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Zim Duo Find A Fortune In Their Backyards



Where most youngsters would opt for a business degree before stepping into business, Ropafadzo Zimunya and Munashe Musarurwa did it the other way around.

In a small town named Mutare in Zimbabwe, just out of high school, the now 20-year-olds looked inwardly for inspiration, and found it in their backyards.

The co-founders of a company named Greenit Diversified Group, they make baking flour out of bananas. Such unconventional thinking came from need, and their research on alternative foods – most likely, the future of food in Africa.

“I think alternative foods are the next big thing on the market because of the way Africa itself is going,” says Musarurwa, also the operations manager of Greenit.

The two finished high school in 2016 and was dabbling with some business ideas when they came across alternative products for bananas.

“My partner was like ‘there’s something called banana flour, have you ever heard of it’?” Zimunya, Greenit’s CEO, tells FORBES AFRICA.

“I was like no, ‘but let’s do it, let’s try it out’. And we have bananas in our backyard, so why not?’”

So the two harvested the green bananas, dried them and crushed them into powder, not sure if this was going to end up as a disastrous science lab experiment. Thankfully, it didn’t.

READ MORE: Save Jobs Or Save Energy? The Dilemma Of Going Green

“It’s not something we invented, it was there traditionally. The thing is the traditional one does not outperform wheat flour,” says Zimunya.

The pair played around with different ingredients, and permutations and combinations until they came up with a breakthrough product that morphed into better flour.

Immediately, Zimunya wrote down a business plan. With their final product, they reached out to a local baker as prospective suppliers. “Am I seriously going to use banana flour to make cupcakes?” he asked them.

Eventually, the pair were able to convince him. The baker prepared a batch of cupcakes with their flour and they were a success.

“We were actually surprised at how well it came out, because I was sceptical at first,” says Zimunya.

Farmers collecting bananas to manufacture banana flour. Photo provided.

They later advertised their product to other bakers, farmers and the community.

“We were looking for millions, and in our dreams we thought it would happen in a day, but when we started going around telling people, they thought we were crazy!” says Zimunya.

Word got around in the streets of Mutare and that’s when the funding came in.

“We really tried to sell across the nation because that’s our aim, and it’s the most difficult thing to do if you are a Zimbabwean manufacturer,” says Zimunya.

In a country heavily reliant on imports on account of failing food production, Greenit had the opportunity to produce a low-cost alternative food option locally. They sold their first batches at $3 for 500 grams making it the cheapest alternative flour in Zimbabwe.

“We have now reached about 600 people in five months and made around $800,” says Zimunya.

One of their aims is to become wheat flour’s biggest competitors. But to do this, the boys were going to need a lot of goodwill – and financing.

Their first investment came from $5,000 which they won after applying for the Celebration Church Mutare Padare business forum last year.

This happened to be the same church the boys first met in and solidified their friendship.

Early this year, they won another $10,000 from the Youth Entrepreneurs Program financed by CBZ Bank in Zimbabwe.

READ MORE: The New Wave Of Disruptors

Despite Greenit’s infancy, the two admit they have been able to achieve a lot in a short time. Their products now retail in some supermarkets and small shops in Mutare.

Their priority though is to use the money to set up a factory to be able to keep up with the demand. The duo aim to even sell their products outside of Zimbabwe.

“Since then we have been able to produce two tonnes of the banana flour and have sold over 1,000 units since,” Musarurwa says.

But as with any business, they have had challenges, and some costly learnings along the way. Despite their eagerness and professionalism as business owners, they still face prejudice as young people.

“The most difficult challenge we face is that people don’t take us seriously at times,” says Musarurwa.

They are also more cautious when it comes to making promises or signing agreements, and have learned not to trust easily.

“Everything that you do has to be written down,” says Musarurwa. “No matter how small it is, if you want to do something with someone, put an agreement to that.”

Zimunya hopes to study business management while Musarurwa wants a marketing degree. They also plan to expand their production in the alternative food sectors, producing banana porridge for infants and adults, and diversifying to fertilizer production with banana peels.

They were also invited to attend the 10th African Union Private Sector Forum in Egypt early May. They want to expand their network beyond Zimbabwe as Africa is in need of more alternative food sources.

Zimunya says he won’t rest until he sees their names on FORBES AFRICA’s Under 30 list one day.

The final product of banana flour created by Ropafadzo Zimunya and Munashe Musarurwa


Masai Ujiri’s dream of harnessing untapped African talent



The President of Toronto Raptors, Masai Ujiri, on his adoration for Africa as a continent filled with unlimited potential and talent.

The tall man in sport, Masai Ujiri, is a name in professional basketball far beyond the borders of Africa and his native Nigeria.

Born in England but having grown up in Zaria in Africa’s most populous country, Ujiri’s adoration for Africa sees him on the continent often, inspiring the youth.

“Africa is no more afraid. We are not afraid of anybody anymore. The continent is bold. The people are bold,” says Ujiri, when FORBES AFRICA meets him in Johannesburg in November at the Africa Investment Forum in which he participated.

The continent has a special place in his heart.

The President of the Toronto Raptors in the National Basketball Association (NBA), also founded Giants of Africa (GOA) in 2003, as a way of harnessing budding, untapped talent.

“As long as I am in a position where I am able to, we have to give the youth a chance. We have to pave a path for them and there is nothing I can’t do. I have to do everything, it is an obligation, I have to be an example for them by creating that pathway,” he says.

Ujiri, who started playing basketball at the age of 13, travels to Africa every August to visit the GOA camps across seven countries on the continent, training young boys and girls to be leaders in both sport and everyday life.

He says he draws inspiration from each and every country in Africa, and the feeling is inexplicable.

The history and culture are a constant reminder of his years growing up in Africa.

Whether it is in Kenya, where his mother was born, or the lasting friendships in Rwanda, Senegal or Nigeria, each country holds special memories.

Apart from the numerous trips in and out of the continent, 2018 granted Ujiri a rare once-in-a-lifetime moment.

This was in July when Barack Obama, the former president of the United States, visited Kenya, and with him, Ujiri opened a basketball court in the country.

Ujiri’s outreach program GOA launched it at the Sauti Kuu Foundation Sports, Resources and Vocational Centre in Alego; familiar ground for both leaders.

Managed by Auma Obama, Sauti Kuu, much like GOA, is focused on youth development.

“To spend that time with somebody that Africa means so much to, meant so much to me and so much to Auma. We are trying to inspire youth, we built a court that is going to impact the youth and that was special,” says Ujiri. 

Being able to scout African talent is what is imperative for Ujiri, and it all comes down to building facilities to help the youth play basketball.

Ultimately, his dream for Africa is not only to see material wealth but for talent to go beyond what he has achieved.

“My dream is to have one of the youth become bigger than me, and bigger than everybody. People think I always dream of building this and doing that but I want one of these kids to take everything that they learn and do better in each and everything.

“I love the continent; I love the culture of different places. I am almost like Anthony Bourdain [the late American celebrity chef], that is how it really is with basketball, with the culture, the people and the food,” says Ujiri.

Staying true to his African roots, when we meet him, Ujiri speaks about his favorite yam and stew dish that he says reminds him of his childhood.

It’s such memories that see him taking the long-haul flight out of Toronto to Africa each year.

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Brewing Success: Lessons From A Beer Baron



Canadian John Sleeman shares his entrepreneurial lessons with Africa.

cis not your typical textbook entrepreneur. His belief in what it takes to be an entrepreneur is so controversial that his advice is no longer welcome in MBA classes. The white-haired charismatic brewer, who re-established his family’s brewing business in 1988 as one of the most successful in Canada, offers sage advice to African entrepreneurs, although he has no plans to expand in Africa – yet.

Nonchalantly, in his automated beer manufacturing plant in Guelph, Canada, surrounded by people enjoying his craft beer, Sleeman says he believes entrepreneurs are born, not made. He argues that unless you are prepared to go bankrupt, work over 80 hours a week, lose your friends, face the prospect of divorce, put your house on mortgage and miss meeting friends for drinks on Fridays, then entrepreneurship is not for you.

He should know. This is the toll he took to restart his family business. It had lost its licence and was banned from the market for 50 years in 1933. This was for smuggling beer during the roaring 1920s by brokering deals with bootleggers and gangsters like Al Capone when prohibition set in in Canada.

Passionately, the beer baron, who plans to open a micro-distillery later this year, and is considering expanding his business in either the eastern or western parts of Canada, tells FORBES AFRICA: “If you want to be an entrepreneur, be very focused on what you want to achieve and don’t let people talk you out of it. If it is a dream, pursue it until you are successful.”

He attributes his success to surrounding himself with the right people. They will make or break your business, says Sleeman. You should be ready to change your business model if the current one isn’t working, he adds.

In his own case, he did this after his colleague advised him that rather than opening up new breweries across Canada, he should buy existing ones that share Sleeman Breweries’ crazy passion for beer and authenticity.

Sleeman reckons you shouldn’t grow so big that you lose your entrepreneurial flair, first-mover advantage and risk-appetite, but you also shouldn’t remain so small that you get knocked out of business or get bought out by someone who does not see your vision and wants to dismantle you, as it almost happened to his business in 2006. If you do sell, reminisces Sleeman, sell to someone who sees your vision, like Sleeman Breweries did, when Japanese company Sapporo saved the Guelph-based firm from a hostile takeover.

But that’s history. Since then, Sapporo has helped fund research and development and training for the business, whose humble, down-to-earth founder is now taking it on its next spirited journey.

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The Story Of The $3,000 Sneakers



South African artist Conor McCreedy on creating what could be the world’s most expensive sneakers.

A literally stumbled upon a business opportunity.

The renowned South African artist, who only paints in blue,was one day at work in his studio, in a 600-year-old, four-storeyed building in Zurich, when he accidentally spilled some of the monochromatic pigment on to his white sneakers.

Who knew it would lead to a designer line of expensive sneakers.

The artist, resident in Switzerland since 2014, now sells the limited edition sneakers for $3,000 a pair. 

What helped that day was that the painting accident was shortly before a meeting with an art collector.

“This art dealer wanted some work for a private collection.I couldn’t get time to put my shoes on, so I went in my sneakers, and this guy just loved them… He opened up to me and said he likes the idea. ‘Try and take it further’, he said to me,” says McCreedy to FORBES AFRICA, on the phone from Switzerland.

Artist Conor McCreedy. Picture: Supplied

After spending four months finalizing the collaboration with an established shoe company, Ludwig Reiter, the concept sprung to life.

A regular pair of their white sneakers sells for $685, but with a splash of McCreedy, it costs almost five times more.   

“A lot of people can put paint on sneakers. We are not reinventing the world but putting the McCreedy blue on to a sneaker. It has a value chain,” he says.

Even before its launch mid-November, nine of the 200 limited edition sneakers had been sold to collectors from around the world.

“I love when people say that the splash looks like a kid’s.I actually like that, it has taken me 30 years to create that splash, that is a great story,” says McCreedy.

He adds the handcrafted sneaker will not only appeal to art lovers who are looking to collect, but even corporate titans and banking CEOs,and the uber-chic would want to wear it at cultural festivals.

In Switzerland, ultra-networth and high-networth-individuals are his customers.

“The beautiful part is that the sneakers are backed by my art, and compared to the art, they are relatively cheap,” says McCreedy.

Artist Conor McCreedy converted an old bank building into his studio and atelier in Zurich. Picture: Supplied

The tranquillity and stability the artist associates with the color blue led to the creation of his own pigment known as ‘McCreedy blue’.

McCreedy has used it to create most of his paintings since 2011.

But building a career through art requires more than just mixing color on canvas.

“Art is always considered a luxury; don’t let anyone fool you when they say it is not luxurious. People don’t just buy art, it is a luxury creation… If Picasso was alive today, he would probably have his own app,” he says.

His art inspired him to create products, from candles to a coffee blend on sale on the ground floor of his studio.

The space is curated so it’s an alluring odyssey for customers.

White walls are adorned with original McCreedy blue paintings, showcasing the artist’s work for prospective buyers, collectors and dealers.

The ‘Essence of McCreedy blue’ forms part of the luxurious elements the artist wants to reinstate in the art world.

It took the artist three years in Zurich, one of the global centers for banking and finance, to convert an old bank building into an atelier and studio. “It’s showing how people view the world through the eyes of an artist. It is about being part of the journey and the experience. It is about feeling what luxury is like,” he says.

Staying true to his African roots, McCreedy draws inspiration from Botswana, Nigeria and South Africa, which he expresses through abstract images.

“I love African and South African art. It is really stimulating for me and as a growing artist, I like to collect whatever I can afford. One day, I will create my own museum and show what I have from different parts of the world,” says McCreedy. Open to exploring more markets, McCreedy wishes to collaborate with African artists. He would not have it any other way.

Artist Conor McCreedy converted an old bank building into his studio and atelier in Zurich. Picture: Supplied

The world may present the artist with greater opportunities,but it cannot compete with the culture and the spirit of ubuntu [humanity]found in his country of birth, he explains.

“I miss good South African beer, I miss sitting on a Land Rover with no shirt on, drinking a beer. I miss the weather and the locals.”

But wherever McCreedy goes, he ensures his prized pair of sneakers is never too far away.

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