The resilience and risk-taking of African entrepreneurs has never been in doubt. Out of their resilience in the face of daunting situations have risen phenomenal businesses and the attendant successes. Forbes recently released its ’30 under 30 list‘, from which I’ve culled Forbes’ top 13 young tech entrepreneurs in West Africa you need to know.
1. Bamai Namata
Founder: Maibeta, Cameroon.
The 26year old Buea-based entrepreneur is the founder of the tech company Maibeta Inc, – a digital service platform that matches private and institutional customers to prescreened service professionals and technicians – for jobs in the maintenance, repair, and construction industry.
Growing up in the small town of Mundemba on the Cameroon-Nigeria border, it was there that he learned to sell products and build a client base from his mother, a petty trader.
2. Olaoluwa Samuel-Biyi
Founder: SureGifts, 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. He first considered using cryptocurrency when credit card firms and other established payment providers refused to partner with his global remittance company, deeming the venture too risky. Samuel-Biyi’s company, SureRemit, developed its own virtual token – a kind of custom cryptocurrency like bitcoin or one of the many alternatives. 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.
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3. Abraham Omani Quaye
Founder: Farmart, Ghana.
Agrocentry founder, Abraham Nii Omani Quaye, 28, an agro-business enthusiast, is on a mission in what his company believes will help build a system that should end poverty and hunger globally by starting in Africa. Their online farmers’ market, Farmart, is practically creating the necessary market for farmers to reduce significantly post-harvest losses and as final consumers, getting access to fresh foodstuffs at the click of a button. Quaye was motivated to not just be a farmer but a digital farmer and to help other farmers have access to a ready market, reduce post-harvest losses and increase their return on investments. Farmart won the 2017 Pitch AgriHack Africa award by Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation.
4. Ink Eze
Founder: Aso Ebi Bella, Nigeria.
28year old 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 but 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 and 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.
5. Mahmood Oyewo
Co-founder: RubiQube, Nigeria.
From an early age, Oyewo, now 26, 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.”
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.
6. Sunkanmi Ola
Founder: Syracuse Digital, Nigeria.
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.
The 26year old 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.
7. Kola Olajide
Co-founder: Bridge Labs, Nigeria.
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.
8. Kofi Genfi & Nii Osae Osae Dade
Founders: CYST Company Limited, Ghana.
This duo (both 24years old) made their way into the “Forbes’ top 13 young tech entrepreneurs in West Africa” list courtesy of their exploits with 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.
9. Obinna Okwodu, 27
Founder: Fibre, 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.
10. Maya Horgan Famodu
Founder: Ingressive, 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, 27, 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.
11. Timothy Adeyele
Founder: Optiweb Communications, Nigeria.
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 29year old 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.
12. Leonard Stiegeler
Co-founder: Zando, Jumia & Director: Ringier Africa AG, Nigeria.
Stiegeler, 29, 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.
13. Chris Kwekowe, 25, & Emerald Kwekowe, 21.
Founders: Slatecube, 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.
This “Forbes’ top 13 young tech entrepreneurs in West Africa” article was culled from the Forbes 30 Under 30 Africa list.
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