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Takunda Chingonzo: Zimbabwe’s Youngest Entrepreneur

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Takunda Chingonzo

Takunda Chingonzo is one of Africa’s youngest entrepreneurs. Can his technology company and his growing international exposure help to pull Zimbabwe out of the shadow of its government and penalizing trade sanctions?

Takunda Chingonzo is a remarkable person, achieving more in his 22 years than many in their entire lives. He is best known as a start-up entrepreneur, creating three innovative businesses since graduating from high school, but his talents have social enterprise at their core, working to better the future of Zimbabwe through the freedom of technology and information.

After completing his degree in quantity surveying in 2014, he went on to obtain a CISCO certification in network security. Although he does not have a traditional background in business or technical design, it is his entrepreneurial spirit that has been the driving force in his companies and in instigating social change. He has been recognized for his efforts with the Swell Award for Innovation at DEMO Africa, and was one of 100 young people selected to take part in an 8-week internship in the USA following the Mandela-Washington Fellowship program in 2014.

Trouble in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe suffers from a series of trade sanctions and embargoes, designed to restrict governmental trade after a long history of violations of democratic processes and human rights abuses. Everything within the financial trade industry is restricted, from imports and exports to export insurance and credit. Because much of the equipment, services and finances necessary for young African entrepreneurs come from outside the continent, this only works to restrict growth in this sector.

In 2015, Chingonzo was selected to hold an exclusive on-stage Q&A with President Obama at the US-Africa leaders’ summit, which aims to increase the US’s engagement with Africa. He spoke candidly about how trade sanctions are detrimentally affecting businesses and entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe, as well as the political leaders they were supposed to be targeting. He discussed the interest that he received for his projects for importing goods and investment from American companies, which were withdrawn after they found out he was from Zimbabwe. This effectively means the people of Zimbabwe are oppressed twice, once from their government, and again from the punishment designed to penalize the leadership of the country.

Tech Start-ups

Despite this opposition, he has successfully set up Neolab Technology, a multi award-winning startup. Its biggest achievement to date is Saisai, a public Wi-Fi network, designed to bring free internet access to all by installing wireless mesh networks in public spaces and public transportation in Zimbabwe. Chingonzo has described this task as “liberating the internet.” He understands that the internet is the key to progression in Zimbabwe, with free access to information and communication being central factors for people to free themselves from oppression. From a business perspective, he believes that “the internet is the one tool that lowers the cost of doing any form of business,” also showing his commitment to business progress within the country. He went on to say “It provides access to information that people and communities can use to improve and magnify the work that they are already doing. An informed community engages more, innovates more, and, from a business perspective, makes more and spends more.”

Alongside Neolab, he is also the co-founder of NeoEffect, a social start-up working towards empowering underprivileged youths through IT literacy, and is involved with both the MX project and BOOT Africa which promote student start-ups in tertiary institutions.

The Future

Chingonzo’s business acumen and commitment to social change seem to be a winning combination. He was featured in the Huffington Post as one of four African innovators you should know about. Last year, he graced the cover of Forbes Africa after making it on to the Forbes “30 under 30” list as part of the continent’s “next generation of billionaires.” The exposure he has received from his interview with President Obama has generated a buzz around his projects, and the burgeoning tech industry in Zimbabwe, while exposing the inequalities in the international relationship with Zimbabwe and its people. Chingonzo doesn’t just represent technology and innovation, but the will of the people of Zimbabwe and their indomitable spirit.

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Looking Back on Kenya’s First Startup Acquisition

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Kenyan financial technology startup Weza Tele was acquired by AFB financial group for $1.7 million, the first and largest acquisition of a tech startup in Kenya.

The startup-acquisition cycle is every Silicon Valley entrepreneur’s dream: a tiny idea that results in a multi-million dollar payout when a corporation recognizes the genius of your small-but-wildly-successful company. WhatsApp, the seemingly simple messaging service used around the world, was bought by Facebook for $19 billion; Skype, the Star Trek-like video calling system millennials had been dreaming of since childhood, was bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion; and Clementine, an app that allows users to make conference calls without being tied to a cell phone, was bought by Dropbox for $100 million after less than one year on the market. In tech-intensive countries, these stories are hardly noteworthy because as soon as a new startup emerges, rumors abound regarding which major company will buy it.

This is not the case for countries like Kenya, where the startup industry is truly only starting up. In fact, the first-ever acquisition of a startup by a major company occurred in mid-2015 when AFB, the consumer finance group based in Ghana, purchased the Kenyan startup Weza Tele for $1.7 million.

A True Start Up

Weza Tele is truly the byproduct of the 21st century competitive yet collective experience: Weza Tele was created at Nailab, a co-working space that provides 3-6 month internships for budding entrepreneurs, and launched at DEMO Africa, a conference that hand picks innovative products and services from around Africa, in 2014. Weza Tele was founded by Hilda Moraa, Sam Kitonyi and Newton Kitonga and is “a leading provider of innovative value added mobility solutions in commerce, supply chain and distribution, and mobile payment options” available not only in Kenya, but also across Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Weza Tela has two major existing business solutions: MyOrder, which makes supply chains for small and medium distributors transparent and gives greater visibility to individual manufacturers, and Odoo, which is a website-building application that provides a suite of add-ons including SMS ordering. In addition, Weza Tela offers services to streamline businesses’ SMS-ordering processes and can be hired for consulting services. Frost & Sullivan, the entrepreneurial company who awarded Weza Tele with its 2014 Entrepreneurial Company of the Year, said that “Weza Tele has excelled in an untapped market by tailoring flexible solutions for small scale supply chain sector. It offers cost-effective solutions to address the challenges faced by SMEs in the supply chain industry and provides valuable tools to drive their sales and marketing.”

Weza Tele myOrder

Selling Out Encourages Others to Buy In

After its 2014 launch at DEMO Africa, Weza Tela was met with major success, and purchased by AFB just one year later. AFB “provides credit access to customers in Africa through a range of financial products, including mobile loans and retail credit cards.” Launched in Ghana in 2010, AFB now operates in Kenya as well as Tanzania and has more than 400 retail partners. By purchasing Weza Tela, AFB will be able to get its foot in the door of markets in Nigeria and Zimbabwe.

This landmark acquisition, says Jessica Colaco (director of partnerships and community at iHub), is “history in the making as it opens doors for growing startups in this ecosystem. The Weza Tela team are a lighthouse for others in the Kenyan startup ecosystem” and will encourage others to continue working towards their goal. AFB’s purchase shows Africans that major, multi-national companies have confidence in homegrown ideas.

A Vote of Confidence for Homegrown Ideas

Weza Tele has promised customers that the transition will be seamless and services will not be interrupted. Should this transition go as planned, big things may be looming on the startup horizons for Kenya and beyond.

By demonstrating their confidence in Weza Tele through a massive purchase, AFB is not only showing young entrepreneurs that their ideas have value and may result in a big payday, but demonstrating to Africans in general that they do not need to rely on outside ideas to move their countries forward. If large financial institutions are willing to take the risk on relatively young startups, then perhaps more ideas will come to fruition through co-working spaces and conferences meant to showcase and launch the best and brightest.

Encouraging young leaders to create their own solutions to local problems is of the utmost importance for any community, particularly one that has had been so directly and heavily influenced by outside forces for centuries. It is ideas like those behind Weza Tele that show a deep understanding of the needs of local businesses. Hopefully, Weza Tele’s success story is just the first chapter for Kenyan technological innovation.

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SoleRebels: An Ethiopian success story

Comments (3) Africa, Business, Featured


The eco-friendly shoe manufacturer, launched by a young woman entrepreneur, sees rapid growth and global demand.

A young Ethiopian entrepreneur has turned her concern for unemployed artisans from her home community into a global shoe brand with millions of dollars in revenue.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu’s SoleRebels produces eco-friendly shoes that are sold internationally by large retailers including Whole Foods and Amazon as well as in a growing number of the company’s own standalone stores.

SoleRebels also complies with fair trade standards set by the World Fair Trade Association, according to Alemu. The company pays employees three or four times the minimum wage in Ethiopia and provides medical insurance and transportation to and from work.

Helping jobless artisans

Alemu, 35, started the company in 2005, shortly after she finished college. She had seen that skilled artisans lived in squalor and chronic unemployment in her small, impoverished community of Zenebework in Addis Ababa.

“I wanted to find a way to share my love for the amazing artisanship of Ethiopia with the world while creating well-paid meaningful work for the people in my local community, while leveraging their immense creative skills,” she said.

At the start, the company was Alemu, her husband, her teenage brother and two artisans. It has grown to employ 300 people in Ethiopia and several hundred more in its international stores.

Shoes from local fibers, recycled tires

SoleRebels produces comfortable, hand-crafted sandals, slip-ons and laced shoes using recycled tires for the soles and local natural fibers, including hand-spun cotton, jute, and Koba, an indigenous plant cultivated in Ethiopia for thousands of years.

The design of the shoes draws on Ethiopia’s famous Selate and Barabasso shoes that soles that were worn by Ethiopian rebel fighters who opposed Italian forces attempting to colonize the country nearly a century ago. Those shoes used recycled tire material for the soles.

The name SoleRebels derives in part from that historic connection.

However, the name also reflects Alemu’s goal of countering a dominant narrative – a legacy of the famine years – that Ethiopians are destined to rely on international aid.

SoleRebels in Stores

Ethiopia’s economy booming

Alemu said the success of Sole Rebels is “living proof” that her country, one of Africa’s poorest, is ready to move from being dependent on foreign aid to taking charge of its economic future with home grown skills and resources.

Eugene Owusu, who represents Ethiopia with the United Nation’s Development Program said SoleRebels is “blazing a trail’’ for other companies as his country seeks to reduce its need for foreign aid.

Owusu said nation’s booming private sector would help the country continue to grow its economy and reduce poverty.

The economy of Ethiopia has grown at a rate of about 10 percent a year in the past decade with growth domestic product reaching an estimated $50 billion in 2014.

As one of the fastest growing non-oil economies in Africa, Ethiopia has become a destination for foreign investment. Ethiopia seeks to grow exports as a share of its economic output largely with the sale of minerals and manufactured goods.

International recognition

With her own exporting success, Alemu has been widely recognized for her achievements.

The World Economic Forum named her a Young Global Leader in 2011. She was featured on Forbes list of “100 Most Powerful Women” and listed by Business Insider as one of “Africa’s Top 5 Female Entrepreneurs” in 2012. The following year, Fast Company named her one of its “100 Most Creative People in Business 2013,” while The Guardian called her one of “Africa’s Top Women Achievers.”

SoleRebels shoes are sold in more than 30 countries through online sales and major retailers plus a growing number of the company’s own shops. In addition to its flagship store in Addis Ababa, SoleRebels has more than a dozen standalone retail outlets in the United States, Taiwan, Japan, Greece, Switzerland, Spain, Austria, and Singapore.

$10 million in revenue projected

One of the world’s fastest growing footwear brands, the company projects it will have 50 stores by 2018 and forecasts revenue of $10 million or more this year.

Alemu said her business model shows that eco-friendly production and community empowerment go hand in hand with financial success. But as much as her product helps her community, Alemu said quality is the key to her company’s success.

“We don’t want to make a pity product; we want people to buy our shoes because they look good.”

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Nairobi establishes itself as one of Africa’s leading tech hubs

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Nairobi leads the way as Africa’s most recognized tech hub and it is set to get bigger.

Nairobi has been establishing itself as a tech hub for several years now. The high numbers of STEM graduates that come through the doors of the several colleges around the city have helped sustain this reputation. However, it is only in the past few years that the entrepreneurial ethos which fuels startups has really begun to flourish.

As things stand, Nairobi still has an unemployment rate of 40%, but the government is hopeful that by investing in the technological talent pool of the city, startup companies will help address this problem.

Quite simply, startups create jobs but only in recent years has the proliferation of mobile phones and the internet in Nairobi allowed tech startups to prosper.

Investing in the infrastructure of growth

Nairobi has had the potential to explode as a thriving tech hub for some time, but without the average person having access to the technology to provide a large customer base, the progress of the city was stifled.

However, Internet penetration has rocketed, with 43% of the Kenyan population having access in 2014, compared with only 14% in 2010. In addition to this, by 2014 82% of Kenyans had a mobile phone. These factors are instrumental in opening up markets for tech-based startups.

A prime example of this is the 2010 startup M-Farm that allows farmers to get instant access to market prices and where they can buy and sell goods at the click of a mobile phone button. The business was set up by three women who wanted to help farmers cut out middle men and make a greater profit. Co-founder, Linda Kwamboka sums up the importance of technological access by saying, “Mobile phones are the best way to go (for business).”

The enterprising nature of local people, together with the government, has ensured that the city and nation do not miss out on the opportunities that a tech centered industry could provide. In 2010, Nairobi’s iHub opened, a large complex for investors, entrepreneurs and tech graduates to converge and develop new ideas. In only 6 years, the hub has spawned 170 startup companies and created over 1,300 new jobs.

iHub in Nairobi

iHub in Nairobi

The iHub complex now seeks to be entirely self-funded and one of its creators, Erik Hersman told Forbes magazine that, “A group of people are investing in the iHub in order to help us grow…The iHub’s mission is to catalyze the growth of the Kenyan tech ecosystem.”

To help sustain such growth, the Kenyan government partnered with the firm Nailab to create a technology program worth $1.6 million that would provide funding and educational support to entrepreneurs. The support has worked.

By 2014, technology accounted for 8.4% of Kenya’s GDP, but this is a proportion that is continually rising. In fact in the summer of last year, Bloomberg reported that Kenya’s tech industry could be worth $1 billion over the next 3 years.

A city evolving

Despite the development in Nairobi, it is obviously a long way off catching up with the hugely prosperous cities of the developed world. But this is something that could well change. The range of startups is already hugely diverse, from laptop manufacturers like Taifa to the likes of Rehau HomeGas, which creates micro-biogas equipment that runs off cow manure.

New hubs for innovation are opening, with both the aforementioned startups coming from the newly established Nairobi Industrial and Technology Park. Moreover, the Economist Intelligence Unit has predicted that by the end of this year, Nairobi will be one of the 40 fastest growing urban economies on the planet.

What seems likely to maintain this meteoric rise is that the government continues to commit itself to investing further in the city’s development as opposed to treating its new success as a finished task. The country’s grandest plans center on a Techno City, which they hope to have opened by 2025. This complex would provide housing and work spaces for 200,000 professionals. Bloomberg reported that major corporations such as Samsung and Blackberry are already expressing interest.

When the US President Barack Obama visited Kenya last year, he spoke of an emerging economy and entrepreneurial spirit within the country.

The attitude of Kenya’s government, graduates and the people working within its tech industries can perhaps be summed up by a line from Obama’s speech that drew warm applause:

“Because of Kenya’s progress, because of your potential, you can build your future right here, right now.”

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FillApp: Saving South Africans at the pump

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured

south africa petrol station

FillApp is the latest in apps aimed at saving consumers money by notifying them of real-time price fluctuations. This South African smartphone application lets users know the best times and locations to fill up their gas tanks based on their car size, make, model and fuel type.

The South African rand lost more than 26% of its value in the last 6 months of 2015, crushing citizens’ ability to participate in the global market. This devaluation was intensely felt across all sectors, particularly those involving global goods such as gasoline. As the rand fell (and continues to fall), South Africans are paying the price at the pump. Despite the fact that oil prices are plummeting to new lows, South Africans were not feeling the same relief as, say, Americans. This is because their currency was falling faster than the price of petroleum.

Sense Saves Cents

Recognizing the need to alleviate this financial burden, the South African tech company TouchFoundry created FillApp, an app for Android and iPhone platforms that allows users to save money at the pumps. Users simply input basic metrics about their vehicle, such as make, model, tank size, gasoline type and whether the driver is more likely to fill up at coastal or inland cities.

Based upon these metrics, the app is able to calculate an individual driver’s savings if she should fill up on a certain date. The app then sends each user a notification at the beginning of each month letting them know if they should fill their tanks sooner rather than later based upon the predicted price changes.


FillApp calculates these fluctuations based upon publicly available information from government and agency websites. Co-founder Lance Jenkins says that “every-day people aren’t able to access this data efficiently and conveniently when they need to. So, we did the time, crunched the code and came out with an elegant product that will hopefully add a touch of convenience to everyone’s lives.” Jenkins is referring more to the intellectual accessibility of information rather than the physical availability: the information FillApp uses to make its predictions is readily available to anyone with internet access, but it is taking the time to understand what the data means and how those numbers will be applied to the real world that takes time.

The Department of Energy recalculates fuel prices to include taxes and levies at the end of each month, and the South Africa Central Energy Fund uses this information to update fuel-price predictions on a daily or weekly basis. The Department of Energy puts these new, comprehensive prices into effect on the first Wednesday of each month. As soon as FillApp learns of the new price predictions, they are able to advise users on when and where to fill up their tanks based upon the information previously provided.

These sources allow the FillApp to provide up-to-date fuel price predictions based upon national agencies’ publications. “We scan reliable sources and we then basically get an algorithm that gives us a prediction of what the fuel (price) will probably be,” said Fabio Longano, TouchFoundry’s founder.

Taking Back the Purchasing Power

It is publicly sourced apps like this that are helping consumers take back the power in a world that seems impossibly confusing and unpredictable. By empowering consumers with knowledge about when and where to fill their tanks, FillApp is giving South Africans the information they need to potentially save a great deal of money.

As OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has allowed oil prices to fall thanks to a flood in the market, South Africans (and most others) have experienced relief at the pumps. Unfortunately, gas prices seem to be particularly unreliable in South Africa: Reuters predicts that the price of gasoline will go up by 12 cents to 12.74 rand/liter, or about $3.20/gallon. The current price of gasoline in America is, for instance, between $1.99-$2.65, depending upon the state. This means there is substantially more of a burden upon South African gasoline consumers than upon American: not only is the price of gasoline about a full dollar more per gallon in South Africa than in America, but given the massive differences in average income, the high price of gasoline takes up a larger proportion of a South African’s income than it does an American’s. This is not unusual, however. The United States is known for having low taxes on gasoline and usually has much lower gas prices than developing countries.

Getting the Goods

While South Africans’ relief at the pump has not been as intensely felt as in other countries, FillApp is increasing consumers’ ability to make informed decisions about when and where to purchase gasoline. Apps like this are popping up all over the world, and give a fascinating look at the future of capitalism in a world with increasing income gaps.

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Wari is now Senegal’s first choice for money transfers

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


The money transferring business Wari has become Senegal’s first choice as it continues to expand into other countries.

Wari might not be a familiar name to people outside of Senegal, but the money transferring system is almost synonymous with sending money in the country of its creation. In fact, Wari is so widely used that in Wolof (the country’s most widely spoken language), the phrase “Warima ko” means “send me money”.

Wari’s main rival in the world of money transferring was the international company Western Union, but Wari now holds 80% of the market in Senegal and the company is growing at a staggering 35% per month.

How it works and why it’s winning

The Wari system is fairly straightforward. A person pays money into one of the multitude of Wari outlets and an SMS is sent to the person they are sending the money to. The person who receives the message then takes their ID and the code they were sent to their nearest outlet and withdraws the cash. By partnering with 45 different banks and 17 African post offices, Wari has ensured that members of the public are never far from a place where they can make and receive a payment.

In addition to this coverage, Wari is commission free and very low cost, which is something that hugely encourages poorer people to feel comfortable using it. In a country like Senegal, being able to provide people with an easy and affordable way to send and receive money is a major selling point as 94% of the population does not have bank accounts. A cash-dominated culture, in which many people are quite poor, makes transfer networks almost essential.

Wari has ensured its status as the first choice by a combination of low costs, ease of use and availability. There are 45,000 points of sale across 26 nations and 2,000 of these are in Senegal, where the company processes around 65,000 transactions per day!

Kabirou Mbodje

Kabirou Mbodje

The parent company behind Wari is Cellular Systems International, established in 2008 by CEO Kabirou Mbodje. Mbodje’s local knowledge and understanding of his own nation’s culture and needs allowed CSI to launch Wari and rapidly gain traction in the market. But aware that the needs and attitudes in other African markets will differ, Mbodje has adopted a sensible strategy toward expansion.

Think global, act local

Mbodje has said that, “Wari was designed by Africans with a vision to go global” and yet going global always involves adapting. Mbodje was self-aware enough to recognize that without the same local knowledge that had helped conquer Senegal, Wari needed to work in conjunction with other companies to be successful in new markets.

As such, Wari has built partnership deals with numerous businesses and organizations in any new country in which they launch. Wari provides the technology to companies who understand local needs but do not have the means to deliver all these services.

From NGO’s to gas stations, Wari has carefully constructed a network of partners within nations like Tanzania, Morocco and Gabon.

The result of such localized deals is that Wari is processing an average of 40 million transactions monthly and the majority of these are outside of the initial Senegalese market.

The road ahead

Despite, what is ostensibly a huge success story, the CEO of CSI and the Wari brand is very measured in his appraisal of his company’s growth. When interviewed by New African Magazine, Mbodje said, “I think I will call my business a success when I am able to serve all of Africa as one entity, giving everybody, everywhere access to…pensions, life insurance… health care, these kinds of things.”

These are hugely ambitious plans but the first steps have already been made. Last year, Wari launched project Services Relay Points that offers citizens services ranging from remote medicine to bill payments. A percentage of revenues are donated to local groups providing healthcare and educational facilities. Launched in Senegal, it has now also been rolled out to Mali and Mbodje sees it as the start of his grand plan.

It is something that Mbodje believes in strongly and it aims to also change the way the continent is viewed from outside. He has previously stated, “Africa doesn’t need aid or loans, but organization.” It will be interesting to see just how far Wari can go in bringing about such change.

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Youssef Omaïs: the unassuming head of a Senegalese giant

Comments (0) Africa, Featured, Leaders

Youssef Omaïs

Youssef Omaïs continues to grow his Senegalese agribusiness – Patisen – after 35 years of success.

Youssef Omaïs is unlikely to be a name that is familiar to most people, as he is not a man who courts fame or accolades. However, as the CEO of Patisen, Omaïs heads up a group that provides many of the most popular food brands in Africa.

Omaïs is of Lebanese heritage but is Senegalese born and raised. This firm connection to the country, in which he launched his business, has been integral to earning the respect of his peers but also to ensuring that Patisen has continued to grow year on year.

Patisen was launched in Senegal, in 1981, and aimed to provide the people of the country and others in West Africa with a range of affordable food products. Patisen did not just set out to market recognizable brands, but to take on the international giant Nestlé, in one of its strongest markets. Patisen has even been accused of copying Nestlé with its color scheme and product names. Omaïs casually dismisses such complaints, insisting that the truth behind his success in Senegal and the wider African market is down to two key tenets.

Firstly, there is the fact that Patisen is entirely Senegalese owned and run. Every position within the company is filled by a local person, which must not only foster local support but also keeps overhead costs lower than rivals who employ European staff. Omaïs also states that it is simply a matter of knowing your customers saying, “We know we address consumers, while most foreign manufacturers are disconnected from the ground.”

The Growth of a Giant

This connection to the local markets enabled Omaïs to rapidly turn Patisen‘s range of spreads, chocolate drinks and bouillon cubes into hugely popular and recognizable names. The Chocolion brand of chocolate spread is one of the most popular in Senegal and export markets to the rest of West Africa and even into Europe have continued to increase.

In 2011, Omaïs said that the company’s export business accounted for “10% to 15% of our sales” but that he wanted to “increase this to 85%” as he aims to become West and Central Africa’s first choice.

In the same year, Youssef Omaïs was announced as the “Best Entrepreneur of the Year” for his previous year’s work, at Senegal’s prestigious, annual Sedar awards. This award sits alongside his title of “Knight of Agricultural Merit”, which was given to him by the department of agriculture in Senegal for his contribution to the nation’s economy and job production.

While individual recognition might drive some business figures, Omaïs is a quiet man who does not court the limelight. Rather, his focus is entirely on turning Patisen into an even greater presence within the African market. In 2011, Omaïs secured investment of $14.3 million from the International Finance Corporation, of which $3.2 million was equity.

Omaïs said that he believed the money would “transform us into a regional champion.”

The investment evidently worked, as by 2013, Patisen was employing over 3,000 local people and had a turnover of $143 million. The quietly spoken CEO continued to bolster his local reputation, by using some of his organization’s money to repair and re-open the abandoned Dakar Market, which had fallen into disrepair after numerous fires. Such moves resonate with local communities and make Patisen brands even more marketable.

Omaïs looks to the future

While the heart of Omaïs’s company lies in Senegal, his aspirations extend far beyond his home nation. Patisen is already exporting to 20 different countries, and it is gradually making its mark in Central Africa; but Omaïs wants to spread across the entire continent.

At 61 years of age, Omaïs believes that moving into new lines of food produce will allow his company to become the “undisputed leader in Africa”.

Patisen will open up a new production plant near Dakar in the second half of this year, as it moves into the manufacturing of mayonnaise. Within a year, Omaïs expects the plant to be producing 25,000 tons of the condiment for a turnover of over $42 million.

Omaïs summarizes the ethos of his company goals by saying, “We work every day to contribute to the well-being of millions of people who use our products.”

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Afroplan: 21st Century Coupons

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Afroplan is a new online and mobile platform that connects users in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo with grocery store chains to learn about discounts and promotions in real-time.

Big-box grocery stores are still a relatively new phenomenon in developing countries. Until just a few years ago, the vast majority of citizens living in even the metropolitan areas of such countries did their grocery shopping in locally-run markets filled with locally or regionally sourced foods. With the increase in chain grocery stores around the world, shoppers are adapting to the “one-stop-shop” mentality, including the concept of discounts and promotions.

Coupon Cutting in the Digital Age

Afroplan is a new mobile and online platform created by Cletus Razakou, a young Ivorian-Togolese digital expert and app developer. Afroplan bridges the gap between retailers and consumers by allowing users to input their personal data, such as location and material interests, and alerting them when a near-by retailer has a discount on a relevant item. While currently present only in three West African nations, a region home to 37 or 13% of Africa’s commercial centers, Afroplan is available on all smartphone platforms.

Users are able to input all varieties of material interests, from specific food items to the latest tablet, and are able to make informed choices about the right time to buy. Razakou was frustrated by the lack of communication between retailers and consumers regarding promotions, and realized that if a platform were created where retailers and consumers could alert one another about promotions, more Africans would benefit from these bargains.

This not only benefits consumers, but benefits retailers: many stores experience financial losses due to the expiry of food-products or to the fast turnover of tastes and preferences in material goods. Stores are now able to inform a broader range of consumers about potential savings while ridding themselves of soon-to-be-obsolete stock.

Benefits for All

The platform works through a two-pronged approach: the first is that supermarkets and other retailers are charged a flat fee to post individual promotions. The second is that sellers can purchase specialized advertising space to reach a broader range of consumers, including those who have not specifically listed a product as one of their interests. This is not only beneficial for the app as a money-making scheme, but is beneficial to retailers: the more specialized advertising they purchase, the more people see their products, and the more people will be interested in purchasing a discounted item, even if they had not listed it as a preferred item. In this way, retailers are able to expand their consumer base by creating a culture of desire while preventing losses incurred from expired and unsold products.

Of course, users benefit as well: they are now able to make informed choices about how to best-spend their hard-earned money. Consumers are able to choose from eight categories of goods: fashion, home decor, electronics, beauty, telephones, infant/baby, food, and overstock items.

Initial Challenges

Creating an app for an emerging industry is not without its challenges. Razakou said that the main challenges during this process were financial. It was challenging, Razakou said, to publicize the platform to potential clients (stores) and users in an efficient manner in all three countries, because they had not yet received investments from clients. Fortunately, Afroplan’s initial success indicates that financial barriers may no longer be prohibitive for expansion.

The Future of Bargaining?

Afroplan is an interesting, innovative approach to discount consumption. Connecting users in real-time to see the latest discounts is a new way to encourage consumption in West Africa, and, for those living in areas with supermarkets that opt to work with Afroplan, could lead to substantial savings on big ticket items. Unlike shopping at a local African market, buyers are not generally able to bargain in a supermarket, which takes the power away from the consumer. Afroplan gives shoppers some modicum of power when supermarkets are growing in popularity and number. No longer do citizens of Senegal, Togo and Cote d’Ivoire have to choose between the convenience of a one-stop-shop and the potentially low prices of shopping at good-specific markets.

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eTobb brings a medical Q&A service to the Middle East

Comments (0) Business, Featured, Middle East


The eTobb startup looks to democratize medical advice for people across the Middle East, with its Q&A online service.

Startup companies in the Middle East are not anything like as common as they are in other parts of the world, and so finding a niche would appear to be more straightforward. However, finding a niche that truly offers something original and has the potential to positively change people’s lives is a far greater task.

Lebanese startup eTobb appears to be just this sort of company. Launched in January 2013, eTobb is an online Q&A platform for medical problems. Dubbed a “medical Quora” in some quarters, eTobb works in a similar format to the popular aforementioned general Q&A website, but with a key difference. That difference is that any medical query or concern that a member posts can only be answered by a registered doctor. Therefore, customers can be assured that the answers they receive are reliable. Within 2 weeks of launching, eTobb had 50 qualified physicians onboard; after 1 year that number had risen to over 700.

Providing a much-needed service

Perhaps the most obvious reason for eTobb’s rapid growth is that it has provided a service that the region was in need of, as opposed to simply trying to create a demand for something new. While social media platforms have had to create a yearning for their product, access to medical expertise and advice is something that people across every continent, in every era, have desired.

eTobb was founded by 4 people, Paul Saber, Sara Helou, Nader Dagher and Jad Joubran. None of the team had a medical background, but all of them saw the importance of democratizing the access to healthcare information in Lebanon and the wider Middle East.

Co-founder Paul Saber

One of these founders, Paul Saber, explains, “The idea emerged from a need…the lack of information out there, let alone the inaccuracy of this information is a huge dilemma.” In a region like the Middle East, this problem is exacerbated by common cultural and socio-economic issues. In cultural terms, it can be considered taboo for many in the Arab world to discuss personal issues surrounding sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and women’s health. This was an area that another of the co-founders, Sarah Helou, identified while discussing the importance of an informative blog that eTobb has added to their site, saying, “The blog compliments our services. It’s to raise awareness about different topics and issues.”

The other widespread issue within the region is the cost of healthcare. In an area in which a lot of people struggle with poverty, it is simply not viable for people to travel to an emergency room (which is often the only option) in order to receive medical advice.

As Paul Saber said, “The service provided by eTobb allows users to access reliable medical information, from…experts for free.”

While the benefits to users are obvious, it is also an opportunity for doctors to build up a reputation with potential customers and indirectly advertise themselves to a wider market.

Developing and broadening services

Alongside the launch of the eTobb blog (that covers issues from staying healthy during Ramadan to warning signs for breast cancer), the company has also launched a web app for smartphone users.

As more doctors register to provide their services, the platform continues to grow and provide expert, free advice to not just Lebanese citizens but people all over the Middle East. Corporate support has also arrived, in the form of sponsorship, from Banker’s Assurance, one of Lebanon’s largest insurance companies.

By 2014, there were over 15,000 Arabic speakers signed up to a waiting list for an Arabic version of eTobb to be launched. The company successfully launched this option within the same year, opening up their services to an even greater number of people, across an even wider region.

Customers can also have face-to-face video consultations with an available doctor if they require more detailed discussion or simply desire the more personal experience that this can offer. The feedback from users has been hugely positive and Saber says, that people, “from all over the Arab world and beyond” have signed up and messaged eTobb to say how much it has made their lives easier.

With sponsorship, glowing feedback from consumers and an ever growing list of medical professionals signing up, the future for eTobb looks very healthy.

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Drawing On the Diaspora: Africa’s First Tech Diaspora

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Featured


Afrobytes, the first diaspora for African tech innovators, held a biannual conference on March 21-22 to discuss the future of development and role of technology for Africans.

Diasporas are common the world over but as the rigidity of nations and states disintegrates with the expansion of technological inclusion, the shape of diasporas is shifting. No longer are diasporas defined as concentrated groups of immigrants/non-native individuals in another country. Afrobytes, the self-described “first African tech diaspora in Europe,” aims to connect leaders in African innovation across the European and African continents to create a better flow of ideas. This sort of boundary-less platform is an intriguing look at the future of diasporas and the future of development.

Paris-based Afrobytes held its first conference on March 21-22, organized by CEO Ammin Youssef, and Head of Communications Haweya Mohammad. The goal of the conference was to bring the brightest minds from France (and greater Europe) and Africa together to discuss the future of Africa’s development. The conference was broken into four categories: mobile education; women as Africa’s future innovators; sustainable infrastructure development and sustainable agricultural development.

Featured speakers hailed from all corners of the globe with all varieties of expertise, from the founder of Libraries without Borders to the PR Manager of WeFarm, from the founder of an open source drone company, Flylab, to the creator of Nairobi’s premier co-working space, iHub. This enormously diverse group of speakers came together to discuss the best way to promote inclusive, sustainable, bottom-up development for the African people.

Inspiring Change: The Themes of the Day

The idea of “re-branding” Africa was a driving force behind the selected themes: after all, without investment, how can Africa develop outside of the traditional and increasingly obsolete top-down model? Re-branding Africa as a well-educated, innovative, inclusive (55% of speakers and attendees identified as women) and multi-faceted sustainable market is important for the future of the continent.

As all conferences on development must, Afrobytes kicked off with a half-day dedicated to the discussion around the role of technology in education. Experts in information-sharing were featured speakers, and topics ranged from traditional, school-based education to the borderless open-source sharing of the WeFarm platform. WeFarm, for example, connects more than 43,000 farmers from Sub-Saharan Africa and South America to share tips on sustainable agriculture near and far.

The next theme was women as the emerging innovators of Africa. While hardly new, the idea that women should be encouraged to think critically, listened to and seen as mentors is new to many, African and otherwise. The primarily female speakers gave lectures on connecting with commercial investors, utilizing co-working spaces, both physical and on-line, and more.

On March 22nd, discussions surrounding Africa’s next “raw material” focused on the necessity of providing African’s with 21st-century-standards of living, including universal access to reliable (and ideally renewable) sources of electricity. The challenges facing the start-up culture and overall clean energy sector were discussed, including a talk by leaders in existing sustainable agriculture initiatives like founder and CEO Abdoulaye Niang of Transconcept Food, Senegal, a company that specializes in the re-appropriation of traditional farming techniques for the modern world. GreenTec Capital spoke to the diverse group, saying “a lot of work is still to be done to support the African start-up environment, and we are thankful for initiatives like Afrobytes.”

Why an Online Diaspora?

The population of Africa is expected to double by 2050 to 2.5 billion, or one-quarter of the world’s projected population. Unless living conditions rapidly improve for millions of Africans, this level of population growth could prove disastrous. According to the African Economic Outlook, “despite progress, the level of human development in Africa remains low….gender inequality and exclusion exist in many countries,” which is exactly why the sorts of dialogue inspired at Afrobytes is so critical. Not only is Afrobytes an inclusive platform that provides women and men equal space to voice their ideas, but it is an important step away from traditional forms of top-down (or government-led) development.

More than three-fifths of Africa’s population is under 25 years old. These individuals have grown up with greater access to knowledge than any generation before, and are therefore more driven to change their surroundings because they are aware, to a painfully precise degree, of what they are missing out on in comparison to their foreign counterparts. The way in which Africa is developing demonstrates the importance of the free-flow of ideas between continents.

By inviting speakers from different physical diasporas, such as the Kenyan ambassador to France, Afrobytes has given its online diaspora a real sense of physical community. Eric Yoon of GreenTec Capital expects “Afrobytes to become an important platform for digital stockholders on the African data scene.”

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