, a printing, branding and advertising agency competing with larger companies in Nigeria.
The astute Information and Communications Engineering graduate is also the founder of FixMyRide, a fleet management company which manages different taxi hailing platforms like Uber, Taxify and Oga Taxi. It also houses an auto workshop for vehicle repairs, maintenance and servicing. The name FixMyRide was inspired by MTV’s Pimp My Ride show where vehicles get transformed and upgraded. He employs 13 full-time staff and about 210 contracted drivers. Combined, the companies turn over $1.2 million each year.
He is also the co-founder of FueledUp, a technology-driven company where customers request for fuel and cooking gas delivery via an app. He is also the co-founder of LashBells Food Company, a local snacks production and packaging company.
16. Samuelle Dimairho, 27, Zimbabwe
Co-founder: Chengetedzai Depository Company Limited
Dimairho co-founded Chengetedzai Depository Company Limited, Zimbabwe’s first central securities depository for the capital markets with securities’ deposits that have peaked at over $7 billion and trade settlement now in excess of $2 billion. The company had $1.5 million in revenue last year.
He is also the founder of Aura Group, a management consulting, technology and business process outsourcing services company expected to turn over $2 million this year.
Dimairho was featured in the Junior Achievement Worldwide, 2011/2012 Africa Annual report on behalf of Zimbabwe, received the top ICT Company Web Developer of the Year 2011 award, was 1st Runner-Up in the Top ICT Company of the Year 2011 award category, and received top ICT Project of the Year 2012 (Public Sector) award. He was also crowned the Junior Chamber International (JCI) Creative Young Entrepreneur of The Year 2014 and also won the Entrepreneurs Organisation Global Student Entrepreneur Award 2014.
Dimairho voluntarily serves as an advisor to the Graduate Development Agency and Young Entrepreneurs Sanctuary Africa, an organization focused on building the soft skills of graduates and mentoring young entrepreneurs. He holds several accounting and business qualifications.
17. Joey Friedman, 26, South Africa
Founder: LA Group of Companies
Growing up, Friedman watched his father run a business and go bankrupt.
“It was extremely hard for me to adjust to receiving food donations… we lost our house and I was not succeeding in school. I had learning disabilities which were not discovered until I was 13. This led me to feeling like a failure and completely incompetent,” says Friedman.
With a lot of financial responsibilities, he had to start thinking of ways to make money.
Nine years ago, he started a business called BOBBLE, a bottle that filters water, then a real estate agency called FRESH REALITY. Then, in 2013, a bigger opportunity presented itself.
“I saw Lounge Around for sale and made it a priority to raise capital for this with my business partner. I finally am able to do what I love and go to work every day extremely excited,” he says.
Lounge Around, part of the LA Group of Companies, is a premium furniture hire company that services prestigious events,.
It specializes in boutique furniture rentals and supplying custom-made furniture and decor for a diverse range of events including exhibitions.
“I had watched my father run businesses my entire life and felt it was my destiny to follow in his footsteps and make a business truly work,” he says.
His company is responsible for supplying events like the Vodacom Durban July, DStv Delicious Festival and Tourism Indaba. They also worked at Winnie Mandela’s funeral and the 2014 presidential inauguration. The company has grown revenue by 1,200% in four years, employs 105 people and owns a 90,000sqm warehouse.
18. Zuko Tisani, 25, South Africa
Founder: Legazy Technology Conferencing
Legazy is a company that supports startups in South Africa in their quest to disrupt. They partner with the world’s best to up-skill, invest in and collaborate with South African startups.
Tisani founded the company in 2016 when he saw the dire need for investment, training and market access for the embryonic startup ecosystem of South Africa.
“The statistics released by ANDE on the 86% failure rate of startup businesses within the first 18 months of starting showed there was a limitation on resources, information and access,” says Tisani.
Legazy raised $1 million to host the Web Summit technology conference in South Africa.
“We at Legazy believed the South African startup community needed the community of early-stage investors; the world’s most disruptive tech startups and thought leaders on emerging disruption to be hosted in country for our startup community to gain investment, create partnerships and become as competitive as the largest technology companies out there such as your Ubers and Facebook.”
19. Gisela van Houcke, 27, DRC
Founder: Zuri Luxury Hair&Beauty
Houcke was born in Eastern DRC but was forced to flee the country and move to the United Kingdom at a young age due to the DRC’s political and economic instability.
She moved back to the DRC to contribute to the growth of her motherland. While working as the head of legal at BBOXX ltd in Kigali, she founded Zuri as a hobby in 2015 when she struggled to find quality hair extensions. When she sold extensions worth $50,000 in a few months, she turned the hobby into a business.
“My vision was to build a global platform and brand, which would bring together leading hair and cosmetic products, expertise, technology and a community of passionate customers,” she says.
Zuri Luxury Hair&Beauty is a hair extensions brand. Their extensions are made with 100% human Remy. Their products include lace wigs, extension bundles, closures and lace frontals.
By end 2016, she had sold hair worth over $100,000 across the DRC and Rwanda online.
That year, she also raised $75,000 of equity financing to set up a holding company in Hong Kong, launched a supply chain office in Guangzhou with three employees and opened her first store in Kinshasa. Last year, she introduced a line of lipstick and hair accessories.
Zuri is growing fast and claiming a share of Africa’s big hair industry.
20. Bidemi Zakariyau, 28, Nigeria
Growing up, Zakariyau watched her father build a taxi service and real estate company from nothing. She worked for him during holidays where she acquired skills in project management, sales and communications. Her father convinced her to study law. She interned in law firms for a few months but left to follow her passion in media.
She founded LSF|PR which started as a fashion PR agency.
“Securing my first client was very difficult because I had no public relations experience; I would visit different blogs in Nigeria and look for contact numbers in the article credits and call the designers requesting to work with them for free,” says Zakariyau.
When the door finally opened, she charged very little and worked hard. Client satisfaction led to referrals and new clients.
Six months after law school, she saw opportunities to scale and diversify her client portfolio to include corporate, consumer and lifestyle brands. She rented an office and started hiring workers. Today, the agency’s clientele consists of local and international brands including Philips, Rémy Cointreau, Godrej, William Grant and Sons, Brown-Forman, ARM, AfriOne, Ventures Platform. She employs eight women and runs an online magazine.
21. Zareef Minty, 24, South Africa
Founder: ZRF Holidings
Minty began his entrepreneurial journey at the age of 15 when he started his own clothing brand, Self Made Billionaires. At the time, the market had brands like AMA Kip Kip as one of the only prominent South African t-shirt brands. He saw a gap where brands were not necessarily using the concept of influencers and celebrities to grow.
“I got Kenny Kunene and Lee-Ann Liebenberg to wear my brand. Kenny even wore my clothing in the promo of his second season of So What on ETV. Through these celebrities, I got media hype where a lot of newspapers covered my clothing brand and with that, it brought a lot of corporate work,” he says.
Today, ZRF Holdings houses a PR company, a clothing company and a law firm. He was in the Mail & Guardian’s Top 200 List, released a book, is a lawyer, motivational speaker and a radio host.
“I am most impressed by Zareef’s ability to conceptualize problems, organize his thoughts, identify important data and facts, and present a balanced argument… he consistently displayed sound judgement, ethics, and leadership… he has the ability to innovate,” writes advocate Barry Roux, in a letter of recommendation for Minty. You may remember Roux serving as the defence advocate in the Oscar Pistorius trial.
22. Fred Apaloo, 28, Ghana
Founder: Villa Grace
This hospitality management graduate moved back home after studying in the US to make a difference. For about two months, when he returned to Ghana, he cooked and nicely plated all his meals.
“The motive behind that was really to send photos to my friends in the US, to show them that Ghana wasn’t what they thought it was. A lot of them pitied me for choosing to move back,” he says.
Apaloo’s interest in creating awareness through social media grew when he realized the photos were attracting a positive reaction. He then started a brunch series called ‘Brunch Friends’. These were weekend brunch sessions at his house, where he cooked brunch for his closest friends and family and they discussed issues faced by the young. They encouraged him to expand these sessions. In 2015, he founded Villa Grace, a boutique dining company that hosts intimate pop-up brunches which have quickly become some of Accra’s most exclusive and unique dining experiences, selling out tables weeks in advance.
23. Kene Rapu, 28, Nigeria
Founder: Kene Rapu
Through her first product line, ‘Slippers by Kene’, launched in 2011, Rapu became an entreprenuer who promotes the growth of Nigerian industry by using locally-sourced materials to make slippers and sandals. She says running a business is hard work, even more so in Nigeria.
“The odds are against us, as more businesses are expected to fail than to succeed. From lack of adequate power supply, to sufficient skilled man power, to the costs and scarcity of materials, the list goes on,” she says, adding that it’s harder for women.
“I remember on my hunt for property for my factory last year, I met a gentleman who made it extremely clear he would not, under any circumstances, rent his property out to women.”
Rapu holds a law degree from the University of Bristol and a Master’s in Fashion Entrepreneurship from the London College of Fashion. In 2016, she was selected by the Tony Elumelu Foundation as one of 1,000 African entrepreneurs whose idea could change Africa, and in 2017, was listed as one of 100 Most Influential Women in Nigeria by Leading Ladies Africa.
24. Jack Mthembu, 27, South Africa
Founder: First One Adventures
Mthembu started buying and selling in grade three. Instead of giving him money, his grandmother would give him packets of sweets to sell. In high school, he sold ice cream to friends and neighbors in the blazing hot township of Namakgale in Limpopo. He would also organize fun runs on his street and charge people to participate.
His journey continued and in 2014, while in his second year at university, he participated in a business idea competition hosted by the North West University Business Development Centre. He won it and used the prize money as capital. He bought a camera and set up a business in photography, corporate branding and graphic design.
The same year, he was a runnerup for the Nedbank Sustainable Entrepreneurship competition, joined the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurs and got a mentor to assist him. “I had my fair share of disappointment having to live seven months on my friend’s couch in 2016, while in the meanwhile turning down jobs on every angle. Because I had this burning passion to get my business off the ground and needed all the time in the world. I also had the fear of being consumed by corporate; amongst job offers I had to turn down was ABSA, Stanlib and Liberty,” he says.
After a few months, his corporate branding company collapsed but he had a lifeline. He had also founded First One Adventures, a highly-profitable organization aimed at developing high school learners through life coaching and personal skills development camps. The core focus of the organization is raising young people to be independent thinkers. He also offers accounting services to small businesses.
25. Reabetswe Ngwane, 25, South Africa
Ngwane’s entrepreneurial journey began when she started her first business with a friend. They recycled plastic bags, turning them into school bags with solar lanterns, and provided them to kids in underprivileged areas. Unfortunately, that partnership did not last. She then started yet another business with her sister. This time, they recycled tyre tubes to make fashionable bags. The bags cost anything between R500 ($40) to R1,400 ($111). She also makes first-aid kit bags, respiratory bags or masks and seat protectors for the mining and construction industries.
26. Anelisa Mntuyedwa, 28, South Africa
Founder: Gilbert Civils
Growing up in the rural village of Chalumna in the Eastern Cape Province, Mntuyedwa had quite an interesting upbringing. She remembers chasing cattle and helping her parents plough corn fields over the weekend.
From about age 10, she says she had a dream very different from her peers. She wanted to be an entrepreneur with a business listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, when all her friends wanted to be lawyers and doctors. She was inspired by her father and mother who had jobs but always had a business on the side.
After completing her BSc Honours in Soil Science in 2013, her parents gave her R500 ($40) as a congratulatory gift. She used it to set up Gilbert Civils, a construction company in the Eastern Cape. Her services have been used by the likes of Buffalo City and DNA Structures.
27.Gozie Coker, 29, Nigeria
Founder: Coker Creative
Coker is the ultimate planner.
“Planning events is something I have always done, so much so that growing up, I was nicknamed ‘the organ’, short for organizer. I derived joy planning all my family and friends’ celebrations, from vacations to birthdays, and even anniversaries,” she says.
She spent her holidays interning for event companies. Soon after graduating from Baylor University, with a degree in marketing, she interned with Kennedy Creative, a full-service event management company in Austin, Texas. A year later, she went on to pursue a master’s in Strategic Management from the Cass Business School in London.
“I used my graduation thesis to test my business plan for what we now know as Coker Creative.”
A boutique event company, since its launch almost four years ago, it has executed events for private and corporate clients in Nigeria and internationally. Its clients include Etisalat, Zippy, Redrick Public Relations, Access and Bella Naija.
28. Alexander Knieps, 27, South Africa
This budding entrepreneur comes from a family of entrepreneurs. Printulu sells commercial print products such as flyers and business cards online to South African SMEs. The company has served over 5,000 clients to date.
It hasn’t always been an easy journey for the German-born entrepreneur. When starting Printulu, an investor promised him one million dollars in funding. Unfortunately, according to Knieps, the conditions of the contract were so unfavourable he couldn’t sign the contract.
“At that time, the development of the website, self-funded, was almost done and I was already hiring a team to go live. I decided I am going to do this – no matter what – with investors or without. This was one of the most difficult times in my life: very little money, no support system in South Africa and numerous business hurdles,” he says.
His success is proof it’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.
29. Adam Amoussou, 27, Benin
Founder: AMOSCONSULT GROUP
Amoussou grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. He says he always felt the pressure to succeed.
“You have a standard to keep up to and in Benin, they say ‘a man who hasn’t done more than his father has done nothing, he is a complete failure’, so I grew up picturing myself taking over the family business and taking it to the next level,” he says.
His journey to entrepreneurship began in 2012 while in university.
“I had the highest marks in statistics so a couple of friends came to my place on weekends looking for assistance and I helped, but the following weekend they came accompanied by other classmates,” he says.
In 2012, he started charging them for tutoring sessions. A few months later, he and his girlfriend at the time, now fiancé, launched an online clothing shop, which is growing in retail. In May 2014, they opened street restaurants selling Kotas. The business died because of competition. In 2015, he sold his car to start AMOSCONSULT GROUP, a company supplying tropical fruits to the international market.
“I noticed the infinite potential of our Benin agriculture. So I went on and did research and found out Benin could supply one of the highest quality of tropical fruits and products and they were in high demand. I had the vision that soon my country will reach food self-sufficiency, be among the fastest-growing economies in Africa and be the vegetable garden where other African countries and the rest of the world buy good quality food and products at a very competitive price,” says Amoussou.
The company supplies fruits and produce such as cashew nuts, pineapples, palm oil and nuts, coconuts, shea butter and cotton. To meet the demand, they partner with farmers, provide them with information about the quality of fruits and produce in high demand, purchase these from them and sell internationally. The business has expanded into Togo and plans to open a branch in South Africa this year.
30. Nataliey Bitature, 28, Uganda
Co-Founder: Musana Carts
Bitature was raised by entrepreneurs. She grew up running around building sites, cleaning shop floors and counting stock in the evenings. When she was on track to study investment banking, she volunteered at a school in rural Ibanda and realized there was another need for business.
“Entrepreneurship provided for my family and for the first time I saw that it was something I took for granted. The teenage girls in the class I taught had very simple and unambitious dreams and it broke my heart. I knew I had to get into business that changed lives, improved communities and gave other Ugandan girls the opportunities I had had,” she says.
She fundraised $60,000 for building two classrooms and an IT lab for the girls.
She later co-founded Musana Carts. These are solar-powered street vending carts designed for micro-entrepreneurs in Uganda. They are modular, made for the customization of business features including fridges, sockets and mobile money terminals. Musana Carts equip its vendors with finance and business training and offers a path to legalization for those trapped in the informal sector.
Bitature was named a World Economic Forum Top Woman Innovator in 2016 and was invited to present at the World Bank headquarters for the Spring Meetings 2017. She also previously founded two service businesses in Kampala: Tateru Properties and Handymen Uganda.
“I believe because of the family I come from I’ve had the unique opportunity to be exposed to people and institutions that can help my causes. When I was preparing to pitch Musana Carts to President Clinton and a panel of esteemed judges in New York, I got to pitch to the Prime Minister of Uganda…,” she says.
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