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
Forbes Africa Under 30 Opens Nominations For 2019
Forbes Africa is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and representing and transforming the continent.
FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and representing and transforming the continent, to join the Under 30 community for 2019.
Each year, FORBES AFRICA looks for resilient self-starters, innovators, entrepreneurs and disruptors who have the acumen to stay the course in their chosen field, come what may.
Past honorees include Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Ink Eze, Isaya Yunge, Jokate Mwegelo, Yannick Nzonde, Gilbert Eugene Peters, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Kevin Lubega, Davido, Rivo Mhlari, Nasty C and Wiz Kid.
“2019 will be the fifth anniversary of the FORBES AFRICA Under 30 list. Every year, there emerges, in the continent of a billion-plus people, young luminaries who are blazing a trail to the finish line, and the idea of the list is to unearth and uncover them on their way up,” says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Methil Renuka.
In addition to the three categories – Creatives, Technology and Business in 2018, this year, FORBES AFRICA introduces a new category — Sports.
“Leaders are also born in the world of sport. It requires grit and determination to be a game-changer and they definitely need to be celebrated early,” says Renuka.
If you think you have what it takes to be on this year’s list or know an entrepreneur, creative, technology entrepreneur or sports star under 30 with a proven track-record on the continent – introduce them to FORBES AFRICA by submitting your nomination.
Nominations close on 15 February 2019.
Business and Technology categories
- Must bean entrepreneur aged 29 or younger on 30 June 2019
- Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
- Business or businesses should be two years or older
- Nominees must have risked own money and have a social impact
- Must be profit generating
- Must employ people in Africa
- All applications must be in English
- Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up
- Must be a sports person aged 29 or younger on 30 June 2019
- Must be representing an African team
- Should have a proven track record of no less than two years
- Should be making significant earnings
- Should have some endorsement deals
- Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
- All applications must be in English
- Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up
- Must be a creative aged 29 or younger on 30 June 2019
- Must be from or based in Africa
- Should be making significant earnings
- Should have a proven creative record of no less than two years
- Must have social influence
- Entrepreneurship and social impact is a plus
- All applications must be in English
- Should be available and prepared to participate in the Under 30 Meet-Up
Your entry should include:
- Full Name
- Company name/Team
- A short reason why they should be an Under 30
- Links of published material about nominee
- Contact information
Share your photographs, via email.
Nominations must be sent to:
All nominees will be vetted by a panel, FORBES AFRICA editors and the editorial team.
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.
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