For small businesses and entrepreneurs around the world and across Africa, 2020 was a year filled with challenges and disruption. But throughout the global pandemic, entrepreneurs in Africa never lost sight of their mission to solve problems, turn challenges into opportunities, and help build a better future.
The ten finalists from the 2020 edition of the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition kept pushing forward to continue finding growth for their businesses and their communities. These 10 entrepreneur heroes overcame incredible obstacles to compete for their share of a US$1.5 million grant. They were chosen out of 22,000 applications across all 54 African nations and span industries such as agriculture, fashion, education, healthcare, renewable energy and financial services. The third edition of the ABH prize competition opened for applications on March 29 and will be open until June 2021.
The Africa’s Business Heroes from 2020 exemplify the phenomenal entrepreneurial talent from across the continent and are redefining what it means to be an entrepreneur. Here we meet these ten extraordinary entrepreneurs to hear their thoughts on entrepreneurship and words of advice to understand how they are leading their companies to survive and thrive in the long-term.
1. The Ecopreneur
Chebet Lesan, Founder & CEO, BrightGreen Energy (Kenya)
The first-place winner in Africa’s Business Heroes 2020 is Chebet Lesan, founder of BrightGreen Energy in Kenya, a company that is saving lives and protecting the planet with its energy-efficient biofuel blocks. Chebet is on a mission to revolutionize Africa’s kitchens and reducing the cost of cooking for underserved communities across Africa.
On Entrepreneurship – “We are proof of the potential a crisis offers entrepreneurs: Covid-19 showed us our untapped potential as a business. Like many other businesses, the pandemic was a wake-up call to improve our value for our customers, as well as identify gaps in our supply chain, that could be turned into profitable activities.”
Advice – “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. I truly feel that ABH is looking for those young Africans with a unique set of challenges that comes with being African. I’d encourage young entrepreneurs to use this platform to tell your story. There is great reward in discipline, and many brilliant businesses in this continent are yet to get their big break. I encourage every young business, if you have built a business, and it’s working the world needs to know.”
2. The Caretaker
Oluwasoga Oni, CEO & Co-Founder,Mdaas Global (Nigeria)
Oluwasoga Oni, founder of MDaaS Global healthcare in Nigeria, came in second place in the 2020 ABH competition. The MIT-trained system engineer saw the potential to improve the lives of billions of people by improving access to affordable, quality healthcare. MDaaS Global builds and operates modern, tech-enabled diagnostic centers in clinically underserved communities starting in Nigeria to provide a world-class patient experience at highly affordable prices.
On Entrepreneurship – “I think entrepreneurs across Africa have a very vital role to play in showing what is possible. Equally, governments have a responsibility to put in place policies that make it easier for innovators to provide solutions which improves the quality of people’s lives. What keeps me going is my commitment to improve healthcare for African everywhere and making sure that MDaaS’ impact is felt in many parts of the continent. I also want to build a system where upcoming health innovators have a strong foundation to keep building their dreams.”
Advice – “My advice to other entrepreneurs across Africa is to be resilient and more importantly, to develop the skills to tell their business story in a compelling manner to their customers, potential investors, and other stakeholders.
3. The Uplifter
Ethel Mupambwa, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Moneymart (Zimbabwe)
Ethel Mupambwa was the third-place winner of the ABH 2020 Competition. Her company, MoneyMart, is the leading digital micro-finance institute in Zimbabwe and is tackling poverty, making money and energy available to individuals and micro-enterprises.
On Entrepreneurship – “My definition of entrepreneurship is taking a bold step to take societal problems into one’s hands, determined to provide a sustainable solution while making a living out of it. I wanted a business that could help uplift women with their small projects – no matter how small, even something as a roadside vendor. I learned that everyone wins when women have equal access to economic opportunity and is financially empowered.”
Advice – “Africa has been groaning for African solutions that speak to Africa as resourceful as it is. The most significant opportunity that African entrepreneurs today have is digitalizing the continent to the tune of Africans. African entrepreneurs can value-add the resources at their disposal and digitally tap into other markets for exports.”
4. The Enabler
Aboubakar Karim, CEO & Founder, INVESTIV (Côte d’Ivoire)
Agro-economist Aboubakar Karim of Investiv Group, Côte d’Ivoire, is on a mission to transform agriculture through technology. Investiv’s mission is to help build the future of African agriculture by leveraging innovative technologies to support smallholder farmers throughout Côte d’Ivoire and West Africa.
On Entrepreneurship – “Entrepreneurship, especially in Africa, is linked to the impact we can have on our communities. There are many opportunities and many things to adapt or think about according to our realities. This is what pushed me to embrace a career as an entrepreneur. You can do a lot with little means.”
Advice – “The ABH judges gave us valuable advice which I am already applying. The advice was not general but really adapted to our business. In general, I encourage all African entrepreneurs to take this opportunity. Africa is certainly the continent of the future, but we have a lot to learn from the experience of those who are already African or even world champions and ABH is a great opportunity for that”
5. The Revolutioneer
Axel Emmanuel Gbaou, CEO & Founder, Le Chocolatier Ivorien(Côte d’Ivoire)
Banker turned award-winning chocolatier, Axel Emmanuel Gbaou of Le Chocolatier Ivorien is driving a cocoa revolution and helping rural women become ‘cocopreneuers’. Le Chocolatier Ivoirien manufactures and offers Africa-made, handcrafted and quality chocolate, promoting sustainable cultivation techniques and a fairer distribution of income through a direct partnership with female growers.
On Entrepreneurship – “The world is opening up to African entrepreneurs, and we should take advantage of this buoyant market. We have proven that Africans can innovate across all industries, and produce and manufacture quality goods – all we need are platforms like ABH to boost our enterprises, and grow our markets.”
Advice – “Entrepreneurs who have digital access should make use of the opportunities available to them, such as social media and digital platforms to promote their businesses. We used various e-commerce platforms to increase the visibility of our products, and this translated not only to sales, but a wider distribution network. A video of our products also went viral, leading to increased international visibility. The world is now more easily available to us.”
6. The (Re)-Inventor
Abdulai A Dasana, CEO & COO, Amaati Company Limited (Ghana)
Amaati is a social enterprise that is building sustainable communities through the use of an extinct and neglected crop called Fonio. Abdulai Dasana is helping to reinvent fonio, one of Africa’s ancient grains, as a sustainable source of nutrition and income in remote rural areas.
On Entrepreneurship – “As entrepreneurs we need to steer our minds to innovative ways to operate and to reach our customers in this new normal. We also need to develop partnerships to reach a wider market. I’ve learnt that it is important to focus on wining locally first before focusing on a global win. This refocus is starting to work positively for our business.”
Advice – “I will encourage everyone who wants to pursue entrepreneurship to focus on solving one problem at a time, and not being a jack of all trade. That way you can achieve a lot rather than trying to reach a lot more things at the same time with limited resources, time and personnel. Also, know that you cannot do everything by yourself so focus on getting the right team and partners you can work with to achieve your goals.”
7. The Educator
Cyrille Nkontchou, Founder & Chairman, Enko Education (Cameroon)
Cyrille Nkontchou of Enko Education in Cameroon is building a launchpad for African youth to access the world’s best universities with one of the largest networks of private schools in Africa.
On Entrepreneurship – “It is the art of charting your own path in translating business ideas into real life business ventures. It is a great time to be an entrepreneur in Africa. I see the biggest opportunities facing African entrepreneurs today on addressing the significant infrastructure gap, harnessing opportunities related to Africa’s strong demography and rapid urbanization, and finally, capitalizing on new technologies as medium to leapfrog and chart new ways of doing business.
Advice – “In every challenge lies opportunity, and the Covid-19 pandemic came as an unprecedented challenge to the education sector. Our business took an immediate hit and once we mastered the capability of delivering school remotely, we transformed this into an opportunity and are accelerating a hybrid model. I would encourage entrepreneurs to be flexible and nimble when new circumstances demand that you ‘reset the clock’.”
8. The Business Model Canvasser
A business model canvas is a template meant to concisely identify the main points of a business model in one simple diagram.
Dr Emma Naluyima Mugerwa, Founder, MST Junior School (Uganda)
Vet, farmer, educator and entrepreneur, Dr. Emma Naluyima Mugerwa established MST Junior School in Uganda as a practical solution to the problem of youth unemployment. MST Junior School has a unique learning model that aims to equip the pupils with skills to solve agriculture issues such as food insecurity, waste mismanagement and malnutrition.
On Entrepreneurship – “It’s the ability to look at a challenge in a community around you and think of ways to get rid of this challenge while raising an income. Our learners leave MST more skilled than when they arrived. We not only impact the lives of the learners but also those of their family members. Knowing that, at the end of the day, almost a whole community is impacted on positively.
Advice – “Finale judge Strive Masiyiwa taught me that any enterprise only needs three things: Know your market; be innovative and minimize losses. I also learned that team work is key in making a successful business, and I believe all entrepreneurs can benefit from this knowledge.”
9. The Life-Saver
Joan Rukundo Nalubega, CEO & Founder, Uganics (Uganda)
Malaria survivor and social entrepreneur Joan Rukundo Nalubega had a vision to fight malaria when she founded Uganics. Uganics’s organicsoap is saving lives and fighting malaria, one of Africa’s biggest killers.
On Entrepreneurship – “Entrepreneurship is more than starting a business. It is doing something beyond yourself with a willingness and openness to take risks.”
Advice – “During challenging times, I would advise that entrepreneurs look beyond their imaginations because there is always something that they can do different in their business that would help them adapt to the current situation and transform their businesses positively.”
10. The Artist
Mame Diarra Bousso Gueye, CEO & Founder, Diarrablu (Senegal)
Artist, fashion designer, mathematician and businesswoman Mame Diarra Bousso Gueye’s conscious lifestyle brand Diarrablu merges African traditions with technology, and artisans with algorithms.
On Entrepreneurship – “What keeps me going as an entrepreneur is the movement we are creating by what we do. It’s about an entire community across the world who often didn’t feel celebrated or included in the fashion industry. From our artisans in Senegal to our customers around the world in all shapes and sizes.”
Advice – “I recommend always starting your business with the why rather than the what. The what is easy and can help you get started, but the why is a lot deeper and is what will help you stay and push further when things get hard. The ABH 2021 competition allowed me to further dig into my why and helped strengthen my vision and mission with so much specificity and drive.”