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Businesses Of The Future: 20 New Wealth Creators On The African Continent

Karen Mwendera



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Sector: HR innovations
Ngozi Adebiyi, 44, Nigeria
Founder, CEO and Lead Consultant: OutsideIn HR

Ngozi Adebiyi, Founder, CEO and Lead Consultant of OutsideIn HR. Picture: Supplied

Ngozi Adebiyi is a human resource (HR) manager-turned-entrepreneur.

Surprised by the lack of innovative processes within the HR sector, Adebiyi took it upon herself to provide an innovative service to companies through gaming and business simulations.

Adebiyi grew up in the Delta State of Nigeria, an area known for oil and agriculture.

She has worked in the HR sector for over 13 years, with companies such as Walmart in the US and Diageo group in Nigeria. However, her life in HR was not as fulfilling as she thought.

In 2011, she decided to freelance while looking for greener pastures.

“People that I had worked with starting asking me, ‘oh, come and help us with this, come and help us with that’, so I usually say that I became an accidental entrepreneur,” she says.

Clients would ask her for her company name, regardless of the fact that she was freelancing.

This prompted Adebiyi to start OutsideIn HR.

“I didn’t know it at the time but I was doing HR from the outside in,” she says.

In December 2012, she set up her company, without any investments.

She first targeted the oil and gas industry, a sector she knew little about.

“It was hard, I must say… at the time, at least twice, I thought I was going to go back [to being an employee]. I thought it was too hard and I just wasn’t cut out to do this,” she says.

However, she persevered.

OutsideIn HR offered talent management services, consulting and coaching and training services to clients.

But something was still amiss.

“You could see that some of the participants were kind of distracted,” she says.

Some participants would leave the room, or take calls during the training sessions.

Adebiyi then started researching for ways to make her service more interactive and innovative.

In 2016, she decided to partner with CELEMI, a solution provider, for innovative answers to her challenges.

OutsideIn HR is now offering HR and business simulation programs catered to each client.

Each simulation is a game, or challenge, that the participants have to solve, and they can do it even from their mobile phones.

Adebiyi relates it to being as interactive as playing Candy Crush, a mobile app-based game.

“We are building skills for the future,” Adebiyi says.

Her company has worked with government, parastatals and companies. Currently, Adebiyi employs 10 people and plans to grow the business.

Her goal is to revolutionize HR in Nigeria by providing innovative services.

Sector: Digital pharmacies
Vivian Nwakah, 36, Nigeria
Founder and CEO: Medsaf

Vivian Nwakah, Founder and CEO of Medsaf. Picture: Supplied

Ngozi Adebiyi is a human resource (HR) manager-turned-entrepreneur.

Surprised by the lack of innovative processes

Five years ago, Vivian Nwakah lost a friend who died as a result of taking fake medication as well as a lack of adequate healthcare services.

Since then, Nwakah has dedicated her life to solving healthcare problems in Nigeria.

Born and raised in Chicago, Nwakah’s parents migrated to the US in the 1970s and did not return.

She pursued her studies in psychology and sociology at the University of Illinois, and then started her first business, Comet Home Healthcare, a home healthcare service.

In 2012, she enrolled at the Georgia State University – J. Mack Robinson College of Business to pursue an MBA in International Business.

During her studies, she traveled to Nigeria, for the first time in her life, to fulfil her internship requirements for three months, learning about the healthcare systems in the country.

Little did she know those three months would be extended to a lifetime.

“When I got to Nigeria, that’s when my eyes opened up to the different opportunities and problems that deserved solutions here and I have, actually, been here since,” she says.

While she pursued her internship, she learned a great deal.

“I felt that excitement of just the ability to potentially do something really big, and just making an impact,” she said.

Nwakah’s entrepreneurial side was calling.

She first worked in an oil and gas company to create renewable energy for a company called GreenTech in 2014.

However, a few months into working there, she received the devastating news that her friend had died as a result of consuming counterfeit drugs. 

“He died from taking a fake malaria pill but he also died in a horrible way, in that he went to one hospital and they gave him more malaria pills, and then went to another and they pumped his stomach with something that made his liver fail.

“They took him to other hospitals after that but his health did not improve,” she says.

“At the end of the day, he died in the back of a car.

“That was so shocking and eye-opening to me that the healthcare industry in Nigeria had very serious issues. And in the story of his death, you see many different problems with the healthcare system.”

Meanwhile, Nwakah started facing challenges with her own health.

She had a surgery in the US and while she was living in Nigeria, had trouble finding the medication she needed for her care.

“I had experiences where I felt that something was wrong with the medication I was receiving in Nigeria and then I started to talk to people and almost everyone I met had a similar story,” she says.

“In Nigeria, you could be young and then die and no one would bat an eye because it happens so often and there is no answer for it.”

Nwakah had seen a gap and wanted to be part of the solution.

After three years of research and planning, she founded Medsaf in January 2017.

It is a digital medication supply chain management solution, linking hospitals and medication manufacturers from all over the world through a “pay as you go” system.

Through the technology platform, she disrupted the pharmaceutical industry by creating a transparent, affordable and safe manufacturing method to get direct medication to hospitals and pharmacies across Nigeria.

According to Nwakah, more than 400 hospitals and pharmacies signed up to use the platform and app when they launched, allowing stakeholders to see drug information, tracking and tracing details on a smartphone.

Medsaf also gives hospitals and pharmacies a ‘credit score’ based on indicators such as repayment history, insurance data and patient feedback.

They make profit from medication sold through the platforms as well as through inventory management and data subscription services.

The company currently employs 13 individuals who are mostly pharmacists.

They have raised $1.4 million to date and are looking to expand to other countries.

Medsaf won the Nigeria round of Seedstars Lagos in 2017 and also won the Greatest Social Impact award of the Global SME Awards at the ITU Telecom Awards 2017 in South Korea.

“A new wealth creator is using innovative and disruptive ideas to improve on existing ways of life or ways of business in emerging markets and opening the people’s minds to doing things differently and creating jobs and opportunities that didn’t exist before because of their innovative thinking,” Nwakah tells FORBES WOMAN AFRICA. 

Sector: Drone technology
Dale McErlean, 32, South Africa
Co-founder and Director: NTSU Aviation Solutions and AfricaUSC

Dale McErlean, Co-founder and Director of NTSU Aviation Solutions and AfricaUSC. Picture: Supplied

Dale McErlean was born with aviation in her blood. She is the holder of a frozen Airline Transport Pilot License, with 2,000 hours on a fixed-wing twin turbine aircraft.

However, she spread her wings beyond aviation and ventured into entrepreneurship.

McErlean was born and raised in the East Rand of Johannesburg, an area that’s home to Africa’s busiest airport, OR Tambo International Airport.

“I had always been an academic so when I said I wanted to be a pilot, my dad said, ‘well, you can be a pilot but you need an education behind you as well’,” she says.

Fulfilling her father’s wishes, she graduated with a BCom degree, specializing in Aviation Management from the University of Pretoria in 2008 with a cum laude.

She worked as ground crew at Virgin Atlantic Airways at OR Tambo International and Cape Town International Airport for five years.

In the meantime, she was completing her degree and pilot’s license to pursue her dream to fly.

She flew the Cessna Caravan, King Air 200 and Beechcraft 1900 for four years and furthered her aviation career in 2014, joining the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA).

It was here that McErlean first got involved with Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones.

She was responsible for the accreditation of RPAS operators and issuing of operator certificates, at the forefront of new regulations within the drone industry in South Africa.

“I started thinking ‘I’ve got all this knowledge but as a regulator at the SACAA, I’m not actually allowed to use it to develop the industry because as a regulator, you are not there to promote and develop’,” she says.

McErlean wanted to contribute to the industry in a different way.

“So I started thinking about going at it on my own and people asked me ‘so what are you going to do?’, and I was like ‘I’m just going to wing it’,” she says.

McErlean found herself starting her own company with her now co-founder, Sam Twala, who had also previously worked for SACAA.

At the end of 2017, McErlean resigned and the following year, in 2018, they officially started NTSU Aviation Solutions, an aviation company offering specialized services to the unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry.

The name NTSU was inspired by the seSotho word ntsu, which means eagle.

They do compliance for operators in civil aviation and help existing operators amend their current operations manual and specifications to do more complex projects.

McErlean says they have worked with 10 to 12 companies on a monthly basis, and have worked with companies in mining, as well as protection services.

One of the most complex projects she has worked on involved security surveillance using drones in Cape Town, just 3km away from the airport. “We do security surveillance at night, this is flying drones at night beyond visual line of sight,” she says.

The drones were instrumental in the arrests of 25 criminals.

“We coordinate with the ground team and we can then loiter overhead, or follow the criminals to wherever they go and then apprehend them,” she says.

This led to McErlean winning an award as one of 10 Women to Watch in UAS in Las Vegas for 2018, making her the only woman from Africa to win.

“The largest use of drones is going to be on the African continent due to our minerals, due to rain, and due to our geography,” McErlean says.

Because of the opportunities drones offer on the continent, McErlean and Twala also founded a second company called AfricaUSC that educates and trains new and existing RPAS operators.

McErlean says they are also working their way up the African continent, helping other countries implement regulations to fly drones.

For McErlean, being a new wealth creator is about development, job creation and sustainability.

“With the use of technology now, you want to use what’s available to make things better and create wealth,” she says.

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