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Pain, Pity, Opportunity

It must rank as one of the strangest stories in Africa. The tale of a graduate who cheated death and ended up crippled. He used these tough times to make his fortune.

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It was a warm day in Sandton, Johannesburg. As we meet, Vital Sounouvou crouches, leaning heavily on his cane, as he greets us. It is a bad day for him, he is in pain. Pain has played a big part in his journey to entrepreneurship.

“When I was six years old, I had malaria and the doctors gave me an injection that cures it but it also attacked the bones and killed the nerves. I was almost paralyzed on my left leg and had to use a walking stick since then,” he says.

Treatment didn’t help. Life was never the same; his peers mocked him and his elders pitied him.

“I had to go to school with metals attached to my body. This had a positive side though because instead of playing outside I was forced to be indoors, read books and daydream. This had an impact on the man I have become.”

Time opened his eyes and he saw opportunities for entrepreneurship. He graduated from high school at 16. A year later, he opened his first business.

“I feel I was blessed to be born in Benin. Poor country? Yes, but it is the most stable in the region. All our neighbors were in war but not us. We are blessed by nature. Trade is part of our culture. There is a shop in front of many houses and most people from my city (Porto-Novo) become entrepreneurs of some sort,” says Sounouvou.

The 25-year-old says 85% of the youth in Benin are unemployed.

“When I started college, the first thing the professor told me was that I won’t find a job after completing my studies.”

The gloomy professor’s sobering words spurred him on. Sounouvou founded Exportunity, a site that promotes export opportunities for Africans by connecting producers with traders. It allows a farmer in Benin to sell his produce to a buyer everywhere from South Africa to the United States through a cell phone.

“There was a huge information gap between the offer, demand and the market. We wanted to promote products made locally. It was very hard to find producers but it was even harder to compete with international brands locally,” he says.

Sounouvou built a mobile application that works on all types of devices, including non-smartphones. Farmers are the target.

“Almost 70 percent of whatever crop is produced in Africa is wasted because the producers have no way to get the product to market. There are many problems ranging from the costs of locating a buyer, to dealing with middle men in cash, to suffering losses due to scams,” he says.

The computer science graduate was inspired by eBay.

“We are like eBay for wholesale. Imagine if Alibaba conducted a proper due diligence on every stakeholder before accepting them on the platform. People don’t just come on Exportunity and just register and start trading, they apply and we do due diligence before allowing them on. We had to adapt to the producer in Africa because some don’t use a lot of technology. We had to create Exportunity trader tablets for people without access to high technology so they can have access to international trade,” he says.

Buyers and sellers pay a membership fee to trade.

“People traditionally have to travel with large sums of money to trade but this site cancels the travelling costs and the risks associated with carrying large sums of money.”

Exportunity has externalized most of its management to Temple Corporate Services in Mauritius and has 17 permanent staff.

“In May 2014, global rice prices plunged to a historic $403.59/metric ton, the lowest since January 2008’s 393.48/metric ton. Jumping on an unprecedented opportunity, Exportunity-Benin, acting as a middle man, helped Neodis Trading-Benin buy from an Indian-based supplier 1,672 metric tons of rice at a price of $413.59/metric ton, filling 727 20-foot containers. We made a net profit of $69,150 out of the deal,” says Sounouvou.

Through the trade events, Sounouvou claims Exportunity has engaged with over 750 clients, and built a database of 85,000 companies globally trading with Africa.

“There are currently 13 transactions in the pipeline, over 450 suppliers trading on the platform, over 120 buyers  and over 2 million others are immediately reachable through our deal with UBA Bank.”

Running a successful business is not Sounouvou’s only pride. He was one of 500 young African leaders chosen to be part of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in 2014, he was selected for the inaugural group of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme with a $10,000 grant, and has been recognized as the Ambassador of the Global Youth Innovation Network by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

“Every time my leg hurts, I remind myself that I shouldn’t let it be my story. My story is to be great. My disability does not define me,” he says.

If nothing else, Sounouvou’s story proves that what hurts you can make you.

Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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Entrepreneurs

Covid-19: Restaurants, Beauty Salons, Cinemas Among Businesses That Will Operate Again In South Africa As Ramaphosa Announces Eased Lockdown Restrictions

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South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation announcing that the government will further ease the country’s lockdown restrictions.

Restaurants, beauty salons, cinemas are among the businesses that will be allowed to operate again in South Africa.

The country is still on lockdown ‘Level 3’ of the government’s “risk adjusted strategy”.

President Ramaphosa also spoke on the gender based violence in the country.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts that I stand before the women and the girls of South Africa this evening to talk about another pandemic that is raging in our country. The killing of women and children by the men of our country. As a man, as a husband, and as a father to daughters, I am appalled at what is no less than a war that is being waged against the women and the children of our country,” says Ramaphosa.

Watch below:

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