Nana Boateng Osei and his sustainable vision for Ghana

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Nana Boateng Osei

Nana Boateng Osei and his company Bôhten have created an innovative and sustainable product that is benefiting his home country of Ghana.

Nana Boateng Osei is the young man behind the stylish luxury eco-eyewear company Bôhten. He hails from a Ghanaian family that is deeply proud of its heritage. He has travelled the world, conceived various outlandish business ideas and even appeared on the Canadian version of Dragon’s Den. Today his company Bôhten is going from strength to strength, while also giving back to his home country, Ghana.

Travel, the Big Apple, education and Lilo

Osei’s early life certainly wasn’t dull. Due to his father’s job as a diplomat for the Foreign Ministry of Ghana, Osei and his siblings spent long periods of time in countries such as the U.K, the U.S, Yugoslavia and South Africa. His family eventually settled to live permanently in New York City. However, they held on tightly to their Ghanaian roots; Osei has said that at home his family would always speak Twi and eat traditional Ghanaian dishes. They became closely involved in the Bronx’s large Ghanaian community and retained strong links with family in their home nation.

In 2007, Osei moved to Canada to study Environmental Science at the University of Ottawa. It was while at University that he first began to create and pursue his own business ideas. In 2009, Osei opened a marketing firm Lilo Enterprises, which was designed to connect sustainable and environmental product manufacturers to consumers. Lilo foreshadowed the creation of Bôhten, highlighting the causes that Osei holds dear. He also flirted with other unorthodox businesses such as vertical gardens and limousine services during this time.

Ghanaian beginnings and the Dragons’ Den

Nana Boateng Osei

Bôhten eyewear was born from the culmination of multiple ideas. Firstly, Osei was inspired by a trip back to Ghana where he was moved by the natural beauty of the area. Also, some of his family worked in the local wood business, which interested him. These factors swirled with his love of fashion and passion for sustainability. He said, “At some point, my interests began to play off of each other and during that trip, the seed of the idea for using reclaimed wood for glasses was planted.”

In 2012 he started initial work on Bôhten while still at University. He derived the company from his own name, Boateng, which means prosperity in Twi. Osei got the chance to pitch his business in the infamous Dragons’ Den during a student special episode. While he impressed with his pitch, he didn’t receive an offer from the Dragons, who felt the business was too young.

Osei wasn’t deterred by the Dragons’ decisions. He went on to bring family members into the business to help him grow the organization. Osei has said that with hindsight, investment partners may have stifled his creative freedom, and that the company has managed to move forward without them by knuckling down and getting things done.

The exposure from appearing on the show led to skyrocketing sales and growth. Some say the Dragons missed out.

A sustainable vision for Ghana

Sustainability is at the heart of the business; Bôhten uses reclaimed wood from items such as chairs and tables, all sourced in Western Africa. Additionally Osei wants to use Bôhten as means to better the economy in Ghana. The company currently manufactures its glasses in Canada. However, later this year the firm intends to open a full-scale manufacturing plant in Ghana. The plant going live will be the realization of a long term ambition for Bôhten. “Our ultimate mission is to create a zero-waste facility in Africa that will not only serve to create jobs but also educate people the importance of eye care, sustainable design and social entrepreneurship.”

Osei says that eye care is woefully inadequate in Africa. He explained that the high levels of UV radiation on the continent are responsible for some of the issues that African’s face. To combat such problems, Osei has partnered Bôhten with eyesight charity Sightsavers. For every sale Bôhten makes, the company will make a donation to Sightsavers programs, aimed at eradicating avoidable blindness in West Africa.

As Bôhten grows, so will the benefits that it brings to Ghana and other nations in the region. Nana Boateng Osei is tenacious, compassionate and conscientious individual; a great example for Ghana and Africa as a whole.

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Simbarashe Mhuriro: Zimbabwe’s savy solar innovator

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solar power in africa

Simbarashe Mhuriro and his company OurSun Energy Limited are creating an ambitious solar powered future for Zimbabwe.

A surge of innovation is electrifying Africa. A new wave of savvy, ambitious entrepreneurs with big ideas are pushing the envelope, and invigorating nations. Simbarashe Mhuriro, is one such person. Simba, as he likes to be known, is the 31 year old Executive Director of OurSun Energy in Zimbabwe. His firm has set out ambitious goals to bring wide scale renewable solar energy to Zimbabwe

Business beginnings

Simbarashe Mhuriro

Simba grew up in Marondera, Zimbabwe, just 30 kilometers from the capital Harare.  He attended a local school and by all accounts had a normal childhood. He didn’t start his career as a business high flyer. Simba recalled how his first jobs were rather ordinary, and not particularly indicative of the career he has gone on to pursue. His early jobs included working as a school teacher and even as a disk jockey before becoming a hotel reservations agent.

He built upon his hospitality career and moved to Dubai after landing himself a job with hotel giant Emaar Hospitality Group. As he climbed the ladder, Simba rubbed shoulders with established business people from a variety of industries while gaining a sound understanding of the corporate world. In 2010, he decided that given his business skills and knowledge of Zimbabwe, he wanted to create his own firm.

Partnership and major solar plans for Zimbabwe

Simba found two seasoned business partners in Andrew Connelly and Honour Mkushi. The trio swiftly formed Oxygen Africa Ltd, a firm specializing in identifying opportunities and creating partnerships between foreign investors and projects in Zimbabwe. Originally the group focused on energy, mining and agriculture. However in 2012, Simba was introduced to Jo Hanns Dieter Trutschler, the principal of Meeco Group, a Swiss firm that creates solar energy projects in developing nations. Simba and Trutschler started to build a strong business relationship, with Trutschler tutoring the Zimbabwean on the workings of the solar energy sector. Simba said that this “literally got me hooked into solar, so I zoned in and said you know what, I have to get these guys to Zimbabwe with me.”

With Simba’s unique blend of business skills and Zimbabwean connections, and Meeco Group’s expertise in solar energy, a partnership was imminent. In 2014 the two groups formed the official joint venture OurSun Energy Limited.

Intensely passionate about OurSun’s program, Simba believes it can play a huge part in solving Zimbabwe’s energy issues. He explained why this is the case: “The Zimbabwean geographical situation is ideal for the implementation of solar energy and related applications such as energy storage, lighting or water pumping due to its level of radiation, one of the highest worldwide,”

While such a program seems ideal for Zimbabwe, the country is not known for being an easy place to do business. Bringing the myriad facets of OurSun’s program together has been no easy feat. Simba has been an instrumental facilitator responsible for dealing with authorities and regulation, identifying prospects, bringing in additional partners, managing imports, sourcing suppliers and overseeing the implementation of the projects.

Solar Energy stands to benefit Zimbabweans and their economy

OurSun aims to deliver 230MW of solar applications throughout Zimbabwe in the next ten years. The benefits of the scheme should be significant. In Simba’s words: “The main thrust for us is developing clean energy solutions for the well-being of the population, especially in remote and rural areas. They are the ones in urgent need of stable and reliable power.”

OurSun is also committed to seeing its schemes benefit the local economy. They are looking to maximize the amount of manufacturing, research and development and hiring that happens locally. The firm estimates that over 2,000 jobs will be created throughout the life-cycle of the scheme. Furthermore Simba has commented that the program represents a great opportunity to drive growth in the industry via the the “knowledge transfer” that will occur between OurSun and indigenous Zimbabweans, many of whom will be women and the young.

Tenacious individuals like Simba are essential to usher in change. Zimbabwe will enjoy the benefits of his conscientious work, and can be sure to see further contributions from this home-grown pioneer in the future.

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Ellen Chilemba: The entrepreneur helping Malawi’s women

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Ellen Chilemba

Ellen Chilemba is one of Africa’s youngest social entrepreneurs, bringing about change and empowerment for the women left behind by society.

For Ellen Chilemba, being an entrepreneur is about affecting social change and helping others reach success. Her ground-breaking project Tiwale is making waves across the African non-profit sector. Making the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2015 and with a long way to go until she hits 30, she has a bright future ahead affecting change in Malawi’s development.

Born and raised in Malawi, at the age of 16 she was offered a scholarship to attend the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, where she studied leadership, entrepreneurship and African studies. This experience shaped her immensely and straight after graduating she launched her first major project: Tiwale. This is a social enterprise designed to train women in the apparel industry, and help them escape cycles of poverty in her native Malawi. This was a risk for Chilemba, and she doubted whether taking a year out of studying was good for her career. Fortunately, Tiwale has been extremely successful and she is now studying economics at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts while managing her business from abroad.

Believing in gender empowerment

Chilemba believes in women helping women, and that gender empowerment is the key to reducing poverty in her homeland. Gender disparity statistics in Malawi are alarming by global standards. Women have some of the lowest primary school completion rates, low socioeconomic markers and higher than average HIV and AIDS infection figures. Malawi also has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates and many young women are forced to leave school and marry at 12 or 13.

With little to no education to speak of, low access to medical care and few economic opportunities, women in Malawi are some of the most vulnerable and marginalized in Africa. These are the conditions that inspired Chilemba to create a project that would improve lives in a big way. She believes that is a key factor as incremental changes are easily undone, frequently resulting into a slide back into poverty.


Tiwale finds success with a cyclic business model

It became apparent to Chilemba that although many women throughout Malawi wore bright, traditionally dyed clothing, most of these clothes were imported from neighboring countries. Having identified a potential business, she began training women to dye-print different fabrics that are then sold to designers as garment material or from their website as tapestries and tote bags. The women are allowed to keep 60% of the profit, while 40% goes back into the company to help to train more women and perpetuate the cycle.

Tiwale means “let’s glow” in the Malawian language, Chichewa. Tiwale’s purpose is to empower, guide and allow women to “lift” themselves out of poverty. Chilemba’s orignal model has grown considerably, and since its inception 3 years ago has branched into two avenues.

The first branch is the fabric design training for women in the community, where their goods are sold through the company and they are free to use their skills to start their own business, or continue working with the program in their facilities.

The other is much more ambitious, offering micro-finance schemes. These begin with leadership and entrepreneurship courses where the participants learn business skills such as inventory and accounting. After the training, the women present business proposals and the most viable ideas are given interest free loans that are repaid over 10 weeks. Tiwale has also introduced a scheme to send promising candidates back to school or college with grants paid for by the vocational courses and resulting profits. Each woman that they help then goes on to help others. Currently they have helped 40 women to become business owners and have taught entrepreneurial courses to 150 more.

What does Chilemba’s future entail?

Not one to be satisfied with her current success, planning is already underway to build an education and entrepreneur center for women. This will be used in a number of ways, giving the participants space to create their products, as well as for further workshops and additional activities. Chilemba sees a future for Tiwale where the company outgrows her involvement and flourishes on its own. She wants to focus next on the education system in Malawi and ways to attract tourism to her “beautiful country.” She says she is “excited by social entrepreneurship and has many more ideas to pursue.” Chilemba is a much needed role model for Malawi. Through her efforts perhaps she will inspire future leaders and entrepreneurs who can further drive change in their homeland.

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“Spinach king” turns healthy eating into a business

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Spinach King

A young South African entrepreneur sources local gardens to produce popular, nutritious baked goods.

A young South African entrepreneur has built a business in healthy baked goods that has earned him the nickname of “Spinach King.”

Lufefe Nomjana, 28, produces spinach-based products including bread, muffins and sandwiches for retail outlets around Cape Town. Nomjana also offers delivery service via bicycle to local offices and consumers who want healthy meals.

He launched the business in 2012 with only 40 Rand (less than $3) in his pocket. Fast forward to 2016 and he operates Espinaca Innovations, which includes a bakery in a renovated shipping container, a café and bakery, and plans for a large-scale bread factory to open in August.

Recognized by the South Africa Breweries Social Innovation Awards in 2014, Nomjana used about $6,000 in prize money to expand his business.

A lesson in entrepreneurship

But the young businessman insists that entrepreneurial thinking has been more important than money on his path to success.

“You’ve got brains and intellectual capital. That will actually open many doors for you,” he said.

Nomjana was just out of school and in his early 20s when he embarked on a business career. He was selling clothes door-to-door but realized he needed to learn more about business and finance if he was going to start a successful business.

“Although I had the ambition and discipline to be self-employed, things weren’t going well,” he said. “I didn’t know enough about stock control and cash flow.”

A five-month course in entrepreneurship taught him that he could build a business while helping people in his community, providing them with access to healthy food.

Spinach king in action

Spinach readily available

That is when he started thinking about spinach, which was growing in abundance at a community garden where he volunteered in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha Township, where he lives. “Spinach grows easily almost everywhere. It’s one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables with many healthy side effects.”

He looked up recipes on the internet, persuaded a neighbor to let him use her oven and his healthy, low-carb spinach bread was born.

He was unable to find investors for his idea. But he went ahead, using the neighbor’s oven at nighttime in exchange for paying for electricity and giving her a supply of bread.

Nomjana baked four loaves a night, then eight and then 16, the most he could produce in his neighbor’s oven.

Building a brand

Profits were small. But while he wasn’t making a lot of money at first, he was building a reputation. Soon, he found he could not keep up with demand.

In the beginning, “it was not about profits. I was building a brand, and educating people” about good nutrition, he said.

A breakthrough came in 2013, when he asked Spar, a local retail chain, if he could use their ovens in exchange for supplying their stores with his baked goods. His production increased dramatically to 200 loaves a day. In addition to Spar, he could supply oven-baked spinach products to local offices.

He soon hired a small sales staff and – eager to speed up deliveries – launched a crowdsourcing campaign to raise money for five delivery bicycles.

By the end of 2013, Nomjana had saved nearly $3,000. With that money and his prize from the SAB Social Innovation competition, he bought his own baking equipment and renovated a shipping container as a bakery.

In 2016, Nomjana produces about 500 loaves daily of his popular low-carbohydrate “banting bread” along with other baked goods. He buys organic spinach from local farmers.

Plans to increase production four-fold

He believes he can increase production to 2,000 loaves once he opens a factory later this summer in nearby Stellenbosch.

At his new café, which also contains a bakery, customers can buy healthy, affordable meals such as gluten-free spinach bread and fresh butternut soup for about $1.

His experience has prompted Nomjana to advise other entrepreneurs to first identify resources they have – in his case locally grown spinach and a neighbor with an oven – before looking for investment.

It may make more sense to just get started with the resources available, the way he did.

“The first capital that you need, more than money, is intellectual capital.”

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Tanzanian entrepreneur aims to light up his country with green energy

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sunsweet solar

George Mtemahanji’s Tanzanian startup, Sunsweet Solar, looks to bring clean energy to its nation’s poorest people.

For 70% of Tanzanians, the only way to light up their homes after sundown is with a small kerosene-powered lamp. This shortage of electricity does not only affect people in their homes, but businesses and schools too. It was something that 22 year old George Mtemahanji understood well, as he had grown up in the small, rural town of Ifakara where kerosene was the only option for light after dusk.

Mtemahanji left his home in 2003 at only 9 years of age, as his mother took him to Italy in search of new opportunities. However, 8 years later he returned home, and upon seeing that the same energy problems still afflicted his hometown, he decided to find a solution.

The spark that can change lives

Mtemahanji was not only struck by how little things had changed in his place of birth, but also by how significant a lack of electricity was to the prospects for development. Mtemahanji explained, “Electricity supply is really important for the development of a country. Without electricity, New York or Johannesburg would just be villages – they’d be like Ifakara.”

At the time of his return, Mtemahanji was studying to be a technician in renewable energy, and the power situation within his home town immediately struck him as a problem that his training could help to solve. Mtemahanji said, “We have a lot of sun and it was really very strange that no one was doing something with solar energy.” The inspiration for Sunsweet Solar had been created, so Mtemahanji returned to Italy to discuss his ideas with a fellow student, Manuel Rolando.

By 2013, extensive research into solar energy in Tanzania had revealed that many locals simply did not trust solar energy as a reliable source due to poor quality installations that had proved inconsistent. However, Mtemahanji was confident that Rolando and he were capable of designing efficient, cost effective solar powered systems. The duo began approaching companies for funding, and found a Swiss company planning to build a photovoltaic plant (solar power plant) right in Mtemhanji’s hometown of Ifakara. The two young entrepreneurs offered to design and construct all the technical components of the plant for free, and their pitch was accepted.

Sunsweet Solar rises in the east

Mtemahanji’s voluntary work on the Swiss photovoltaic plant was a huge success; the plant is the largest of its kind in the Kilombero district, and it powers 200 lights, dozens of computers and can store 3 days’ worth of power. Moreover, it now proved to any other investor that Mtemahanji and Rolando had the requisite skills to complete their grand plans.

Mtemahanji was committed to ensuring that his home in East Africa would begin to finally see a rise in solar power, which would drive forward development, and would save money for the poorest people of his country. Sunsweet Solar was registered within days of the completed project in Ifakara, and they quickly established a partnership with a German company, Fosera, to provide household kits to rural districts.

Sunsweet Solar aims to not only build energy solutions for much of Tanzania, but to do so in a way that is cheaper than the current alternative of using kerosene lamps.

Mtemahanji discussed the 70% of the country that have no reliable electricity, remarking, “We can give them electricity for 25 years for only $79… It costs less than $0.30 per month; today a liter of kerosene costs $1.10. That means the people in rural areas spent 73% more with kerosene per month than with our solar system.”

Access to electricity can bring greater productivity in the workplace, and the ability to improve education. Since Sunsweet Solar installed solar power to Benignis Girls Secondary School, the school has seen exam performances increase from 18% to 83% in just 1 year. Something as simple as being able to study during the evening is a part of life that many people will have never had to consider.

In 2015, George Mtemahanji won the Anzisha Price, an award for young African entrepreneurs, and despite his success he is still only 22 years of age. With plans to roll out a loan system, so that customers can buy installations in installments, the future for both his company and Tanzania looks increasingly bright.

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Catherine Mahugu: Inspiring Women in Kenyan Tech

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Catherine Mahugu

Catherine Mahugu is a tech innovator from Kenya who has built an empire on socially beneficial projects and connectivity.

Catherine Mahugu is leading the way in the Kenyan tech industry. Currently working from San Francisco for her e-commerce accessories business which connects consumers and local African manufacturers, she has made waves across the tech, IT and retail worlds. She credits her early interest in science and technology to her engineer father and at just 27, she has achieved a great deal in these industries.

Early life

Mahugu graduated from the University of Nairobi with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. From an early age she broke the mold, favoring entrepreneurial projects over “corporate” roles that she considered to be the “safe option.” Her first projects were collaborations with her student colleagues at university, such as a mobile application that helps rural water vendors connect with customers by advertising their location and prices.

Combining her degree, enterprising spirit and intimate knowledge of the regional issues affecting her native Kenya, Mahugu has been at the forefront of creating many projects that benefit local people. Her first official foray into the tech world was with KamataKab, a mobile solution that uses GPS to locate taxis in the area, an option to contact and then a rating system to rate the taxi’s service for other users to utilize. Although this was the overall winner at the Garage4Kenya awards in 2011, Mahugu knows that this app was a little too ahead of its time; it didn’t meet the recent successes of Uber and Easy Taxi today. This hasn’t fazed Mahugu however, and she feels that the experience showed her that innovation was a viable career route and that her ideas had traction in the tech world.

Innovation, Innovation, Innovation

The building blocks to her latest enterprise can be seen in her next project, SasaAfrica. This provided the foundations for Soko, launching an app that allowed merchants to connect with customers using only their mobile phones. The idea for the projects came from a chance meeting with the two other founders while in Nairobi. They all believed in a future for mobile phone technology to help African enterprises. With the percentage of mobile phone usage up to 90% in some parts of Africa, they realized that is was an obvious global solution to connectivity issues between consumers and vendors. After seeing many predominantly female artisans at local markets struggling to sell their ware to a limited customer base, they decided to launch a global marketplace that these vendors could access, in which they could accept orders and then organize distribution.

soko artisans

Profiles of the artisans on the ShopSoko.com website

Now based in California, the company helps over 1,000 artisans sell their products to a global community. After joining the Soko network, users see their yearly income increasing by a massive 400% on average. They now operate in over 40 countries and plan to expand to reach vendors in Mexico and India. Mahugu is committed to overcoming the challenges that many Africans face. They were confronted with supply issues from vendors, caused by problems such as inconsistency of electricity, so they are adapting their business model to include trusted, shared spaces where artisans can create and collaborate.

Mahugu knows the struggle many women face coming from traditional backgrounds, having less access to education, and to the outside world. She is committed to rebalancing gender inequalities and believes that “when one woman helps another, amazing things can happen.” She is a role model to young women, particularly in the tech-world. When she was expanding her business, and receiving no applications from women for the technology roles, she realized something had to be done to appeal to women like herself. She explained that the gender imbalance in the tech industry was “a harsh reality that dawned on me, and that we still need more women in technology and collaboratively need to promote this awareness.” Social enterprise and IT seem to be a winning combination for Mahugu, and her commitment to social justice and interest in empowering other women in the tech-world make her a person worth keeping an eye on.

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Koffi Djondo – the Togolese entrepreneur, driven by pan-African ideals

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Koffi Djondo

Koffi Djondo is one of Togo’s most successful businessmen, but success for Africa is his ultimate goal.

Koffi Djondo may not be a name that is familiar to a lot of people outside of Togo, but Djondo is a businessman who has had huge influence on Africa’s economic landscape. As the co-founder of EcoBank and Asky Airlines, Djondo has established not just successful businesses, but enterprises that look to foster pan-African principles.

A difficult beginning

Koffi Djondo was born in a small Togolese village on July 4th, 1934. Djondo recalls a childhood characterized by extremely strict parents who eventually separated. Although Djondo does not recall his early years with much fondness, as an only child he developed a sense of self-reliance that he took into his studies.

However, even Djondo’s university education was beset with difficulties due to the politics of Togo at the time. While studying a degree in Accounting at the Institute of Social Sciences, Labor University of Law and Economics of Paris, the Togolese government contacted French authorities to ensure that Djondo was expelled from the university. This was a personal vendetta against the Djondo family, as Koffi’s uncle, Nicolas Djondo, was an outspoken critic of the Togolese regime.

Despite this setback, after a coup in Togo saw regime change, Djondo managed to return to France and complete his education. Djondo began working for the airline UTA, before moving into newly established government roles. In 1964, Djondo was appointed as the executive director of a government body – Family Allowances Fund – where he was responsible for the introduction of a mandatory retirement age and pensions. By 1973, Djondo was chairman of the Economic & Social Council, and only two years later he was elected as the president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Togo.

A meeting of minds

As Djondo’s government career progressed, he eventually found himself as the President of the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce. It was here that Djondo met his Nigerian business partner, Adeymi Lawson, and the birth of a business dream was realized.

With the help of the entrepreneur, Henry Fajemirokun, Djondo and Lawson created the first pan-African bank, EcoBank, in 1985. The goal was not simply to create a prosperous business, but to create jobs across the continent, and to imbue young Africans with a sense of opportunity and pride.

Koffi Djondo

EcoBank is now present in 33 African nations, employs over 18,000 Africans, and had a turnover of $2.3 billion in 2013. The bank has offices from London to Beijing, and Djondo feels that its success is linked to his ethos of pan-Africanism, explaining, “You can notice that African strength lies in unity; what we can call togetherness… It was this which gave success.”

EcoBank’s spirit of empowering young Africans was something that the men behind it felt was important, as it made employees “feel that their purpose was more than just making money.” The bank’s hiring policy was to find people with a “passion to make a difference in Africa.”

Renewed goals for a new century

Koffi Djondo continued making moves to invest in new ventures as the 21st century began, as he looked to create an airline that matched the philosophy of his African owned bank. His dream led to the creation of Asky Airlines in 2010, and in 2011 its first commercial flights began. While the inaugural flights often had only 10 passengers on them, by 2014 they were flying 8000 passengers a week, with an 80% occupancy rate on their flights.

Asky won the award for the “Best African Company of the Year” at the prestigious African CEO Forum Awards, and the company employs over 250 people. Djondo believes strongly in the need for greater integration between African nations, saying “Integration of the continent is the only way by which Africa will find its safety, through a common regional market.”

Asky is a company founded on the concept of integration, and Djondo sees transport as key to wider African cooperation, explaining, “pan-Africanism and integration starts with people moving…If we want to make business…we have to create the appropriate means to make things move.”

Djondo is held in such reverence by many Togolese that the village of his birth has been renamed Djondo-Condji in his honor. The man himself now lives in a village he built, Djondo Kope, but he is not relaxing in retirement. Djondo plans to expand Asky Airlines, and Ecobank grew 14% in 2014. It’s a busy life for Togo’s most successful octogenarian.

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From Tragedy to Tech Triumph: Mubarak Muyika

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Mubarak Muyika

The remarkable story of Mubarak Muyika and his burgeoning tech empire.

The tech scene is exploding across Africa as ambitious young entrepreneurs are changing the face of the continent. Kenyans have been at the vanguard of the action in recent years. One individual currently making big waves is Mubarak Muyika, a dynamic 22 year old with a colorful past.

Muyika was born in Western Province, Kenya. His father was a prominent civil servant and his mother was a high school teacher. Unfortunately, his young life was marked by tragedy: his father passed away when he was two years old. Then, when he was ten, his mother died and the young orphan was taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband.

Great Beginnings

It has long been observed that tragedy seemingly makes, or breaks an individual. In Muyika’s case, it was most certainly the former. He was known as a sharp and gifted student and it was in the early days of high school that his tech-entrepreneurial promise first blossomed.

Aged 16, Muyika developed the “enhanced petrol tracker.” The tracking database was designed to mitigate government mismanagement of oil resources by more efficiently cataloguing oil tanker movements, oil flow and demand. The project was incredibly well received. He was recognized as the best student in the computer exhibit category at the annual Kenya Students Congress on Science and Technology.

His adoptive parents were the owners of a book publishing and distribution company, Acrodile Publishers. Mubarak realized that the web presence provided by their current website manager was substandard and expensive, bottlenecking the company’s productivity. He taught himself PhP, Java and HTML and built a highly functional website for the business.

Business Blossoms

On the back of his newly earned skills, Mubarak launched his first business, Hype Century Technologies and Investments LTD. The company offered website designation, management, domain reselling and hosting services. He enlisted the help of two friends and the business quickly began to take off.

In a 2012 interview, Mubarak spoke about Hype Century’s remarkable success in the startup period: “By May after our first financial year we had about 1,800 domains which represented clients in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and some in the RC (Republic of the Congo). That was something that I can say is the biggest achievement, in terms of where the company is today.”

It was during this early period that Kenyan multi-millionaire Chris Kirudi realized Mubarak’s great potential. Through his contacts he recommended Mubarak for a scholarship to one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard. Incredibly, Mubarak turned down the scholarship in order to focus on his business ventures, demonstrating extreme belief in his own talents and entrepreneurial ability. He is a man who knows his own mind. He gave insight into his tenacious business philosophy, saying, “If you are in a society with intelligent people who have a plan and a strategy, you need a plan, a strategy, speed and aggression. That is the only way to succeed in Africa.”

Soon, Mubarak’s business attracted heavyweight attention. International tech investor Jignesh Patel teamed up with the rising star, buying a 25% stake in the company. This proved to be a shrewd move, as Patel’s connections and experience propelled the firm to even higher heights.

A Bright Future

Zagace platform

Zagace platform

However, Mubarak soon felt the itch to challenge himself further; he clarified his decision to move on from Hype Century saying, “I had the feeling that I was not maximizing my potential. I opted to sell my shares and develop a new venture.”

In 2013, he settled a deal netting himself a cool six figure settlement for his 60% stake. Astonishingly, Mubarak was still only 19 years old.

His newest venture, ZAGACE is both ambitious and innovative. His firm offers a unique service providing a completely integrated, online business management toolkit for small and medium sized companies. ZAGACE allows users to manage human resources, inventory, accounting and communications all through a series of well designed, instanced apps. The concept has been lauded as ingenious and effective.

Eager to feed his business with the best talent available, Mubarak has recently moved his operations to Silicon Valley, USA. The young Kenyan means serious business, and the world has noticed. In 2015, he was named one of Africa’s most promising entrepreneurs in Forbes 30 under 30, while Yahoo named him one of nine “Mark Zuckerbergs” of other countries. With his talent, resilience and determination, Mubarak Muyika is setting the tech scene ablaze. We will no doubt be hearing more about him, very soon.

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Beninese doctor honored for “green” anti-malaria drug

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Valentin Agon

Valentin Agon wins $100,000 innovation prize for an effective and inexpensive treatment made from a plant extract.

A Beninese doctor has won a top innovation prize of $100,000 for an anti-malaria drug he developed from a natural plant extract.

Valentin Agon received the Innovation Prize of Africa in June for his creation of the drug, Api-Palu, which is already being marketed in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and Central African Republic.

The drug is significantly less expensive to produce than other anti-malarial drugs and is more effective.

“Api-Palu is a remarkable product that (has) affordability, a good safety profile, and a fast rate of malaria parasite clearance from the blood following short-term treatment at relatively lower doses,’’ innovation prize officials said.

Nearly 1,000 contestants

Agon won first place in the competition among 10 finalists chosen from nearly 1,000 applicants.

Imogen Wright of South Africa took 2nd place for Exatype, software that helps health care workers determine whether HIV patients are responding to drug treatments. Eddy Agbo of Nigeria received the Special Prize for Social Impact for Urine Test for Malaria, a medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than a half hour. Wright and Agbo each received $25,000.

Innovation Prize for Africa 2016

Innovation Prize for Africa 2016

The awards program, a project of the Africa Innovation Fund, rewards healthcare solutions that address Africa’s malaria and HIV/AIDS problems.

Jean Claude Bastos de Morais, founder of the innovation competition, said the project had amassed a database of more than 6,000 innovators and made cash investments of $1 million since it began five years ago.

He said the award to Agon for his anti-malaria drug was particularly gratifying.

“A product for malaria coming from Africa for Africans, this is my dream. My dream comes true. Finding a solution based on a natural product is what I have dreamed about,” de Morais said.

Green medicine researchers

Educated in Canada and Cuba, Agon has researched green medicines for 25 years and has spent 16 years developing the drug. He plans to use the prize money to increase production and hopes to distribute the drug in every country in Africa by 2017.

His discovery is cheaper because it is extracted from a plant that is abundantly available on the continent. It is also more effective than other anti-malarial drugs because it inhibits 3D7 strains of Plasmodium falciparum, which cause malaria, and can act against the disease within a few hours, the innovation judges said in awarding him the top prize. It is available in the form of tablets, capsules or syrup.

An estimated three billion people are at risk for malaria worldwide. The World Health Organization estimates that sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 88% of all cases of malaria and 90% of reported deaths.

Costly treatment

“Some African governments spend up to 40% of their public health budgets treating malaria,” the innovation contest said. “In this context, Api-Palu, can be considered a significant contribution in the fight against malaria.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Africa is highly vulnerable to malaria because the predominant species, Plasmodium falciparum, is most likely to cause death, and the climate allows transmission to occur year round.

In other areas of the world, such South Asia and Latin America, malaria is less likely to cause death but can still result in severe illness and incapacitation, according to the CDC.

The disease continues to be a serious problem, but eradication efforts are showing results.

Since 2000, malaria death rates globally have fallen by 60%, and new cases have dropped by more than a third, according to the World Health Organization. In Africa, death rates dropped by more than two-thirds.

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Paul Ballen looks to make ice-cream a South African passion

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Paul Ballen Ice Cream

Paul Ballen’s ice-cream startup is making waves with its unique flavors and fresh approach.

Ice-Cream is pretty big business across much of the world, but South Africa is not a name that most would connect with the frozen treat. Paul Ballen is a man intent on changing this, and on creating a brand of ice-cream that is known for its quality and innovative flavors.

Ballen’s company, the eponymous Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream, has been creating a stir in his hometown Johannesburg with its bold varieties and focus on high quality ingredients.

As the Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream range expands and grows in popularity, ice-cream lovers will be hoping it spreads outside of its home country.

It started with a gift

The beginning to Ballen’s company began only 6 years ago, when his mother bought him an ice-cream maker for his 21st birthday. Something that was initially just a bit of fun in his parents’ kitchen, turned into a passion and a small source of income. Bellen said, “I started playing with different flavors and textures. I shared it with my friends and…ran it as a side business throughout my university studies and began supplying delis and cafés.”

Paul's ice cream flavors

Paul’s ice cream flavors

This small project slowly grew, as Ballen used social media to show people his latest flavor creations. One machine in his parents’ kitchen became three machines in the garage, as Ballen began to take orders from friends and local people. At this stage the business had grown, but it was still a very small operation. However, Paul Ballen decided to team up with a University friend, Josh Amoils, and as business partners the duo decided to make Ballen’s passion a full time enterprise.

Amoils said, “I was excited about new ventures and new opportunities and we decided to give it a go in March 2014. We moved from the garage at Paul’s parents’ house to a workshop…we simultaneously had to get on the road and visit distributing outlets to try get our ice cream out there. Things just developed from there. We just constantly kept moving forward.”

Innovative flavors lead the way

A consistent factor with Paul’s Ice-Cream, whether from his early experiments in 2010 to his latest releases, is the focus on unusual flavors and fresh ingredients.

While the range includes classic ice-cream flavors, Ballen is constantly trying new combinations and ideas to ensure that the range excites consumers.

To get an idea of their range, consider that as well as offering the ubiquitous strawberry flavor, there is also a Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn. How many other brands of ice-cream offer flavors such as, White Russian, Oatmeal & Raison and Spiced Pumpkin & Marshmallow?

Paul's Homemade Ice-Cream

Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream

While many of these flavors remain as permanent fixtures in their range, what really differentiates Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream is that, as an artisanal product it can constantly offer limited edition flavors to keep interest high.

Ballen says, “We create really innovative flavors. Each month we run a campaign where we create a buzz around a topic or theme and then develop an ice cream flavor based on the theme, which is then available for that month.

These flavors are also highly focused on fresh ingredients with no artificial flavorings, and no automated machinery involved in creating each batch. Amoils explains that, “We only use natural ingredients, no preservatives, no additives. We don’t compromise on the quality of the ingredients, they are as good as you can get. We feel our stuff is made with love.”

The future of Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream

Several cafes and restaurants around Johannesburg now stock Paul’s Homemade Ice-Cream, and the company has had international media interest. Despite growing interest, the company’s ice-creams remain a true craft product, as opposed to a mass-produced product that simply uses the fashionable label of “craft” for marketing.

Bullen and Amoils currently employ a workforce of 20 people, and like any successful business it is bound to grow, but neither of the two entrepreneurs wishes to alter the ethos of what has made the company so popular with its customers. Amoils explained, “We would rather maintain our current process of training up craftsmen, as opposed to investing millions in machinery to scale up production.”

While it is an admirable approach, it means that it could be a while before dessert lovers outside of South Africa get to enjoy White Rabbit or Apple Pie flavor ice-cream.

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