- 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.
Watch live: FORBES AFRICA’s Under30 in conversation with the managing editor — Leadership & Management Amid Crisis
Join the conversation: Submit questions and see agenda below.
[The stream is slated to start at 3:00 pm CAT on 7th April. Please refresh the page if you do not see a player below at that time.]
This virtual event is free to attend. Register your interest here.
- Shamim Nabuuma
- Keitumetsi Qhali
- Paul Makaya
- Thobo Khathola
Forbes Africa #30Under30 List: Leading The Charge
As 2020 ushers in a new decade and a new set of daunting challenges for the world – climate change, the coronavirus – it’s all the more imperative that the world’s youngest continent rises to the crises and sees opportunities where there seem to be none. These are the men and women forging ahead with credible, creative and profound strategies to shape our tomorrow. Celebrating six years of the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list, they are the continent’s revolutionary thinkers revitalizing ideas and industries with fresh business models and innovative leadership.
Over 3,000 nominations flooded into our inboxes and landed on our desks from the start of 2020 for this Under 30 list. And the mammoth task? Whittling it down to 30 names.
While last year, we had 120 in total, with 30 finalists each in the categories of business, technology, sports and arts, this year, we chose to stay with 30: the best of the best spanning all industries. Our youngest list-maker this year is just 16!
In a continent pregnant with opportunities, and at a time a virus pandemic grips the world, young people are the only hope. They are able to step in to offer new and innovative solutions for the problems confronting Africa.
And big business salutes their potential.
“Leaving an ordinary career path to start something new and original is difficult and lonely, and success is not linear. Making the list must also be an incredible encouragement to the brave young people who’ve struck out on their own,” says Fran Luckin, Chief Creative Officer at Grey Africa, a global advertising giant.
The odds stacked against them are great, such as access to funding and institutional and historical inequalities that mean there’s probably very little family wealth or savings for the average young entrepreneur to draw on, adds Luckin.
“If you look at the development from youth-owned businesses and those featured on the 30 Under 30 list, you will realize that Africa has amazing potential,” says Ashok Gupta, Chairman & Founder of Kalyan Group, a diversified business with portfolios in hospitality and agriculture based in Togo.
In the following pages, this is what we will see: the potential of Africa’s future and the people who will lead us.
The list is in no particular order.
In drawing up the 2020 list, we sifted through piles of nominations that came in from across Africa, even the remotest corners. Through robust reporting and vigorous vetting, harnessing the experience of our editorial teams across Africa; with extensive research, studies of databases and media coverage; and also delving into the knowledge of our team of external judges, we evaluated the nominees to arrive at a long-list of 100 names, before short-listing to the 30 changing the face of business and society today. We have only considered for selection those who were under the age of 30 as of March 31, 2020. We have also discovered many more to ‘watch out for’ and who will be featured on this list in the years to come. For the 2020 list, FORBES AFRICA partnered once again with SNG Grant Thornton to vet the business and financial statements of the candidates. This involved understanding the landscape, the profitability, growth and most of all, the scalability of each business. But it’s not all about the money. Some of the qualities FORBES AFRICA looks for in the leaders of tomorrow are that they are passionate, innovative, impactful, pioneering and are real hustlers of the African growth story. The list also examines their resilience, strength and ability to turn around their enterprise or careers. At the time of going to press, all facts on the following pages were verified to be correct.
Business: Lwandile Qokweni, CEO, Wavewaker
Technology: Teboho Mofokeng, Founder, Bowfica
Sports: Carol Tshabalala, Sportscaster
Arts: Yvette Gayle, Partner and Head of Communications and Engagement, Africa Creative Agency
Audit Partner: SNG Grant Thornton
Bako Ambianda, 29, Cameroon
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Labacorp Group of Companies
Industry: Diversified holdings
At only 29, Bako Ambianda is an international development expert, author, speaker, philanthropist and entrepreneur.
Over the years, he has successfully built an empire. His business acumen was evident from his high school days, when he would pick mangoes, avocados, and bananas from his backyard at home and sell them in his school’s dormitory for a profit.
After high school, he moved to the US in 2011 to further his studies and began a career in diplomacy at the Maryland State House.
While there, he started his first company with only $850.
Global Attain Advancement is an events organization company, the first instalment to the Labacorp Group.
Through the company, he was exposed to learning the tricks and trades of organizing events and found himself a part of the organizing team for former president, Barack Obama’s Energy Congress.
He later returned to Africa to develop the business and launch other entities.
“When I launched Labacorp Group, I set out a mission that all operations of the group will be rooted in the ‘Afri-developism’ economic concept that I created because I wanted to work relentlessly toward contributing to the development of Africa inspired by the ‘Afri-developism’ concept,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Today, the Labacorp group has grown from just housing an events organizing team to owning businesses across manufacturing, power, construction, agribusiness, and exhibition sectors with operations in six countries with 79 employees, and a footprint in Africa, Middle East and North America.
With the offices headquartered in Ghana, Labacorp Industries Limited and a South Korea-based company are setting up a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle waste recycling plant in the country to produce high value-added products such as polyester, staple fiber and geotextile from PET bottle waste.
He has won numerous awards including the Global Business Disruptor 2018 Award by Professional Association of Young Africans (PAYA) and Africa Business Leadership Excellence Award 2018 by African Leadership Magazine.
Gift Sukez, 27, Malawi
Founder and Director, HD Plus Creation Company Limited
Industry: Video Production
Bob Phondo, a notable brand manager in Malawi’s marketing and communications industry, recalls a memory of Gift Sukez in the early days of his business in 2013.
He was seen with nothing but a camera, working from a backroom focusing on where his passion would take him.
Using borrowed cameras, lights and computers, Sukez was able to save up enough to buy his own HD Camera which cost $300.
With the flash of a camera, the picture became clear and HD Plus Creation Company Limited was born, offering media consultancy services and video content creation.
“The passion I had for creative visuals fueled me to work very hard every day and it eventually paid off in 2016 when I managed to register the company and with time, the demand for my services grew,” Sukez tells FORBES AFRICA.
Today, Sukez owns two offices and a video production department and employs up to 18 staff.
“It could be argued that Gift is the best at what he does in Malawi,” says Phondo.
One of Sukez’s most early notable work was when he worked with Akon, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Jah Prayzah and P-Square to produce and direct the making of the 2017 African leaders for change theme song, The Song for Africa.
His company has also produced content for organizations such as UN Malawi, UNICEF and Standard Bank.
The biggest highlight of the business was when they worked on a film directed by Mark Spencer titled Whistleblower shot in Australia, Japan and Malawi.
Last year, they also took part in shooting and working on set for two Australian movies, The Drover’s Wife and Fallout.
Sukez plans to take his knowledge working internationally to produce quality content for Malawians.
“Malawi lacks so much in terms of technology, as a result, we fail to have the right connections and network to help boost the business internationally, but we try with the little capacity we have,” he says. “When I look at my future and the company, my vision is to employ more than 1,000 young people by 2030 in Africa and this includes actors, scriptwriters, directors, producers, cameramen, just to mention a few.”
Thobo Khathola, 28, Botswana
Founder, Managing Director and CEO, Lion Tutoring
Industry: Education technology
It all began in 2015. After his experience as a university student tutor, Thobo Khathola was keen on improving the pass rates of students in Botswana.
So he started operating from the boot of his car in his parents’ home to offer tutoring services to youth in Botswana.
Shortly after, he took loans from friends and family and it paid off.
“One happy client from my church turned into two. Two happy clients turned into 10. Ten became 100 and now we enrol more than 1,000 clients each year,” he says.
Khathola founded Lion Tutoring which he says works like the ‘Uber for tutors’. He now owns offices in Botswana and South Africa.
“I have always been passionate about education and bothered by the declining pass rate of academics in my country and in Africa as a whole. I managed to gain experience and identified a niche,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Lion Tutoring takes advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by engaging clients through their e-commerce platform and mobile application.
Since inception, Lion Tutoring has employed over 300 staff.
The business has won three awards for three consecutive years from 2017, named the Best Youth Owned Business in Botswana at The Botswana Youth Awards and The Palapye Business Awards.
Khathola was listed in the Botswana Stock Exchange’s publication as one of the Top Youth Entrepreneurs to look out for. He was also named one of the Top 30 Most Influential Youth in Botswana by Botswana Youth Magazine.
Khathola has also founded the Lion Tutoring Community Based Project which provides assistance to communities such as the SOS Children’s home, Childline and Mogonye Primary school.
Khathola plans to branch into more African countries.
Tony Mautsu, 27, Botswana
Founder and Managing Director, Social Light
Industry: Digital solutions
Tony Mautsu was born 30 kilometers away from the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone. He grew up in a small village called Mochudi and could not speak English very well.
But from the age of 10, he learned very quickly how to stand out.
Growing up in school, he sold sweets, chips, compact discs and airtime, unknowingly honing his entrepreneurial spirit.
While volunteering at a marathon in 2014, he used social media to generate inspirational quotes and respond to inquiries. This earned him the description of “that social media guy”.
“When I was done with the marathon, I got to work turning this newly-discovered niche into a fully-fledged business. The Social Light, the light that leads corporations into this tricky unknown platform of social media,” he says.
Social Light is geared towards introducing cutting edge-tech services to assist companies position their brands and acquire in-depth information on client sentiments through big data mining and monitoring tools in Botswana.
They offer services such as video animation, graphic designing, content creation, HD-live streaming, application management and social media management.
One of their biggest highlights was when they were commissioned to work with the 2017 Global Expo Botswana, which hosted founder of Virgin Group, business magnate and billionaire Richard Branson.
Last year, they worked with the Youth Town Hall Meeting organized by the Botswana Government which featured telecom giant, Strive Masiyiwa.
The business has grown 750% in the last year, he attests.
Uzair Essack, 27, South Africa
Founder and Managing Director, CapeCrops
Industry: Agriculture, Logistics
Uzair Essack has his roots deep in the fruit and vegetable business.
He is the founder and managing director of CapeCrops, an export business that sells fruits and vegetables sourced from South Africa to the rest of Africa and international markets such as Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
With no background in agriculture, Essack invested his savings to start the business and has managed to build a company which went from earning R500,000 ($30,515) revenue in 2015 to R34 million ($2 million) in 2019.
Some of his clients include major supermarket chains such as Marks & Spencer, Aldi, Tesco and Carrefour and he recently opened an office in Dubai.
Essack employs a staff of 13 and indirectly employs thousands who contribute to farming, cold chain and logistics.
He is also the founder and president of GetGiving, a non-profit company that aims to benefit the community through projects which include food-hamper drives, sanitary drives, stationary drives and careers days.
Essack won the Minara Young Entrepreneur Award in 2019.
“We firmly believe that African fruit and veg is amongst the most wholesome, healthy and flavorsome on the planet and we’re passionate about helping our clients all over the world to showcase it on the global stage,” he says.
Baraka Daniel Kiranga, 29, Tanzania
Founder and Director, Hamasa Media Group
Industry: Digital Media
Baraka Daniel Kiranga started his business with a mere $20 in 2014 while pursuing his Bachelor of Science degree at the Institute of Finance Management in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
With a friend, he bought a template for an online magazine, designed it, and wrote inspirational stories of young entrepreneurs and change-makers in the country.
Impressed by his initiative, Kiranga received a small contribution from his father and friends to register the business with the magazine as his first product.
For seven months, he worked on bootstrapping the business.
Since then, Kiranga has not looked back and the business has grown by 449%.
With a team of 11, the company now offers media consultancy services to clients such as WHO-Tanzania, NGOs, news outlets and journalists.
In August this year, they plan to launch an art media lab to provide innovative media solutions such as strategy training, media monitoring, cloud computing and digital security services.
Last year, Kiranga was awarded a trophy by the National Training Institute of Egypt during an Arab African development forum in Egypt for his involvement in promoting youth development in Africa.
“Don’t lose your focus when you are subjected to the heat of financial instability. It is working for the betterment of your business; at the end of the day, you will emerge on the other side of the valley and say it was better it happened,” he says.
Hamasa is a business consultancy on digital media management and data technologies in producing data-driven stories.
Newman Tshepo Ramatokwane, 29, Botswana
Founder of Native Stretch Tents and Canopies (pty) Ltd
Most people would have given up after dropping out of college twice, but not Newman Tshepo Ramatokwane.
“Go against the grain,” he says. This was a clear goal Ramatokwane set for himself when he started his upward-bound career.
Born in the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone, he was groomed in a business-orientated family.
Thus, the drive for entrepreneurship was grilled into him from a tender age.
During his primary school years, Ramatokwane made money selling his art drawings to his colleagues and he would polish his sister’s shoes for a fee.
“At the age of sixteen, I came across a financial literacy book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, it was then that my entrepreneurial spirit was unleashed,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
It was in 2013 that he decided to found his own business – Native Stretch Tents and Canopies now trading as Native Event – from a one-bedroom house.
The company initially hired out stretch tents only, but with the rapid growth, they began manufacturing furniture.
Ramatokwane also invested in a mobile bar service, transport and logistics, and in an accounting firm.
“I come from a country where entrepreneurship is not generally taught or pursued.
“We have a culture that never believed that one can become an entrepreneur at a young age and actually succeed at it,” he says.
By 2015, his company won the local Global Expo’s 2015 and 2016 Best Small Medium Enterprise recognition.
In 2018, Ramatokwane moved the business into a 1,000sqm warehouse providing more services such as event consultation, planning and management.
Since then, the company has executed over 300 events, including the Southern African Inter Revenue Games, De Beers Diamond Week 2019, the Presidential Inauguration 2019 and the Botswana Telecommunications Corporation V-Sat Launch.
He currently employs 20 full-time staff and about 10 part-time contract staff.
Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa, 24, Uganda
Founder and Executive Director of Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab
Industry: Artificial intelligence in medicine
At only 24, Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa is an entrepreneur with a background in the medical field.
She is also a cancer survivor.
But she would rather you call her an entrepreneur, she expresses, as she arrives for the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 photoshoot in Johannesburg, straight from the airport, after flying in from Uganda.
Her company Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab was founded out of both passion and personal experience.
When she was 13, she lost her mother to cervical cancer. Kaliisa’s mother had one last wish.
“She called for me from school and when I reached the Uganda Cancer Institute, my mother told me ‘my daughter, study hard and become a doctor and look for a way to extend services to women like your mother who lacked key screening services in our villages’,” Kaliisa recounts.
Those last words sank in and the young Kaliisa vowed to fulfil her mother’s dream.
But things took a different turn.
During her second year pursuing a bachelor’s degree in medicine and surgery, she felt an unusual pain in one of her breasts. She got it tested and the results returned positive.
“Luckily, it was still in its early stages. I was treated, though I lost one of my breasts [to mastectomy] as a way to save the rest of me,” she says.
These experiences led to her founding a company in 2017 to offer mobile cancer screening, which later incorporated the use of artificial intelligence guided e-oncology services (to detect cervical and breast cancer). Today, her company also incorporates drone services for easier transportation of cervical cancer specimens from the rural areas to laboratories without women having to travel long distances out of the villages.
Kaliisa, who locals refer to as “mama cancer”, is a winner of the Takeda Young Entrepreneur Award 2018, Young African Entrepreneur Award 2018, Social Impact Finalist AWIEF Awards 2018, has received an Honourable Mention at the Maathai Impact Award 2019, and was chosen among the top 10 artificial intelligence companies founded in Africa by Google for start-ups.
She has also been endorsed by the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Kaliisa continues to make strides in the field of cancer screening. Packing up her things after the photoshoot with us, she heads back to the airport for her flight home.
It’s business as usual for this young woman on a mission to help women in villages survive cancer like she did.
Lloyd Harris, 23, South Africa
Nicknamed ‘The King’ in the South Africa Davis Cup team, at only 22, Lloyd Harris is currently South Africa’s second ranked tennis player behind Kevin Anderson.
The young Cape Town-born player found his feet at the age of three when he picked up his first racket. Following in the footsteps of his mother, who would play at a tennis club, by the age of four, Harris was already able to serve from the baseline.
When other 10-year-olds were riding bicycles and playing video games, Harris was competing in the Under 10 World Cup in Croatia, his first game on an international stage.
This was the beginning of his tennis career.
In 2014, he became the first-ever South African to represent South Africa at the Youth Olympics in 2014.
But it wasn’t always easy.
Harris and his family sacrificed everything to ensure he reached a professional level.
And in 2018, Harris endured a devastating loss.
At the eleventh hour, while preparing for a match, he received news that his father passed away.
Harris did not react well to the news.
Waves of unimaginable pain shot down his spine, making it difficult for him to play.
“It was an eye-opener that changed my world. He was incredibly proud of me and my tennis. I lay in bed, cried all day, had no idea whether or not I should play. I was ready to get on the next plane home and then decided to stay and play for my father. I won two tournaments, in two weeks,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Harris’s decision to continue to play for his father brought him more triumph. In 2018, he was nominated as an alternate for the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan.
He also represented South Africa at the Davis Cup as the number one player in seven ties with a win-to-loss record of 11-4.
Last year, he qualified for his second Grand Slam main draw at a senior men’s singles level and he reached the 100th spot in the ATP Rankings, cracking the top 100 for the first time in his career.
“I think that as South Africans, we need to have a lot of belief and support to get far on the ATP Tour. Where I come from, nobody has really, for so many years, made it from South Africa. The last one was maybe Wayne Ferreira. It’s hard to believe we can actually do everything from South Africa,” he says.
“I still have plenty of time on the tour and only have to look at Roger Federer, who is still playing at 38 and remains at the top of his game, to gain inspiration. I still have many years to go and we are just focused on the process at the moment.”
DJ Cuppy, 27, Nigeria
DJ, Founder and Director, Red Velvet Music Group
Many had high expectations for Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola to follow in her family’s oil business and become an oil trader.
Her life was a set stage from the day she was born.
Dancing to the tune, she pursued a degree in economics and management.
“I was convinced my plan was to make lots of money and be the next Femi Otedola!” she tells FORBES AFRICA
But the young Nigerian longed to pursue the arts.
As a teen, she performed at local parties, events and in front of crowds filled with youthful energy.
It was one gig here and another there, honing her skills until she became the reputed DJ she is now.
Otedola now goes by the name ‘DJ Cuppy’ and has become one of Nigeria’s most accomplished DJs, always identified by her trademark pink hair style.
In 2015, she had the opportunity to perform for her country and president Muhammadu Buhari at his inauguration. Since then, she had both her hands on-deck performing all over the world from Senegal and Ghana to the UK, playing in front of more country presidents.
In 2015, she founded The Cuppy Foundation, an NGO aimed at uplifting women, children, and people living with disabilities and tackling issues such as education, malnourishment and poverty.
DJ Cuppy also holds a master’s degree in Music Business from New York University.
She has won a number of awards including Best Female DJ at the Beatz Awards in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. This year, she has been nominated for a Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Award.
Mr Eazi, 28, Nigeria
Musician and Founder, emPawa Africa
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and raised in Lagos, Oluwatosin Ajibade would sit at the breakfast table with his dad, listening to old records his father used to play.
This was the key moment that inspired Ajibade to become ‘Mr Eazi’, one of Africa’s notable music stars.
He began his music career while attending college in Ghana, where his side hustles included promoting concerts and running a concierge service shuttling wealthy kids to parties.
“I began my career with a small cash gift from friends, which enabled me to pay for my first professional-quality video for Skintight,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
This later led him to producing more African favorites in 2017 such as Leg Over and Pour Me Water, both sitting at over 74 million views on YouTube.
But the music did not stop there.
His success has also seen him performing on global stages in the UK and the US including being one of only two African artists to play the world’s most prestigious music festival, Coachella in 2019.
Mr Eazi’s ascent to global stardom has seen him clock over 280 million YouTube views and more than 4.1 million Spotify streams per month, making him one of the most streamed African artists worldwide.
But now, Mr Eazi is establishing himself as an entrepreneur as well.
After founding emPawa in 2018, he has been on a global campaign to mentor and fund African artists.
The entity has provided marketing and business support for established acts like Nigeria’s Simi and Ghana’s King Promise.
emPawa also had a notable hand in Beyonce’s Grammy-nominated The Lion King: The Gift album, helping the pop megastar’s US-based team assemble leading African talent for this landmark project.
“It’s something I wish someone had created when I first started making music. Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to believe in you,” he says.
Wisdom Mawuli Parku, 26, Ghana
Founder, Majora Group
Industry: Diversified holdings
Murphy’s Law states that ‘anything that can go wrong will go wrong’, and Wisdom Mawuli learned that very early in life.
“I lost over GHC3,000 ($541) when I had wanted to travel to the US in 2014 and consulted a travel and tour company on campus. My visa was sadly turned down but it spurred me to conduct a detailed research in the traveling and ticketing industry, hence the birth of Majora Group,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Majora Group began in a mining community and town called Obuasi in Ghana in 2017 with subsidiaries in travel, education, consultancy, photography and printing.
It came about with Mawuli who wanted to travel to the US but encountered an unfavorable experience.
After the business started, Mawuli again lost a sum of GHC12,000 ($2,162) to a fake Ghanaian recruitment agent in Dubai, leading the business to further setbacks.
“This major setback led my business to huge debt which nearly collapsed after a few months of commencement. Lastly, the Obuasi office caught fire in June 2018 which made me change the entire wiring system of the office building, hence incurring huge financial losses,” he says.
It took a while but Mawuli was able to get the business back on track.
They have sold over 1,000 trips, serviced more than 800 clients and secured five academic accreditations from universities in Europe and Canada as recruitment partners.
The company has grown 57% in revenue last year, he says, and now has two branches in Obuasi and Accra and consists of a staff of nine.
“As an entrepreneur exposed to the high unemployment rate in Ghana, it is my dream to expand my company to become a global conglomerate in Africa so I can create employment for the youth in my country within the company’s capacity. I believe the youth hold the future to sustainable development and I therefore seek to contribute to it through entrepreneurship and job creation.”
Passionate about developing Ghana, Mawuli serves as the executive director for Vision Aid Foundation.
Ogutu Okudo, 28, Kenya
Founder and CEO, Women in Energy & Extractives Africa (WEX Africa)
Industry: Oil and energy
In 2012, Lucky Okudo found herself at a conference on the outskirts of Nairobi discussing environmental sustainability and the strategic role women play.
At the same time, on the opposite end of the continent in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, communities were protesting the negligence in operations by oil companies resulting in oil spills.
“I vividly remember noticing the men dominantly speaking, but it was the woman performing the balancing act of her child on her right hip and yams to feed a family on her head that was the inspiration behind Women in Energy & Extractives Africa that initially began as Women in Oil and Gas East Africa (WIOGEA) [now known as WEX],” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Ironically, during this period, oil hadn’t been discovered in Kenya yet, but Okudo was on a mission, not knowing that fate would knock on Kenya’s doors months later in 2012.
Oil reserves were discovered in Kenya’s vast and dry remote area of Turkana County and became a source of new wealth and a source of conflict for the pastoralist Turkana people, especially the women who were often the marginalized group.
Part of WEX’s role then was to speak for women in the energy and extractive sector, informing industry participants and decision-makers of the challenges and opportunities women are finding in pursuing careers in these sectors.
To do this, Okudo participated in market meetings and industry bodies to constantly increase the visibility of the organization.
Today, WEX Africa is a social enterprise bridging the gender gap in the oil, gas, mining and alternative energy sectors in Africa
They have 15 employees in five countries and over 75 volunteers in 10 countries and counting. At only 28, Okudo has already been hailed potentially as the next Folorunso Alakija of Africa.
CNN Africa Voices referred to her as “the woman on a mission to disrupt the energy sector”.
She has been recognized internationally and is a recipient of numerous of awards including President Uhuru Kenyatta recognizing her in 2018 as one of the young female Kenyan trailblazers, being awarded the Under 30 Women in Energy East Africa (2018) and in 2019, the Kenya Upstream Oil and Gas Woman of the Year.
In 2019, she addressed the Economic and Social Council at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, accompanying President Kenyatta as part of the Kenyan delegation to the United Nations General Assembly.
“The energy agenda being no different; under-utilized, overpriced, more than half a billion Africans living in darkness and exploited natural resources with little to no impactful gain to individual countries, people and communities. I am passionate about the opportunity to play a role in factoring a development driven by strategic partnerships,” she says.
Okudo sits on numerous boards advising their strategic operations in East Africa including Bboxx Kenya, the London-based next generation off-grid utility platform operating in 15 countries developing solutions for off-grid communities by providing affordable, pay-as-you-go solar power, impacting over a million people.
2020 is a big year for her as she plans to organize STEM outreaches, release a children’s book and publish guidelines to sustainably engaging Women in Energy and Extractive Sector Projects in sub-Saharan Africa.
By the end of the year, Okudo plans to set up offices in all their East African satellite locations.
Patoranking, 29, Nigeria
A quick Google search for the best dancehall artists in Africa, and Patoranking’s name is sure to pop up.
His beats are a unique blend of dancehall, reggae and Afrobeats combined, recognizable both on the continent and the global music scene.
In 2016 and 2017, he was a judge on the internationally-acclaimed reality singing competition, The Voice Nigeria.
He was also awarded MTV Africa’s Song of the Year for hit song My Woman, My Everything in 2016.
The following year, he was crowned Best African Artist at the South African Music Awards (SAMA).
Internationally, he was featured on Major Lazer’s Particula hit song alongside Nasty C, Jidenna and Ice Prince in 2018.
In the same year, he traveled with American singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation for Lauryn Hill album’s 20th anniversary tour across North America as a special guest.
To date, Patoranking has been nominated for over 40 awards including Male Artist of the Year and Best Dancehall Artist, taking home more than 20 awards for these categories.
Tracy Batta, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Smoothie Express
Industry: Food and Beverage
Tracy Batta was determined to live her life like a healthy fruit basket in 2014.
She would blend fruits together into a smoothie detox and would package some to carry to work.
However, the process was often tedious and time-consuming, let alone a bit messy.
So she decided to start a smoothie delivery company for professionals like herself.
With her business partner (Omowunmi Akande), she raised $10,000 from their savings, built a website, bought a motorcycle for deliveries and set out to start the Smoothie Express.
But it wasn’t a smooth start to the business.
They rented out a spare room from a guest house which turned out to be a bad deal.
“We agreed to pay [the owner] 50% of our profit every month. This deal later became crippling for the business as we had to pay out almost a million naira in some months,” Batta tells FORBES AFRICA.
This forced them to find other means.
In 2016, they moved into their own kitchen and the business began to grow as the two researched and carefully-curated their own recipes.
The next year, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in the heart of Victoria Island and were now able to service walk-in clients.
“People usually do not trust that women are able to handle businesses for a long period as it is believed that we would get married someday, start having babies and ‘abandon’ the business. This however never stopped us as we worked hard to make our business cash-flow positive.”
The company now has grown to launch three modern stores with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria.
They currently employ a team of 35 while the produce comes from over 15 farms across the country.
Last year, they received a loan from a women empowerment program sponsored by Access Bank.
Batta is also a contributor to The Guardian Nigeria.
She plans to grow Smoothie Express to become an international brand with locations across Africa by 2025.
Olajumoke Oduwole , 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO and Senior Web Developer, KJK Communication Limited
Industry: Tech / software development
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Ginni Rometty, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, are but a few of the names Olajumoke Oduwole looks up to.
Very soon, she plans to become a part of this coveted list of techpreneurs.
She founded KJK in 2014 as a one-woman business, able to write 16 programming languages.
The business was founded out of the realization that not many small businesses had access to skilled programmers and tech experts.
“This meant small businesses have a disadvantage from the start. This observation piqued my interest in serving this underserved population,” she says.
After quitting her previous job, she ventured into this unchartered territory in May 2014 from her bedroom with savings of $300.
It was a small space but had lofty dreams.
After a year, the business grew and she was able to open an office and employ two more people.
Today, the team includes 18 full-time employees and works with 37 contract programmers on a project basis.
The business has since built apps such as the tru-DATA app owned by TrippleGee & Co. Plc. a security company which resulted in a contract worth $2 million.
“The tru-DATA product is being used to combat counterfeiting and proliferation of fake products, impacting the community and people’s lives. This feat strengthened our belief in our purpose, instilled a sense of pride, and gave us the vision of being the IBM of Africa,” she says.
Last year, they also received funding from the World Bank.
She is the beneficiary of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, a global initiative that fosters economic growth for women entrepreneurs.
“In the next five to 10 years, I plan to build products that will provide a tangible solution to problems faced by growing businesses in Nigeria and Africa,” she says.
“I believe it is our duty as people sharing life in this world to shape the future. I am committed to building my technology dreams so that the outcome will shape the future of African business. You can partner with me on this journey to influence the economic narrative of Africa for good.”
Paul Makaya, 26, Zimbabwe
Founder and CEO, Bergast House
Industry: Digital design and marketing
It’s not easy doing business in a country perennially in an economic crisis.
But Paul Makaya is defying the odds in Zimbabwe.
With just the $200 he had saved up, Makaya and his friends invested it in 2016 and rented a miniature one-room office space that had only two chairs.
This was only the beginning of Bergast House, a company that offers strategy, public relations, digital and design services.
Today, the two chairs he started the business with have quintupled, as they now have a team of 10 and can gladly say they have worked with numerous organizations including software giant Microsoft.
“The initial trigger was obviously frustration about the limitations of being an employee, but in that sense as well, I felt that as a young, dynamic person, there was so much more that I could offer to the industry,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
“I also felt we had a part to play in the rise of the African continent. Our vision is to rebrand Africa and this is our purpose.”
The company has served over 103 clients including Zuva Petroleum, Astro Mobile, Maranatha Group of Schools, the Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe, Tech24, the Chartered Institute of Customer Management, Steward Bank, and the Zimbabwe Agricultural Society, delivering an advertising value of up to $175 million.
Makaya has been listed on the Gumiguru 40 Under 30 list of emerging Zimbabwean leaders and in 2019, was selected to be the vice curator of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Harare Hub.
He is also a founding member of the Zimbabwe National Youth Awards, an annual event which seeks to identify, award, celebrate and develop exceptional young Zimbabweans in all sectors of the country’s economy.
Makaya plans to grow the business into countries such as Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Namibia.
Anwar Bougroug, 29, Morocco
Founder and Creative Director, Bougroug
Morocco is home to very diverse coasts, remarkable architecture, intricate handmade cultural pieces, and it is also home to a young designer making a name for himself thanks to his innovation and unique vision for fashion.
Anwar Bougroug founded a genderless fashion label in 2017 called Bougroug.
Since the unisex fashion movement that has been gaining momentum in recent years and as gender fluidity becomes more normalized, Bougroug is pushing boundaries by being one of the few promoting this trend in the north African country known for its conservative people.
“We are breaking the gender binary and gender roles by representing a new kind of individual, freer than ever from societal norms and rules,” he says.
What started out as a personal project to tackle toxic masculinity and empower women in the region became a visible creative fashion house.
With every item uniquely handcrafted down to the very last thread by Moroccan artisans, Bougroug incorporates long-standing Moroccan crafting techniques.
Having roots both in Morocco and Europe, Bougroug has been able to work with different companies such as H&M and Bershka, designing and developing collections for women, men, kids and babies.
Bougroug has its head office in Stockholm, Sweden, and the production office in Marrakech. Last year, Bougroug decided to amplify his social agenda to write about sexuality, gender-based violence, politics, fashion and society in Morocco.
Pieter-Steph du Toit, 27,
South Africa Rugby player
Being the grandson of former professional rugby player, Springbok prop Piet Spiere du Toit, and older brother to Johan, also a professional rugby player, expectations are high to carry on the family legacy.
But Pieter-Steph du Toit is doing well.
He hails from the farm area of Swartland, a region in South Africa’s Western Cape province, and has become a superstar in rugby.
Last year, he was awarded the 2019 Men’s World Rugby Player of the Year and SA Rugby Player of the Year after the Springboks’ victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“Pieter-Steph led the charge for the Springboks and he deserves this accolade to go with his World Player of the Year Award,” says Mark Alexander, president of SA Rugby, in a press statement.
Du Toit plays as a lock or flanker for the South Africa national team and the Stormers in Super Rugby.
According to rugbypass.com, he has successfully won 90% of his tackles, an easy feat for this two-meter tall and 119kg giant.
With the World Cup triumph now firmly in the past, Du Toit looks forward to two massive goals he has set for himself.
One of those is to play in the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour, while the other is to win Super Rugby with the Stormers in the franchise’s final year at Newlands.
Swanky Jerry, 28, Nigeria
Founder, Chief Creative Officer, Swanky Signatures
Red carpets, glamor, lights and cameras; this is the life of Jeremiah Ogbodo Ike, known as ‘Swanky Jerry’.
Featuring gold shoes and a white and black agbada (a four-piece male attire) resembling the Versace print, Ogbodo’s dresscode is as fitting as his nick name.
Swanky Jerry is a Nigerian celebrity fashion stylist who has dressed the likes of Pearl Thusi, Davido, Nyanda, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, AKA, Sarkodie and African presidents and first ladies.
It was at the first-ever Global Citizen Festival in South Africa late 2018 when FORBES AFRICA first met with him accompanying D’Banj, who he styled, and who performed before the thousands present that day.
Swanky Jerry’s styling can be seen through the subtle blend of couture and African Ankara fabrics.
His love for fashion started at a young age as he and his family traveled a lot from city to city.
“We would usually have to wear the clothes of the locals of each city we visited, to blend in, and I absolutely loved it! Growing up within this lifestyle, I became more inspired by my surroundings and began to invest in Nigerian fashion magazines and people-watching at big events due to the elaborate fashion being paraded,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
After the death of his father, Ogbode socialized a lot as a coping mechanism.
It was not long before he became known as “that stylish guy”.
“It was a bittersweet journey for me because although I had experienced one of the biggest losses in my life, the death of my father had practically pushed me into the amazing place I am today. I found happiness and peace in creating and was virtually driven to turn my passion into a career in order to make money and fend for myself. And this was during a very difficult time as fashion styling, especially for me, wasn’t very popular or respected in Nigeria. However, I took the risk and I’m very grateful for where it has led me to today,” he says.
He then launched his fashion and lifestyle brand, Swanky Signatures Styling, in 2012, and it has since grown to become one of the most popular and influential brands in the industry.
Creative director, celebrity stylist, wardrobe stylist, designer, social influencer and consultant are just a few titles under his stylish belt.
He is also passionate about giving back and lending his hand to different charities and drawing attention to movements such as ‘Break the Silence’ and #WalkForLove.
He has also been featured internationally by CNN.
Nijel Amos, 26, Botswana
Track and field athlete
Nijel Amos is known as Botswana’s 800-meter superstar.
Having shocked the nation by gaining podium position at the 2012 Summer Olympics at just 18 years old, he also made history by becoming the first Motswana to win a medal at the Olympics.
Since then, he has been running swiftly into more victories.
In 2014, he won numerous gold medals: the 800m and 4x400m relay in Marrakech.
The following year, he went on to impress at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games where he won a gold medal and later won gold in the 800m at the All Africa Games.
In more recent years, he has continued to run the good race for his country, clocking some of his best times in the 2019 IAAF season.
Amos has qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and is a medal hopeful for Botswana, which still only boasts one Olympic medal.
Amos has also founded a foundation called Chase Dream Empire to empower youth, particularly ex-convicts.
Davies Okeowo, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder and CEO, Enterprise Hill and Competence Africa
Industry: Business Development
While in his second year as an undergraduate studying accounting, Davies Okeowo watched an episode of the Donald Trump-produced business reality show, The Apprentice, and it was in that moment he decided that he wanted to become an entrepreneur.
He set to turn his dream into a reality; however, his first business after university failed dismally.
“I made no sales in a full year and burned all my savings,” he says.
Luckily, Okeowo had a mentor who guided him and taught him to build a structure for a sustainable business to the point that he started helping other entrepreneurs and this birthed Enterprise Hill.
With a computer and internet connection, he founded the business in 2015 as an accounting and business development firm in a bid to strengthen medium and small business enterprises across Nigeria.
“I have come to the understanding that the depth of the business structure and human capital problem isn’t just a problem in my sphere of influence, it is a problem across the African continent; which my undertakings are devoted to solving,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
In 2017, he founded Competence Africa, a social enterprise now focused on the employability of young Nigerians.
“I strongly believe that Africa’s development is largely predicated on the quality of her people and as such, I setup Competence Africa to help ensure that Africa’s youth possess high level commercial competencies,” he says.
Since inception, over 148 students have graduated from their competence development program and impacted over 2,000 businesses.
Returning full circle, the young man whose dream was inspired by a business reality show, became the winner of one, as he won the second season of The Next Titan, a Nigerian entrepreneurial reality show.
“I have a long-term commitment to the African development cause and my theory of change is to invest in the development of young African talent, contribute to the development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems across the continent, and advocate for developmental policies in a bid to make Africa a first world continent,” he says.
Davies is also a speaker, trainer and has facilitated training sessions for organizations such as The British Council and the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Sports, to name a few.
Maryam Gwadabe, 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO, Blue Sapphire Hub
Dressed in a veil and abaya, an attire known to the Huasa tribe of Nigeria, Maryam Gwadabe is not your typical Information Technology guru.
Gwadabe is a tech expert passionate about teaching and supporting young people, a gift she discovered when attending a program at a vocational center and she noticed that some of her classmates struggled with their programming skills.
On graduating, she tutored and mentored some of her friends and close relatives.
With a capital investment of NGN150,000 ($405), she then bought some training material, developed a curriculum and started facilitating basic and advanced ICT skills from her living room. But many thought Gwadabe was crazy and what she was doing would fail.
After a year, in 2014, her students exceeded her expectations and her packed living room testified that she was doing something right.
With support from her proud father who saw this growth, she set up a hub in 2015, known today as the Blue Sapphire Hub in the heart of Kano State in northern Nigeria.
The company provides ICT, entrepreneurship and incubation programs and consultancy and product development services to many young men and women, especially those like her.
Gwadabe employs a staff of 15 and since inception, has trained over 5,000 youth and women, and supported over 20 tech-driven and non-tech driven startups with business development support.
“What is more fulfilling than this; impacting the lives of women and seeing the returns? I have been advocating for bridging the digital gender divide for the past five years and now a lot of women are into tech in Nigeria, because of the impact of my work,” she says.
Each year, she hosts different forums such as ‘Hour of Code’, an event for children to learn coding, ‘ICT solutions for her’ and the ‘System trix seminar’ that teaches the latest tech tips, tricks and trends.
Next year, she is opening another hub in the capital city and plans to reach other African countries such as Niger, Chad, the Gambia and Cameroon.
Director Kit, 29, South Africa
Director, Writer and Producer
When Keitumetsi Qhali, also known as Director Kit, walks into the studio for the FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 photoshoot, her demeanor is that of a hard-talking businesswoman, but with a creative twist.
Well, she has to be this way, as a woman in a predominately white male-dominated industry with limited budgets.
Qhali, who hails from the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, is a multi-award winning director.
She works in long and short form films and videos and to date, has directed over 29 videos.
Her early work dates back to 2014 when she directed an African hit music video Rands and Nairas by Nigerian artist Emmy Gee featuring AB Crazy & Dj Dimplez.
The music video won the Best Music Video of the Year award at the 2014 Nigeria Entertainment Awards and was nominated for the Channel O music video award, for the most gifted music video of the year and Most Gifted Newcomer.
Qhali bagged all these wins at the age of 24.
Later, she was signed to the prestigious Darling Films production company as their first black female commercials director.
“It is a big deal to be recognized in this industry. My mom always said I need to work twice as hard as the men. I need to be twice as fast and twice as smart,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Fast forward to recent years, her talent continued to stand, on stages locally and internationally.
In 2018, she directed a short film titled The Initiate which was bought by Showmax.
And last year, she was nominated for a Loerie Award for her fashion film Winter Blues for the Edgars winter campaign.
She also won a SAFTA (South African Film and Television Awards) for Best Factual Educational Documentary Programme for her short film titled KICK IT.
Last year, she was also listed as one of the Mail & Guardian Young 200.
She is currently doing some work with Netflix which she says she is not at liberty to talk about right now.
It’s lights, camera and action until then.
Sasha Vybz, 28, Uganda
Founder, Savy Filmz, and Video Director
Hailing from humble beginnings in the Kabale district of Uganda, Ian Akankwasa, popularly known as ‘Sasha Vybz’, was attracted to motion pictures from a very young age.
“When I was a young kid, I used to love film so much. I was always intrigued. I wanted to find out how they make these movies. I wanted to make movies and I wanted to tell stories. Given the fact that I was a very quiet person I thought I could express myself through filmmaking. I never imagined myself to get this far,” he says.
He taught himself using online resources, and hacks and tricks from his former days as an events photographer but was unable to develop the quality films and videos he yearned for, or to address the lack of high-quality videos in Uganda’s entertainment scene.
So he enrolled at the CityVarsity School of Media Studies and Creative Arts College in Cape Town, South Africa, to pursue his unfulfilled dreams.
Immediately after his studies, he broke into the music scene in East Africa and became one of the most sought-after music directors for artists in Nigeria, South Africa and Burundi.
He began turning Uganda’s music into gold with high-definition quality.
He has worked with top musicians such as Patoranking, Bebe Cool and Toniks.
His talent has seen him bagging awards including Best Video Director at the 2019 African Muzik Awards in Dallas, Texas.
His other awards include Club Music Video Award 2017, HiPipo Video Director 2018/19, Buzz Video of the Year 2016/17 and the Rising Star Video Director 2018/19.
Savy Filmz specializes in motion pictures, music videos, movies and documentaries.
CNN has hailed him as a filmmaker “making music videos as an art form”.
Lewis Appiagyei, 16, Ghana
At the age of 10, Lewis Appiagyei already had his first Guinness World Record for the fastest lap driven on the Laguna Seca Circuit in virtual racing on PlayStation3.
This record is still unbeaten.
While many boys his age were playing with toy cars, he raced to fame following in the tyre tread of Lewis Hamilton, one of his heroes.
“My aim is to become Africa’s first Formula One world champion, a prize which is still up for grabs to all African racing drivers wherever they may be,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.
Recently, he made it on to the 30 Under 30 Future of Ghana’s list in 2018 and is the current go-karting champion.
His passion for racing has taken him to race tracks in Europe and Dubai.
Early this year, he won his last junior trophy at the Buckmore Park Kart Circuit in Kent England, the same circuit where many current Formula One drivers learned their trade including Jenson Button and Hamilton.
For Appiagyei, this marked the end of the era, and the start of a new one.
There is no telling what the big leagues hold for this young talent but he predicts that he will become a Formula One champion just like his namesake role model.
Hadeel Osman, 29, Sudan
Creative Director, Stylist, Founder, DAVU Studio
Hadeel Osman has over seven years of experience in the media and fashion industries.
Her creative inspiration stems from her years raised in the United Arab Emirates and living in Malaysia.
But when she decided to return to Sudan in 2016, her career painted a complicated but optimistic picture.
“Sudan is a very interesting and a difficult nation to create in. Coming here, it was hard to find raw inspiration from the streets. With a very controlling regime, limited resources and a never-ending economic crisis, life was very dim and colors were nowhere in sight,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
This allowed her to come up with the name of her business, DAVU, which stands for ‘designing a visual utopia’.
It is a multi-disciplinary creative studio that fuses design, art, education and sustainability.
“I also wanted to contribute to the arts and culture scene of my country, which has fallen under the radar both locally in the commercial sphere and regionally across the continent,” she says.
She has worked on several projects with clients in Dubai, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Sudan to enhance their branding strategies.
DAVU Studio offers an array of creative services in the form of art and creative direction, concept development, branding, styling and most importantly, informal education through interactive, immersive and creative workshops.
Through this, she has had the opportunity to work with Sudanese visual artists and designers, and was commissioned by the Sudan Independent Film Festival to train costume designers, jewelry designers and filmmakers.
Being a creative on a mission to change the outlook of her country, she has also dedicated the remainder of her career to uplifting Sudan in the creative field and Africa as a frontier of the world’s art and culture. Osman believes with the recent revolution, the future looks bright as she hopes to create a Sudan chapter of the Fashion Revolution organization, designing a suitable gender-neutral, capsule fashion collection inspired by traditional Sudanese design aesthetics.
O’Plérou Grebet, 22, Ivory Coast
Graphic Designer, Digital Artist, Founder, Zouzoukwa
Industry: Creative Tech
Quiet, creative and impactful are pretty much the words that sum up O’Plérou Grebet, the Ivorian graphic designer on a mission to promote African cultures in modern and interactive ways.
He is the founder and creator of Zouzoukwa, an Android and iOS app which allows thousands of African people to communicate more clearly using stickers and emojis representing African culture.
He has created 365 free emojis that portray contemporary African life. These include three-legged pots, djembe drums, women dressed in ankaras, tuk-tuk vehicles, African masks, hair braids and shekere, a West African percussion instrument made with a dried gourd; all this self-taught watching YouTube videos.
After mastering the skill, he would post his creations on Instagram which soon gained momentum.
Using art, culture and technology, Grebet is sharing West African heritage to the world.
He has since featured in numerous publications, locally, and internationally, including the New York Times, CNN, NPR and Fast Company.
The app has been downloaded more than 100,000 times in less than a year.
“I am aware of the impact of social media, and I use it to allow people to embrace their culture through it. The most popular filter I made is Selflove 225, which adds a rotating text above the head of the user saying ‘ye dja’, which means ‘I slay’ in Ivorian slang,” Grebet tells FOBRES AFRICA.
The African Talents Awards named Zouzoukwa the best app of 2019.
Currently, the Ivorian has been using tech to create Instagram Augmented Reality filters.
“I hope to be one of the 2020 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 to inspire the African youth, and show that what we create has real impact. I also make connections with other Africans transforming our continent and see how we could work together,” the quiet creative says.
Asisat Oshoala, 25, Nigeria
In a 2017 photograph taken at the CAF Awards ceremony in Accra, Ghana, Asisat Oshoala, stands proudly as the only woman in the photo among some of the football greats: Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and countrymate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
She may not be one of the boys but she is surely in their league.
But growing football was the last thing for a young Nigerian woman to even think about pursuing.
As a result, Oshoala’s parents were not happy when she dropped out of school to pursue a career in the game.
But years later, it paid off as she has built a successful career and become a titan of Nigerian football.
On the pitch, with speed, technique and balance, Oshoala is definitely a keeper.
Recently, she won the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year for the fourth time.
“I am really excited, proud of myself; four times is something to always remember,” she told BBC Sport Africa.
“It [the win] keeps me going, but of course, there is still more work to do, I want to create my own history and not just equal someone else’s record. I’m going to give my best to create mine,” she said.
She plays for both the Nigerian national team and internationally, for the Spanish side FC Barcelona Femení in the Primera División as a forward.
Barcelona was to face Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which has now been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Scilla Owusu, 23, Ghana
Video Director, Producer, Screenwriter, and Founder of Youngtrepreneurs
What do Davido, Burna Boy, Sarkodie, Mr Eazi, Patoranking, Diamond Platnumz, Morgan Heritage, Wande Coal and Maleek Berry all have in common?
Apart from directing many of Africa’s top music hits, they can attribute the creative success of some of their videos to 23-year-old Ghanaian video director, Scilla Owusu.
It all started in the summer of 2015, after Owusu graduated from college with a business studies degree in London and she felt lost and did not know what her life’s purpose was.
Putting pen to paper, Scilla eventually found her passion in screenwriting which led her to launch her first six-part series titled A Lesson Learnt that she wrote and produced.
This led her to win an award at the Screen Nation Film & Television Awards in 2016.
Following this success, Owusu dove into the world of music video production at the age of 19.
“Being in such a male-dominated industry as a music video producer, especially a young black female video producer, felt like being black twice because I had to work twice as hard to prove I was worthy of being in the room, despite my great talents,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.
Within a year, Scilla’s drive led her to direct popular music videos such as Tomorrow by M.anifest featuring Burna Boy, Love coming down by Don EE featuring Davido and Odo Bi by Stonebwoy featuring Sarkodie.
Her love for the entertainment industry led her to launch her own social youth organization in Ghana called Youngtrepreneurs to help young Ghanaian creatives improve their business knowledge, gain work skills and provide career opportunities. Owusu has been featured by different media outlets including the BBC and OkayAfrica.
Nominations Open for FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 class of 2020
FORBES AFRICA is on the hunt for Africans under the age of 30, who are building brands, creating jobs and transforming the continent, to join our Under 30 community for 2020.
JOHANNESBURG, 07 January 2020: Attention entrepreneurs, creatives, sport stars and technology geeks — the 2020 FORBES AFRICA Under 30 nominations are now officially open.
The FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list is the most-anticipated list of game-changers on the continent and this year, we are on the hunt for 30 of Africa’s brightest achievers under the age of 30 spanning these categories: Business, Technology, Creatives and Sport.
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 Sho Madjozi, Bruce Diale, Karabo Poppy, Kwesta, Nomzamo Mbatha, Burna Boy, Nthabiseng Mosia, Busi Mkhumbuzi Pooe, Henrich Akomolafe, Davido, Yemi Alade, Vere Shaba, Nasty C and WizKid.
What’s different this year is that we have whittled down the list to just 30 finalists, making the competition stiff and the vetting process even more rigorous.
Says FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil: “The start of a new decade means the unraveling of fresh talent on the African continent. I can’t wait to see the potential billionaires who will land up on our desks. Our coveted sixth annual Under 30 list will herald some of the decade’s biggest names in business and life.”
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 applying or submitting your nomination.
NOMINATIONS AND APPLICATIONS CRITERIA:
Business and Technology categories
- Must be an entrepreneur/founder aged 29 or younger on 31 March 2020
- Should have a legitimate REGISTERED business on the continent
- Business/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 31 March 2020
- 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 31 March 2020
- 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 Names
- Company name/Team you are applying with
- A short motivation on why you should be on the list
- A short profile on self and company
- Links to published material / news clippings about nominee
- All social media handles
- Contact information
- High-res images of yourself
Applications and nominations must be sent via email to FORBES AFRICA journalist and curator of the list, Karen Mwendera, on [email protected]
Nominations close on 3 February 2020.
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