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Entrepreneurship: New players emerge

Four Nigerians are leading the pack of a new generation of potential game-changer in Africa’s digital economy. They are among the top 10 finalists from across Africa that will compete for $1 million grant at the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative in Ghana, next month. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA writes that the inspiring stories of these entrepreneurs have caught the attention of African and global entrepreneurs and investors ready to assist them to build a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy for the continent. 

A Yodeji Arikawe, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for Thrive Agric, an agricultural technology-enabled company, is off to a good start.

Thrive Agric, which works with smallholder farmers to empower them with greater access to finance, as well as improve their income and harvest distribution, works with 22,000 farmers in the country.

Although the company has its eyes set on building the largest network of farmers in Africa, Arikawe, who is an accomplished software engineer, looks good to accomplish his mission to build an Africa that feeds the world and itself.

Arikawe’s emergence as one of the four lucky Nigerian netpreneurs for the grand finale of the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) scheduled to take place in Accra, Ghana, on November 16, this year, attests to this.

Spearheaded by the Jack Ma Foundation, the ANPI is a philanthropic initiative aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors, who are building a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future of the continent.

The Jack Ma Foundation will host a full-day Africa Netpreneur Summit, an invitation-only conference where African and global entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and leaders will convene to discuss how best to enable entrepreneurship and the digital economy across the continent.

Apart from Arikawe, three other Nigerians netpreneurs that will lead the pack of budding digital entrepreneurs at the summit include Founder and CEO, LifeBank, Temie Giwa-Tubosun; Founder, Black Swan, Dr. Tosan J. Mogbeyiteren; and Co-founder, DrugStoc, Chibuzo Opara.

The quartet, The Nation learnt, are among the 10 finalists representing a range of industries and experience; they were chosen from about 10, 000 applicants from 50 African countries to lead the way for Africa’s emerging digital economy.

Nigeria’s Giwa-Tubosun’s LifeBank is a medical distribution company that uses data and technology to help health workers discover critical medical products. The company is said to have saved over 5, 300 lives in Nigeria.

The Founder has over 10 years of health-management experience with the Department for International Development, the World Health Organisation, the United Nations Development Programme, and Lagos State.

In recognition of her pioneering work, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2014, listed her as one of the 100 women changing the world. She was also recognised by Quartz and the World Economic Forum.

On his part, Founder, Black Swan Tech Limited, Mogbeyiteren, is a public-health specialist with more than 13 years of experience in deploying technology to solve development challenges in Nigeria.

He is helping to solve Nigeria’s public-health challenges by deploying automated scheduling, GPS-enabled software-as-a-service that uses a combination of digital record keeping and community engagement to increase birth registration and early childhood immunizations.

Black Swan is working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Nigeria to expand WeMUNIZE coverage in northern Nigeria.

Also, DrugStoc, co-founded by Opara, is a cloud-based pharmaceutical IT and logistics platform focused on eliminating counterfeit drugs, expanding access to pharmaceutical products and improving transparency in pricing for healthcare providers and the product supply chain.

Opara is a health economist and medical doctor with over 12 years of experience in the health sector. He has worked with the World Health Organisation, the World Bank, and the International Finance Corporation.

While these four Nigerians are evidently leading the much-needed change in Africa’s digital economy landscape, they are joined by other finalists from across Africa including CEO, Mumm, Waleed Abd El Rahman (Egypt); Founder and CEO, J-Palm, Mahmud Johnson (Liberia); Co-founder and CEO, UZURI K&Y, Kevine Kagirimpundu (Rwanda).

Other new kids on the entrepreneur bloc are Founder, Water Access Rwanda, Christelle Kwizera  (Rwanda); Founder and CEO, Nawah-Scientific, Dr. Omar Sakr (Egypt); and Co-founder and CEO, Afrikrea, Moulaye Taboure (Cote D’Ivoire).

El Rahman’s Mumm is a virtual cafeteria for businesses, harnessing the power of shared economy through technology, cloud kitchens and an online marketplace for home-based entrepreneurial cooks.

El Rahman is a seasoned entrepreneur with more than 12 years’ experience in food tech. He is also the former founding managing director of MIT Technology Review-Middle East and a member of the Advisory Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.

J-Palm Liberia (JPL) was founded with the goal of making premium consumer goods while creating income-earning and employment opportunities through sustainable palm-oil production.

When JPL was first founded, palm oil kernels had been going to waste in Liberia, but Johnson found a way to innovate productive uses for this overlooked natural resource.

Today, JPL has created a range of beauty and clean-energy products, built a robust network of partnerships across the country, and helped to create jobs for hundreds of Liberians.

On its part, Kagirimpundu’s UZURI K&Y is an African-inspired eco-friendly shoe brand established in Rwanda. She is passionate about ending global waste while also leveraging her creativity to create employment opportunities for her community.

UZURI is said to have made a direct impact on more than 750 people through employment and skills training.

In addition to obtaining her degree in creative design, Kagirimpundu has participated in numerous entrepreneurship programs to enhance her skills in business development. In 2017, she was recognized as the winner of the Made in Rwanda Enterprise of the Year.

Kwizera, the Rwandan finalist, pioneered INUMA, a safe water micro-grid that reclaims broken boreholes and transforms them into state-of-the-art solar-powered water kiosks and pipelines.

The water is sold for $1/1000 liter and creates off-farm jobs for youth. Water Access Rwanda employs 68 people and allows 47,612 customers to access water daily across 86 stations.

Kwizera is a mechanical engineer and was named INCO’s woman entrepreneur of the year in 2019, among other high-profile awards.

The finalists were shortlisted after months of judging and deliberation. They will now go on to finally pitch their business during the Nov. 16 taping of “Africa’s Business Heroes,” a televised event scheduled to air Nov. 29 in countries across Africa.

Just how much of the $1 million prize pool they will receive will depend on four judges: Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma, Econet Group Founder and Executive Chairman Strive Masiyiwa.

Others are FirstBank of Nigeria Chairman and The Chair Centre Group founder Ibukun Awosika and Alibaba Group Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai.

Guest speakers at the conference will include Ban Ki-moon, Former UN Secretary-General6 and Co-chair of the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens. The conference will be followed by the “Africa’s Business Heroes” event in the evening.

Jack Ma said: “We launched the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative to identify top entrepreneurs from across the continent, not only to reward them but to inspire a whole new generation of potential game-changers for Africa.

“I have been inspired by the entrepreneurs I met in Africa, many of whom are dealing with the same challenges we faced when we started Alibaba years ago. I truly believe the potential of Africa’s business heroes is limitless.”

Ma, in a statement made available to The Nation, said the “Africa’s Business Heroes” will air on November 29, while highlights from the Africa Netpreneur Summit will also be shared via ANPI social media handles.

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