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Inspiring a new generation of African entrepreneurs

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative launched by the Jack Ma Foundation will award $10 million to 100 African entrepreneurs over thee next 10 years. The foundation is an initiative of founder of Alibaba Group Mr. Jack Ma. Its aim is to support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs. The first 10 budding entrepreneurs, who won this year’s share of the $1 million prize, were announced at the Africa’s Business Heroes Show, with four Nigerian entrepreneurs leading the pack. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA, just back from the inaugural Africa Netpreneur Summit in Accra, Ghana, reports.

It took his first trip to Africa in July 2017 to get inspired by the energy and entrepreneurial potential of the young people he met. During the visit, Chinese business mogul and founder of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, Mr. Jack Ma, immediately committed to inspiring, training and supporting entrepreneurs in Africa.

Ma’s plan was to help build inclusive business models that can create jobs and economic opportunities for the continent. “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,” he said.

To demonstrate his unflinching commitment to driving Africa’s transition to a digital economy, he announced the establishment of the Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI), 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 ANPI is spearheaded by the Jack Ma Foundation. “We launched the ANPI 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,” Ma, who is also the founder of the foundation, explained.

Under the initiative, the foundation set aside  $10 million grant to be awarded to 100 entrepreneurs over the next 10 years. In other words, the ANPI will award $1 million each year. This will be done at an annual pitch competition where the top 10 finalists will compete to win their share of the prize money.

The prize is open to entrepreneurs from all industries. But Ma especially encouraged those running small businesses, those making a difference in their local communities and female entrepreneurs to apply. And the response  across Africa including Nigeria was encouraging. Nearly 10,000 applicants from 50 African countries threw their hats into the ring.

After months of judging and deliberation, a diverse group of 10 finalists, representing a range of industries and experience, was chosen to lead the way for Africa’s emerging digital economy. The 10 lucky finalists, four of whom are Nigerians, had pitched their business directly to four judges during the Africa’s Business Heroes Show held at the Accra International Convention Centre (AICC), Ghana, on November 16.

The Africa’s Business Heroes Show was the highpoint of the inaugural Africa Netpreneur Summit hosted by the Jack Ma Foundation. It was a platform where African and global entrepreneurs, investors, educators, and leaders  discussed how best to enable entrepreneurship and the digital economy across the continent.

Nigerian entrepreneurs lead the pack

Among the top 10 finalists Nigerian budding entrepreneur Temie Giwa-Tubosun emerged the overall winner of the Africa netpreneur prize.

Giwa-Tubosun, who is the founder and CEO, LifeBank, a medical distribution company, smiled home with $250,000, the highest share of the $1 million prize pool. Her LifeBank uses data and technology to deliver blood and other critical medical supplies to hospitals. The company has saved over 5,300 lives in Nigeria.

She 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 Government.

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.

The $250,000 prize money was a shot in Giwa-Tubosun’s arm. Hear her: “The Africa Netpreneur Prize will give me the resources to grow LifeBank and expand our presence in Nigeria and throughout the rest of Africa. I look forward to continuing my journey to solve problems and make a significant impact on the future of Africa.”

The burgeoning entrepreneur whose innovative and pioneering work at LifeBank clearly swayed the four judges to her favour said, “It was an incredible honour to be named Africa’s Business Hero. I was truly inspired by my fellow winners at today’s Netpreneur Summit.”

The four judges who could not resist Giwa-Tubosun’s compelling pitch included FirstBank of Nigeria Chairman and The Chair Centre Group founder Ibukun Awosika, Econet Group founder and Executive Chairman Strive Masiyiwa, Alibaba Group Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai, and Ma.

The judges also declared the founder and CEO, of Nawah-Scientific, Dr. Omar Sakr, from Egypt, second place winner, and he was rewarded with $150,000. The third place position went to founder, Water Access Rwanda, Christelle Kwizera, from Rwanda. She got $100,000.

The remaining seven finalists each received $65,000. Three of the seven finalists were Nigerians —co-founder, Thrive Agric, Ayodeji Arikawe; founder, Black Swan, Dr. Tosan J. Mogbeyiteren; and co-founder, DrugStoc, Chibuzo Opara.

The four Nigerian entrepreneurs (including Giwa-Tubosun) are now calling the shot in the African entrepreneurial space by leveraging on the Jack Ma Foundation’s philanthropy.

For instance, Arikawe’s Thrive Agric, an agricultural technology-enabled company, empowers smallholder farmers with greater access to finance, as well as improves their income and harvest distribution.

Today, Thrive Agric works with 22,000 farmers in Nigeria. Although the company has its eyes on building the largest network of farmers in Africa, Arikawe, who is a software engineer, said his mission was to build an Africa that feeds the world and itself.

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

He is helping to solve Nigeria’s public-health challenges by deploying an 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 immunisations.

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 health-care 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 Nigerian entrepreneurs may have undoubtedly taken the continent’s entrepreneurial landscape by storm, other entrepreneurs from across Africa are also pushing.

Other finalists who emerged from other African countries at the Africa’s Business Heroes Show included CEO, Mumm, Waleed Abd El Rahman (Egypt); Founder and CEO, J-Palm, Mahmud Johnson (Liberia); Co-founder and CEO, UZURI K&Y, Kevine Kagirim-pundu (Rwanda); and Co-founder and CEO, Afrikrea, Moulaye Taboure (Cote D’Ivoire).

Explaining the criteria for the selection of the top three winners, which include Giwa-Tubosun, the overall winner, Ma said the judges, during the pitch, looked for “A business model that is simple, profitable and sustainable.”

He said the finalists who competed in Africa’s Business Heroes should be an inspiration for Africa and for the world.

“Each of these entrepreneurs looked at big challenges facing their communities, and saw them as opportunities,” Ma said.

He expressed strong belief that entrepreneur heroes, like these finalists, will change the world – creating companies that drive inclusive growth and opportunity for the continent. “Everyone is a winner tonight,” Ma maintained.

For Masiyiwa, “This competition demonstrates the overwhelming entrepreneurial talent that exists across Africa. I’m very excited about the future of industry and entrepreneurship for this continent. The top 10 truly show the limitless potential of African business.”

On her part, Awosika said: “What really struck me about the finalists was that they each addressed specific African problems with a specific African solution in a fresh way, leveraging technology that wasn’t available previously.
“If this is an indication of the future of entrepreneurship on the continent, then Africa’s future looks bright.”

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