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Jonathan Gray: shaping investment opportunities for the Middle East

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Jonathan Gray

Jonathan Gray is currently heading several businesses within various industries through ventures such as Beauchamp Estates France, JG Events and First Idea Ltd.

A bona fide entrepreneur

Jonathan Gray’s business life started early in 1997 at the age of 16 after a chance encounter with a Buena Vista International executive during the Cannes Film festival. A few years on he would create several companies within various industries. Most notably in his early career stands JG events, a successful international event company specialising in luxury private and corporate events in the South of France.

A few years later, in 2004, he participated to the launch of the exclusive global concierge company Quintessentially, which he spearheaded from 2005 and sold in 2009.

Simultaneously, he launched his own estate agency in 2005 and then closed a business opportunity in 2007 with powerhouse London broker Beauchamp Estates, a main player in the premium property market focusing on a select range of exclusive quality properties. Together they launched the exclusive French branch of Beauchamp Estates in Cannes. Within six years, Beauchamp Estates France multiplied its turnover fivefold.

First Idea, a firm specialized in the Middle East region

With his track record and after having developed a strong and influent network of ultra high net worth individuals, Jonathan Gray decided to transition towards more personal passions such as strategic and investment consultancy.

Thus was born the strategic consulting firm First Idea Ltd. First Idea was the opportunity for Jonathan to develop the concept he had in mind. First Idea selects investment opportunities aligned with the principles of the positive economy by focusing efforts in identifying corporate or institutional entities willing to address societal and economic change.

Far from being a run of the mill investment boutique, First Idea strives to be both a laboratory of positive ideas for clients and an aggregator of talents, aiming to design new levers of economic, social, societal and cultural developments and respond to the challenges of tomorrow’s world through creative, innovative and bespoke solutions.

More concretely, First Idea is a firm specialized in the Middle East region. It assists its clients in reshaping the economy for a post-oil order through the deployment and implementation of hallmark Vision 2030 programs developed in most Gulf countries. Within this frame, First Idea raises awareness about the giant and numerous investment opportunities such national plans offer to worldwide business leaders & companies, with a special focus on French business circles.

First idea’s efforts focus on positive sectors. Indeed, Jonathan Gray is an idea man, devising solutions (ideas, innovation or policies) to positively impact the Gulf’s economy and society as a whole by creating sustainable foundations for flourishing and innovative ecosystems.

Therefore, First Idea aims at facilitating Vision 2030’s successes, at helping answer Middle East’s most critical challenges, with a strong focus on Food security & safety (Agritech), Water security (Watertech), Green construction, Carbon sinks, Carbon valuation, EcoTourism.

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First Female Head of UN Economic Commission for Africa: Vera Songwe

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Announced in April by UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, Dr. Vera Songwe has become the first woman ever to head the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Headquartered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UNECA is one of the UN’s five regional commissions, and was established in 1958 to encourage economic cooperation among the nations of the African continent. A prestigious position by itself, Songwe has also acquired the rank of Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations.  

Beating more than 70 candidates for the role, Songwe, aged 48, takes over the reins of the organization at a critical time, following the departure of Dr. Carlos Lopes of Guinea-Bissau, who stepped down from the organization in September, last year. Labelled as one of 25 African’s ‘to follow,’ by the Financial Times in 2015, the UN reported that her longstanding track record of policy advice and results orientated implementation in the region, as well as, her demonstrated strong and clear strategic vision for the continent, is what lead to the decision.

Track Record in Economics

Before her appointment, Songwe was serving as the International Finance Corporation’s Regional Director, covering West and Central Africa. Between 2012 and 2015 she was the World Bank’s Country Director for Senegal, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania. Before that, she held the post of Advisor to the Managing Director of the World Bank for Africa, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia. She is also currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Global Development African Growth Initiative, since 2011.

Starting her professional journey as a Young Professional at the World Bank in 1998, Songwe worked in the Middle East and North Africa region covering Morocco and Tunisia in the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management unit (PREM). Later she joined the East Asia and Pacific region PREM unit where she held several roles, such as, Regional PRSP Coordinator, Country Sector Coordinator and Senior Economist for the Philippines. She has also worked in Mongolia and Cambodia for the World Bank.

Born in 1968, Songwe earned a PhD in Mathematical Economics at the Center for Operations Research and Econometrics, as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Economics, and a Diploma of Profound Studies in Economic Sciences and Politics, from the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium. She also has a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Michigan in the United States. Songwe has also published several papers on governance, fiscal policy, agriculture and commodity price volatility, and trade and new financial infrastructure.

In the Shadow of Lopes

With the departure of the charismatic, and sometimes combative, Carlos Lopes, Songwe arrives in an institution where her predecessor has left a large imprint. Joining the organization in 2012, Lopes has been credited with reshaping UNECA and raising it out of obscurity on the continent. According to The East African news outlet, Lopes championed the need for improved data and statistics for informed decision making. He was the first to call for debt cancellation for the Ebola-effected countries in Africa, and led a team to demonstrate the economic impact projections on Africa were highly exaggerated and part of a negative narrative. During his resignation, Lopes was also praised by colleagues for taking the relationship between the organization, its partners and member states, to a higher level, for beautifying the UNECA compound, leading UNECA to host big conferences impacting on Africa’s development and empowering employees and ensuring gender parity in the organization.

Songwe’s Vision

However, Songwe is not without her own talents and tenacity. With some 20 years at the World Bank, Songwe’s new duties of advising African governments on their development projects will be well within her grasp. Described by her colleagues as a hardworking and competent leader, she is on the selection committee for the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an annual program of training, funding and mentoring for the next generation of African entrepreneurs and the influential African Leadership Network. According to RFI, as the new Executive Secretary for UNECA, Songwe will give priority to innovative financing, agriculture, energy, and economic governance.

 

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Mark Shuttleworth: Africa’s first dot com millionaire

Comments (0) Africa, Leaders

With a net worth of $500 million, a trip to space, three successful businesses and a not-for-profit under his belt, it is not surprising that South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth is an inspiration to many in a country still emerging from apartheid, and still plagued by rampant poverty and corruption.

The Emergence of Thawte

Shuttleworth’s success story stared in 1995, whilst still a student at the University of Cape Town, Shuttleworth created Thawte, a consulting firm that became a world provider of digital certification, a trusted third party that could be used to create secure connections to a server via the internet. According to AFKInsider, it was the first ever full-security encrypted ecommerce web server commercially available outside of the United States. Shuttleworth sold the firm in 1999 to US based company VeriSign, who at that point owned 50 percent of the market, the other 50 percent belonging to Thawte. VeriSign bought the company for $575 million when Shuttleworth was only 26 years old.

With the profits from the sale of Thawte, Shuttleworth could easily have retired. Instead he used his capital to help other South African’s find their potential. In the year 2000, Shuttleworth created HBD Venture Capital, a company which invests in local South African businesses with international potential and in 2001, The Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-for-profit that aims to improve access to, and quality of, South African education. Shuttleworth was still looking for new challenges, however, and began to embark on the long journey that would lead him to being a space tourist.

Shuttleworth Becomes the First African in Space

In 2002 Shuttleworth became the first African ever to travel to space and the second private citizen ever to self-fund a trip to space. At a personal cost of $20 million, Shuttleworth bought a seat on a Russian spacecraft and began training. He trained for nearly a year, seven months of which were spent at Russia’s Star City, at the Yuri A Gagarin State Scientific Research and Testing Cosmonaut Training Center. He became part of the Russian Soyuz TM-34 crew and visited the International Space Station (ISS). Shuttleworth spent eight days aboard the ISS where he conducted scientific experiments for South Africa. He returned to Earth on May 5th, 2002, but his incredible feats don’t stop there.

After returning from space, Shuttleworth founded yet another company, the Ubuntu project, a computer operating system that would be completely free. Based on a version of the Linux computer operating system that is open source, Ubuntu, roughly translates to ‘human-ness’ in the South African Nguni Bantu language. It also means ‘I am what I am because of who we all are,’ which works with Shuttleworth’s idea that the software could be edited and improved upon and shared for free. Without heavy licensing fees, Ubuntu could reach a wider audience and be shared by people who could not afford other operating systems. However not every move Shuttleworth has made has been supported by the people of South Africa.

Shuttleworth in Court over Exit Charge Levy

In 2009 Shuttleworth decided to leave his home in South Africa and move to the Isle of Man. In doing so, he also decided to move approximately $177 million in capital from South Africa with him. The South African Reserve Bank, however, charged him a $17.7 million exit fee that would need to be paid in order to release the businessman’s assets. He paid the exit charge, but then sought to recoup the levy. Shuttleworth argued the government’s position around foreign exchange controls constrained small business and sought to have the exit fee returned, with interest.

According to ITWeb, the legal battle was taken to the Supreme Court, which initially Shuttleworth won and the Reserve Bank was ordered to repay the levy amount with interest. However, the Constitutional Court, the highest in South Africa, overturned the Supreme Court as they found the exit charge was in place to regulate conduct, not to raise revenue and the ruling was overturned.

The Reserve Bank did not have to repay Shuttleworth the exit charge with interest and he was repaid nothing.

Although the move out of South Africa may have soured his relationship with his country a little, Shuttleworth continues to be an inspiration for young South African entrepreneurs. He now has dual citizenship with the UK and South Africa and continues to run Ubuntu and Canonical. Never resting for long, it will be with great interest to see what the future holds for Africa’s first dot com millionaire.

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Andrew Mupuya is an award winning entrepreneur, and he’s not yet 25

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

When Forbes magazine lists you as one of the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa then you must be doing something right. In the case of Andrew Mupuya, he was named one of Forbes’ “30 under 30” in both 2013 and 2016. The list highlights entrepreneurs under the age of 30 who are on the way to achieving great things within their chosen industries. Remarkably, Mupuya has been in business for 8 years, and yet is still only 24 years old!

From humble beginnings

Andrew Mupuya was born, in the Manafwa district of eastern Uganda, to a large, extended family with very little income. Mupuya’s family struggled to buy clothes for him and his siblings, and he was only able to get an early education due to the help of government grants.

Such a background does not provide the greatest opportunity for entering the business world, but the struggles that Mupuya experienced helped foster a work ethic and determination that has held him in good stead.

In 2008, everything changed, and it was a combination of bad luck in his family and new government legislation that paved the way for Mupuya’s business. Both of Mupuya’s parents lost their jobs, making their financial situation precarious once more, and at only 16, Andrew realized that he needed to help ease their burden. At the same time, the Ugandan government banned the use of plastic bags due to environmental damage that they were causing, and within this moment the young entrepreneur saw an opening.

Remembering the initial process, Mupuya says, “”I conducted a feasibility study, market research around retail shops, kiosks, supermarkets around Kampala and discovered there is need and potential market for paper bags.”

Mupuya worked out that he needed around $14 to start a small enterprise, producing paper bags, so he collected 70 kilos of plastic bottles which he sold to a recycling plant for $11, and he then borrowed the remaining $3 from his school teacher. His company was named, YELI (Youth Entrepreneurial Link Investments) Paper Bags, and it has gone from strength to strength.

Award-winning success

Not only was the company successful in a short period of time, but it was the first registered company in Uganda for the production of paper bags. By 2012, and still only 21 years old, Mupuya had been put forward for the prestigious Anzisha prize for young entrepreneurs in Africa. Against stiff competition, Mupuya won the award, and with it, $30,000 that he immediately put into developing the company.

Although he is still only 24, Mupuya has twice made Forbes magazine’s list of 30 African entrepreneurs below the age of 30 to watch out for. YELI paper bags currently produces around 20,000 paper bags per week, and employs 16 people in Uganda. Since he began his business, Mupuya has overseen production that exceeds 5.6 million bags, which have been sold both locally, to neighboring nations like Kenya, and as far afield as the U.S and Norway.

Andrew Mupuya is clearly buoyed by the recognition he has had saying, “The awards I have won give me courage to push on with my business.”

What should please Ugandans is that not only does this young man want to create more opportunities within his home country, but he is looking to do so with a company that can benefit the whole continent.

Mupuya explains that he has much grander plans for YELI, stating, “My vision is to have a cleaner Africa by eradicating use of plastic bags…I dream of having a big plant where I am able to supply paper bags all over Africa…so I believe this is just the start.”

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Why Forbes thinks Isaac Oboth is one of Africa’s finest young entrepreneurs

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It seems that these days Africa is bursting at the seams with young innovators. 26-year- old Ugandan Isaac Oboth is a fantastic example of one such individual. The young man is the founder and CEO of Media 256 Ltd, one of East Africa’s fastest emerging film and television production companies. Oboth has scooped coveted awards and been recognized as one of Africa’s hottest emerging entrepreneurs. It is peculiar that many highly successful individuals have often suffered tragedy during their childhoods. Perhaps by enduring such hardships they develop uncommon tenacity and fortitude. In Oboths case, by the time he was seven years old, both of his parents had passed away. The young orphan was taken into care by his older brother Ivan, who worked hard to provide for him.

An entrepreneurial spirit

When Isaac was 16 and still attending school, his brother lost his job. Isaac said “It was a pivotal point for me, Ivan was my sole provider," Ivan could no longer afford to send Isaac to school, and asked his younger brother to start earning money. However, Isaac wasn’t going to let his education slip away easily. In his first foray into entrepreneurialism, he started making rock cakes, a fruity snack which he sold to finance his schooling. Isaac quickly devised other methods of making money. He sold photo DVD albums as well as and drinks at rugby games.

The genesis of a media master

The seeds of his current business were born because of his high school prom. He wanted a way to commemorate the special event, so he decided to produce an alumni album. However, cost was a major concern, as printing costs were astronomically expensive so Isaac decided to produce a digital album which was much more affordable. At the time, Isaac didn’t have the skills to produce the album by himself, so he hired a contractor to film photograph and edit.

Isaac was disappointed with the final product. He felt the editing was shoddy and that the photography was second rate. Despite the lack of quality, the album was popular and sold out. He realized that if poor quality media products still sold, that top quality work would be highly sought after. That’s when he resolved to go into the multimedia business. He spent countless hours learning about filming and editing by watching videos at a local internet café. He rented equipment, and after tirelessly promoting his material and searching for work, he managed to land a contract to produce a short film for the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange. The film was a success, and Isaac earned enough money to buy his own equipment.

Heavyweight clients and serious recognition

His business then grew in leaps and bounds. He offered his services for free to Coca Cola who were so impressed with his work that they signed him up for future productions. Isaac has since gone on to produce great work for the likes of the African Leadership Academy, USAID, the UNDP and the Mara Foundation. One of the companies most recognized project’s is a ten part series called Discover Uganda which aired in multiple African countries before its success saw it picked up by The Africa Channel, a US cable outlet. Today, Media 256 is a profitable fully fledged business. The team currently consists of 7 full-time videographers and editors as well as support staff, and Isaac intends to keep on growing. Forbes magazine has recognized Isaac’s significant achievements, listing him as one of Africa’s 30 most promising young entrepreneurs. He was also the recipient of the much coveted Anzisha Prize, which also awards the best young talent on the continent.

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Stephen Saad : Entrepreneur of the Year at the All Africa Business Leaders Awards

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Stephen Saad was announced as the latest winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the annual All Africa Business Leaders Awards ceremony, which was held this year in Johannesburg. Saad’s success within the pharmaceutical industry is long-standing, but the massive growth he has achieved with his company, Aspen, in the past year saw his success recognized by one of Africa’s most prestigious business awards.

Over 2 decades of success and no slowing down

Saad turned 52 this year, and the Durban born businessman could have been content with a highly successful career well before he made the moves that established him as one of Africa’s top 20 richest people. After graduating from the University of Natal with a BA in Commerce, Saad began working within pharmaceuticals for Quickmed. Quickmed stand out within South Africa’s recent history for being a company that offered prescription medicines within black townships during the nation’s appalling apartheid regime.

Saad quickly moved upward, and by the age of 29 he had sold a share in another company, Covan Zurich, for $3 million making of him a millionaire. However despite this success nothing has dampened his enthusiasm for innovation within the industry, and in 1997 Saad set up his company Aspen Pharmacare (changed to Aspen in 1999) with co-founder Gus Attridge.

Back in 1999, Saad told an interviewer that he planned to utilize local skillsets to grow his company and enter first world markets, saying “I’m talking about people, contacts, research, development, manufacturing processes etc, which we have in South Africa… we’re going to be manufacturing from South Africa for First World markets offshore.”

As good as his word, Saad kept Aspen’s manufacturing hub within South Africa, and aside from creating jobs for his home country, he has turned Aspen into the world’s 6th largest producer of generic pharmaceuticals. Aspen now provides medicines in 150 different countries, and Saad has an estimated personal fortune of $1.27 billion. Accepting his entrepreneurial award, Mr. Saad gave a speech that reflected exactly the ethos he had laid out 17 years ago, enthusing “We are a company with roots in South Africa and manufacturing in South Africa. We’ve grown our local talent to become a world player and Aspen is just a wonderful South African story.”

Only the beginning

Despite the huge success that Saad and Aspen have achieved within their market, predictions for the future suggest that even more growth is likely. Over the past 3 years, Aspen has established extensive distribution and technolgy networks within Europe, and forged numerous new partnerships, which Saad has said would support a company “twice the size we are now”.

This year alone, Aspen has purchased the $341 million GlaxoSmithKline anesthetics portfolio and AstraZeneca’s, $770 million, anesthetics range too. These acquisitions will expand Aspen’s share of the anesthetic’s market outside of the US to 20%, and analysts predict that Aspen’s earnings will grow by 121% for the next 2 years.

Stephen Saad was clearly proud of his Entrepreneur of the Year Award, but it evidently won’t see him resting on his laurels.

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Claver Gatete named African Finance Minister of the Year

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders, Politics

Prominent Rwandan politician Claver Gatete was recently named African Finance Minister of the Year by Global Capital, a leading financial news and data provider.

The award recognizes Gatete’s recent success in successfully keeping Rwanda’s economy on course amidst difficult regional economic conditions.

A master economic strategist

Gatete, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, was particularly gracious when accepting the prestigious accolade. He said: “The resilience of our economy, despite the global economic shocks that affected our commodities, was mainly due to good leadership and strategic guidance of our President and the hard work of our economic team at the Ministry of Finance and central bank”

However, despite his humility, it’s clear that Gatete has been instrumental to Rwanda’s continued fiscal success. Global Capital explained their decision to bestow him with the award saying that he has demonstrated “impressive commitment to prudent and proactive fiscal management.” He was also praised for his talent in crafting bilateral agreements with international institutions and neighboring countries, which have been key components of Rwanda’s resilience.

Early life and career

Gatete was born in 1962, in Mbarara, Uganda. He spent the majority of his school years in Mbarara, due to his father’s line of work. Gatete proved himself to be an adept student with an aptitude for numbers. He attended University at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where he obtained both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics, finishing his studies in 1993.

Gatete stayed in Canada working as an economist until 1997. However, in the wake of Rwanda’s terrible genocide he felt the desire to return home and help in the efforts to rebuild his home country. He managed to obtain a post with the United Nations Development Program working as a Development Economist in Kigali.

During his time working with the UN, Gatete became embedded in the political and financial landscape of Rwanda. No doubt this expertise is what set him for a string of senior government positions.

 In 2001, he was invited to join the Office of the President as the president’s personal representative to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). He excelled in this position, and in 2003 he was promoted to the Ministry of Finance, where he served as Secretary General and Secretary to the Treasury. In 2005, he became Rwanda’s Ambassador to the U.K, Ireland, and Iceland. Returning to a domestic position, Gatete served as both Deputy Governor and Governor for The National Bank of Rwanda until his appointment as Minister of Finance and Economic planning in 2013.

A sure hand at the helm

Gatete has formulated and implemented the policies that have kept Rwanda’s economy performing over the past few years. Commentators have pointed to Gatete’s action with regard to the slump in global commodities, which severely hampered Rwanda’s mining sector, at a time when production was already falling. Global capital said “For a small country with limited export opportunities this could have proved a severe setback. The impact on the wider economy, however, has been largely mitigated by prompt action by policymakers,”

Gatete has also made great strides in improving efficiencies in Rwanda’s agricultural sector. He has implemented innovative new measures to educate, prepare and supply Rwanda’s farmers more effectively. Additionally, he has directed investment towards irrigation which has greatly increased food security and helped eliminate the risks from erratic rainfall.

Commentators have attributed Rwanda’s strong growth projections to Gatete’s overall ability, and the confidence financial institutions have in his ability to deliver on his commitments. Gatete embodies the new ideal of African leadership; shrewdly intelligent, talented and progressive.

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Forbes Magazine names Mosunmola Abudu Africa’s most successful woman.

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Mosunmola Abudu, or Mo Abudu as she is more commonly known, is one of Africa’s most vibrant personalities. She is a jack, and a master, of many trades. Abudu is a renowned entrepreneur, talk show star, media personality, human resources guru and philanthropist. Forbes magazine has even gone so far as to name her “Africa’s most successful woman” and others have dubbed her “Africa’s Oprah”.

Early life in the UK and Nigeria

Born in the United Kingdom to Nigerian parents, Abudu spent her early years in Hammersmith, London. When she was aged seven, her family decided to return to Nigeria. She was sent to stay on her grandparent’s farm in Ondo State, and it was here that Abudu really connected to her African roots. When she was just 12 years old, her father tragically passed away, and not long after, Abudu returned to the UK. She moved to Kent, to stay with a family friend and guardian before enrolling in The Ridgeway School, in Tunbridge wells.

Abudu has recounted that she was one of the few black children in the school and that 1970’s Britain wasn’t the most multicultural or tolerant place. She often felt the need to prove herself in the face of ignorant remarks and hurtful questions. She said: “I think somewhere deeply buried in my subconscious was a need to tell Africa's story.”

A remarkable career and an outlandish dream

Abudu obtained a Master’s degree in Human Resources Development at the University of Westminster. She started her HR career in 1987, joining recruitment giant Atlas Group. She swiftly maneuvered herself into senior corporate positions. In 1992, she moved back to Nigeria after being headhunted by ExxonMobil to head up their HR and training unit. In 2000, she set up her own specialist HR consultancy, Vic Lawrence & Associates, which she still owns today. Despite her success, an unfulfilled ambition gnawed at her. She left her HR career in 2006, to pursue her dream, television. Abudu felt that Africa was ready for its own TV talk show and that she was the star to host it. In 2008 she pitched her pilot episodes to executives at DStv. Convinced by her tenacity and passion; they decided to commission the program.

An African television sensation

“Moments with Mo” has gone on to become a pan-African Success. Abudu has hosted distinguished guests such as Hilary Clinton and President Goodluck Jonathon. Today it airs in over 50 African countries, and Abudu is a veritable household name across the continent. However, the popularity of Moments with Mo was not enough for Abudu. She was convinced that Africa needed a bigger platform to promote African culture in a more positive way. In 2013 she launched Ebony Life TV. This award winning network is now established across the continent, and offers a range of high quality, exclusively African content across television, mobile and internet platforms. Through Ebony Life TV, Abudu hopes to particularly engage with Africa’s growing young demographic, as she sees them as the “custodians of the future.” She hopes to use her network’s content to galvanize this generation, and foster a new-age African identity for the future.

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Olatorera Oniru and her journey to successful e-commerce business leader

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Leaders

At just 29 years old, Oniru has achieved more in the last decade than many people do in a lifetime. She grew up partly in Nigeria, and partly in the USA, which provided her with a unique mix of cultural experiences and educational background. She moved to the US with her family at the beginning of high school, after which she completed a business administration degree at North Carolina A&T University in 2008.

Wall Street, Banking and Life in New York

After university, she was recruited to Wall Street where she spent two “exhilarating” years at Bank of America Merrill Lynch as a Senior Analyst. Africa was still on her mind however, and she always knew she would return to her homeland. During her years at Wall Street, she also served as the co-founder and president of the Network of African Professionals in New York City. Following her success in New York, she accepted a role with the Bank of Nigeria as a Senior Supervisor which she eventually gave up to complete her Master’s degree at Emory University, Atlanta. During her years in the business world Oniru traveled to over 50 cities in four different continents. This exposure to different industries, cultures and environments was instrumental in the development of her later business. She had aspirations to connect Africa with the rest of the world through something she loved: Fashion.

Unfulfilled by the Corporate World

The majority of the business plan for Dressmeoutlet was finalized while she was completing her Master’s degree at Emory. She had spent several years working for fortune 500 companies in both the USA and Nigeria and had established herself in the corporate world. Despite holding prestigious roles and earning a substantial salary, she says she never felt 100% comfortable in this environment. She felt ill at ease living in a materialistic, corporate environment, knowing the poverty rate was over 65% in her native Nigeria. She took her financial experience and business acumen and established her e-commerce fashion startup in January 2016. It has been referred to as “the Amazon of the fashion world” and essentially connects retailers and consumers via a giant online shopping database. After just six months of operation it has customers in over 15 different countries including the US and France. Although it showcases apparel, accessories and beauty products from all over the world, it strongly favors African producers, which is the motivation behind the company. Oniru wants to create global visibility for African products while creating employment and opportunities for people throughout the continent.

Big Plans for an even Bigger Picture

Oniru only thinks in grand terms. She wants her business to act as a catalyst for the African fashion industry’s emergence, while also combating cyclical poverty and youth employment in undeveloped areas. She said recently, “Success for me, means witnessing a reduction in poverty across Africa, witnessing a worldwide increase in the appreciation of human creativity.” She believes in her company 100%. Her dream of fighting youth unemployment while becoming a role model for other entrepreneurs and women inspired her. She took a leap of faith, leaving her lucrative career in finance to found her ambitious start-up venture. Fortunately, this has paid off and her website already stocks over 1000 different products from across the globe. In just six months it has become a major player in the e-commerce world, and has connected over 500 artisans with consumers. Oniru is more invested in this than most entrepreneurs, funding the startup entirely from her own savings. She explains: “I love fashion, I love the retail industry, and I love Africa. Beyond that, I have always had the yearn to go entrepreneurial and develop my own empire that would serve as a role model to other startup journeys”. Oniru’s tenacity, experience and drive are evidently a winning combination. She is committed to social change and inspired by fuelling development in Africa. If the last six months are anything to go by, this fashion retailer is here to stay.

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Tech start-up MAGNiTT and its founder Philip Bahoshy

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Leaders, Middle East, Technology

Philip Bahoshy and his groundbreaking company MAGNiTT are revolutionizing the start-up industry. What’s interesting is that MAGNiTT is itself a start-up firm. So how is Bahoshy simultaneously helping new companies, while nurturing his own venture through its infancy period? Bahoshy, 31, was raised in the U.K and has Iraqi roots. He obtained a BSc in Economics from the prestigious London School of Economics which he completed in 2006. In 2007, Bahoshy made a move to Dubai to work for the highly regarded management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, where he immersed himself in the corporate world. He then made a move to Barclays Wealth in 2010 to work as the chief of staff for the CEO of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

A start-up for start-ups

His high-flying corporate career bestowed him with an acute understanding of the business and investment landscape in the MENA space. Upon completion of his Master’s degree in 2013, Bahoshy was looking to go solo and start his own firm. Armed with a slew of business ideas, he was keen to get the ball rolling; however, he struggled to find investment, guidance and concept validation. After speaking with other start-ups, Bahoshy came to realize that although Dubai was a vibrant and energetic hub for all kinds of business people, new firms weren’t always making the right connections. He described this as “start-ups struggling in isolation.” This realization gave birth to MAGNiTT, which Bahoshy founded late in 2014. He envisaged building an online ecosystem that would make life easier for start-ups to find the various supports they need, while enabling external parties to identify fledgling firms that they are interested in. Initially, MAGNiTT solely focused on linking start-ups with investment. He explained: “We identified that the real pain point in the region is access to angel funding – basically $100,000 to $250,000.” He elaborated, explaining that start-ups often struggle making the transition from setting up the firm with their own capital, to developing a viable business that is ready for substantial investment from venture capitalists. Linking start-ups with angel investors is often critical if firms are to bridge this gap.

An online pitching platform and more

Bahoshy already had other ideas about how MAGNiTT could develop and provide further services. Firstly, he realized that it can be bewildering for investors and other parties when trying to identify start-ups, and that his product needed to work seamlessly. He focused on making MAGNiTT a streamlined online portal where start-ups have to outline the core concepts of their product. They have to succinctly present their business idea and the problem it solves, their elevator pitch, their target market, the competition, and finally, monetization. External parties can filter and search profiles for concepts they are interested in, analyze the product outline, access further information and ultimately connect with firms that they want to start a dialogue with. Bahoshy was already aware that start-ups need more than just funding to get off the ground. He focused on bringing mentors, accelerator programs, service providers and co-founders to the ecosystem. For start-ups, they can request what kind of support they are looking for. According to MAGNiTT’s data, 58% of start-ups on the site have listed that they are looking for mentorship, 56% are interested in showcasing supports, while 26% are looking for legal support or backing.

Major interest, new features and the future 

In January, Bahoshy had a respectable 200 start-ups signed up to MAGNiTT. Since then the site has exploded and today there are over 1400 start-ups and thousands of users registered on the platform.The site is already helping to forge valuable connections that are taking start-ups to the next level. Bahoshy has said that he wants to bring resources such as video conferencing, legal, marketing and HR services to the site. Additionally, MAGNiTT has recently launched a blog alongside a raft of materials relevant for start-up firms. He is also looking to bring Venture Capitalists into the platform to assist start-ups later down the line. MAGNiTT is itself listed as a start-up on MAGNiTT. Uniquely, its own success is being defined by how well it creates opportunities for all of its parties. For Bahoshy it’s so far so good and he is currently in negotiations with interested investors. It looks as though MAGNiTT is set to take off while bringing other great business ideas along for the ride.

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