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The Green Eye For Energy

From selling scratch cards to running an $8-million company, Patrick Ngowi is making waves in the energy sector. He speaks to FORBES AFRICA about sustainable energy on the continent and why China is the best thing to happen to Africa.

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Seven years ago, 22-year-old Patrick Ngowi sat in a small office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He held several positions in his newly-formed renewable energy company, Helvetic Solar. He was the founder, CEO, assistant, cleaner and had one investor, his mother.

He was young, energetic and ready to change the way his country creates energy. But it was tough to convince the rest of Tanzania.

“I had cases where you extend a hand to someone and they don’t want to shake your hand. Some people were rude unnecessarily,” he says.

Many companies saw the potential of solar energy, but questioned the capabilities of the young man. Ngowi had come a long way as an entrepreneur and wasn’t going to give up that easily.

His first business venture was selling scratch cards at the age of 15 where he would make at least $5 a day. After high school, his parents could not afford to send both him and his sister to university so his mother gave him $1,800 and a plane ticket and he flew to China and set up his own business in the cellular phone industry.

“It was an industry that yielded high profit margins but because capital was low, many people started coming up with similar business models.”

Ngowi adjusted his sights and focused on selling mobile phones to the rural communities. He thought that the market had been neglected and it brought him greater profits.

While working in China he learned that discipline and hard work were essential for success. One thing that made him sit up was seeing the respect people had for one another.

“From the common man on the street to the boss at the top, first and foremost people are very down to earth. They are not egotistic so you don’t get people over the top and for me that was important. As a young man, I saw men who were multi-millionaires who were literally loading the consignment onto the containers. For me it’s one of those things that wakes you up.”

With the money Ngowi made from his cellular business he was able to study renewable energy at Dezhou University, in Dezhou which is close to Beijing. Every day, he was troubled by the way the thick smog would blot out the sun. He decided that he didn’t want to see the same thing happen to the African sun in Tanzania.

“If you can lower your carbon footprint, it’s life changing. The idea is to preserve the world and make it a better place and to leave it better than the way you found it… I am so happy because right now, with the prices of solar panels going down, you’re seeing more and more people are able to afford it.”

While sitting near the beach, Ngowi slouched back in his chair and spoke of the positive impact China has had on the continent. In the last few years, China has made massive investments in several African countries. And while some question their motives, others, like Ngowi, see the benefits in improving the infrastructure.

“If you want to see the impact of how the Chinese are transforming Africa, ask a person in the rural parts of Africa, ask a person who did not have a road, did not have water, did not have a hospital or school. Suddenly those things are being done… They [the Chinese] are bringing about change that we have not seen before and you cannot turn a blind eye to it.”

Over the years, Ngowi has had massive success in turning the Helvetic Group into an $8-million company. Last year he made the FORBES 30 Under 30: Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs list. Ngowi hopes to turn Helvetic into a power brand that is able to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor in Africa.

With the strong global interest in Africa, Ngowi still fears that foreign investors overlook African entrepreneurs.

“It will really be so pathetic if today we wait for European, Chinese or American solar contractors to come and light up our rural home while there is a younger person with a proven track record, already doing it, not being able to scale up.”

While the effects of climate change and global warming continue to destroy the world, Ngowi is focused on educating the youth and making changes that will benefit generations to come. For him renewable energy is not a business, it’s a way of life that captures the light.

Billionaires

How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires

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One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.

The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:

What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?

There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.

Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.

It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.

The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.

These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.

What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?

There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients. 

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Entrepreneurs

The Sun King Bows Out: Legendary Hotelier Sol Kerzner Has Died

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Solomon (Sol) Kerzner, one of the world’s most innovative hoteliers, founder of the Southern Sun hotel group, Sun International and Kerzner International, has died of cancer surrounded by his family at the Kerzner family home, Leeukoppie Estate, in Cape Town, South Africa. Always a maverick, Kerzner was a titan of the hotel and resort industry who redefined the scale and scope of integrated destination resorts worldwide. He was 84.

The son of Russian immigrants, Kerzner was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1935. The youngest of four and the only son, Sol was a working class boy from a rough neighbourhood but he would grow up to become one of the most influential entrepreneurs in South Africa. Having founded the country’s two largest hotel groups — Southern Sun and Sun International — Kerzner would go on to achieve international prominence with groundbreaking resorts that helped transform the tourism industries not only of his home country but of Mauritius, The Maldives, The Bahamas, Dubai and other important international destinations.

Kerzner’s career in hospitality began in 1962 when he decided to leave the accounting profession and purchased The Astra, a small inn in Durban, South Africa. Kerzner quickly transformed this rundown establishment into one of the most popular hotels in the area, a success that whetted Sol’s insatiable appetite for innovation and demonstrated a trademark ingenuity that would define his 60-year career.

Kerzner’s most monumental and controversial achievement was the creation of Sun City.  Here, in an area north of Johannesburg where there were no roads and no infrastructure, Sol imagined and delivered the most ambitious resort project in all of Africa. Commencing work in 1975, over the next ten years, Kerzner built four hotels, a man-made lake, two Gary Player golf courses, and an entertainment center with an indoor 6,000-seat arena, which played host to a world-class roster of artists including Queen, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minelli, Shirley Bassey, as well as huge world title fights, and many other spectacular events. Once again, Kerzner defied the naysayers to train a best of breed workforce and to operate Sun City on a totally non-racial basis. Even the most cynical of visiting overseas journalists had to concede defeat in trying to find racism behind the operation of the vast resort.

Sol is survived by his children Andrea, Beverley, Brandon and Chantal and ten grandchildren. His eldest son, Howard ‘Butch’ Kerzner died in 2006.

Sol Kerzner will be buried at a small, private funeral with only immediate family in attendance.

Back in 2014, the Sun King was featured on the cover of Forbes Africa for the 3rd Anniversary Issue of the magazine.

In 2018 he was honored with the Life Time Achievement award at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards (AABLAs).

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Entrepreneurs

The French Silhouette In Africa: How This Designer Started Her Own Business Despite A Shortage Of Funds

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From glamorous Paris to gritty Johannesburg, Zazi Nyandeni arrived with $2,700 and updated sartorial skills to showcase haute couture on South Africa’s racks and runways.

With just $2,700 in her bank, transferred from her savings account in France, Zazi Nyandeni returned home to the South African fashion industry with her freshly-minted talent. But if Paris was school, Johannesburg proved to be university. Qualifying was never easy.

About 53kms from Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport is Constantia Kloof, a scenic, upmarket suburb in the West Rand, where we meet Nyandeni, the up-and-coming 25-year-old fashion entrepreneur whose brand, Zazi Luxury, has showcased in Paris, the fashion capital of the world.

“I wasn’t really introduced to fashion, but more so to art,” recalls Nyandeni of her early days. “Ever since primary school, I was exposed to paintings, drawings and music by my father when he would come back with artworks from his travels.”

She thought she was going to become a doctor growing up because of her choice of subjects in high school but still pursued design to stay close to art. Thankfully, her parents picked up that she was artistically-inclined and gave her their unstinted support.

In 2013, after high school, Nyandeni took the plane out of South Africa and went on to study fashion at ESMOD, an international fashion design and business school in Paris. She wanted to express herself without saying a word, and found her way. She spent close to six years there, studying full-time for the first three years and partially for the last two, whilst freelancing and interning for various companies in the glitzy city.

“I love to draw and not really to sew. For my first freelance job, I went for a company that would help me work on my weaknesses; I went to Loon Paris boutique and worked on my sewing techniques. They were very strict and meticulous when it came to sewing and I learned a lot about technique,” she says.

The intense training meant that even the inside of a garment had to be as exquisite as the outside and if the hand stitch was incorrect, she had to undo and redo it all over again.

READ MORE: Conscious Fashion: ‘So Much More You Can Do With Discarded Clothes’

“When I asked ‘aren’t we wasting material’, they would say ‘I’m wasting their time’,” she laughs.

The eager fashionista was juggling two jobs; the other was at a PR agency named DLX Paris, which was sourcing brands for international celebrities like American singer-songwriter Kelly Rowland.

She soon came to a realization that in fashion, there is nothing new, which is when she moved to fabric store Boutique Malhia Kent, a French manufacturer of haute couture.

Nyandeni has a soft spot for weaving. She clearly adores fabrics, and this is apparent in the weaving machine she has at her Constantia Kloof studio, placed in a corner of one of the work rooms.

She says her weaving differentiates her from the other designers, as she compares herself to South Africa’s Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa Africa and Greek fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.

“You can make a silhouette similar to somebody else but the real interesting part is the fabric, so Malhia Kent deals with fabric customization, and this is where I learned that in the world of fabric, you are two years ahead of the industry; like Chanel orders their fabric from Malhia Kent,” she says.

That was the space she wanted to be in.

So in between jobs, Nyandeni co-founded Garbage, a business that looked into environment-friendly garments.

“We wanted to speak on the notations of how do we pick up the fashion industry and say that there are other ways to look glamorous and chic and it doesn’t have to be wasteful and terrible to the environment.”

The business ran for a year and sold a few garments, but sadly, collapsed. That inspired the birth of an idea, one that would solely work for her, a business that would include all that she had learned from fashion school and the stylish streets of Paris. She had also personally worked with Katrantzou, building a portfolio and a first collection. She was ready and had under $2,700 in savings.

READ MORE: Owning The African Narrative

Nyandeni returned home to South Africa and registered her company in 2018.

“In my heart, I thought I was going to be able to buy sewing machines and a small car to travel back and forth for business, be able to get staple fabrics that people would love,” she says.

It was not the case, but she started the business despite a shortage of funds.

“I called it Zazi Luxury because it speaks to more of the inside and outside of a garment and the technique used which is the core of the business. The inside is about matching the outside; I should literally be able to wear it inside out, and if not, it’s not [a Zazi Luxury product].”

Her first client was South African comedienne Tumi Morake referred by a mutual friend, and later actress Zenande Mfenyana, but currently, her clients are also doctors, lawyers and drawn from the corporate world.

“In the beginning, the business was focused on couture and it developed a bit more into business such as television, dressing anchors, and we also have ready-to-wear garments. We are broadening the business to other boutiques too.”

Zazi Luxury recently showcased at South Africa Fashion Week. This year, she will be working on a fourth collection that will be both couture and basic women’s workwear garments but featuring the Zazi aesthetic.

Zazi Luxury currently employs seven young enthusiastic fashionistas; one of who is Lebohang Ketlele, who has worked with Nyandeni for two years.

“I am a dressmaker and stylist. I don’t think I would know the things I know now if I wasn’t working here, we have dressed celebrities and that is a great experience,” attests Ketlele.

Inspired in Paris, but made in Africa, Zazi seems to have made the cut.

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