To build fortune, many of the world’s most successful businessmen used all the opportunities life gave them and attained their billionaire status by building everything from nothing. In many African countries, there are lots of billionaires who were able to build their businesses from scratch with not wealthy but very poor beginnings. The stories of success of those rich African young entrepreneurs have given hope to thousands of young and determined Africans.
Everybody can become a millionaire or multi-millionaire, but it depends on what he or she is ready to do for achieving his goal. Below are the short stories of 5 successful African young entrepreneurs whose example can drive a sense of purpose into many young entrepreneurs and motivate to strive for greater achievements.
Business in Africa
What are the most common reasons making people give up on the very beginning of starting or at the later stages of growing their businesses? They might be the following:
- “I don’t have the capital”
- “Nobody wants to give me capital”
- “The banks have turned me down many times”
Lack of capital is perhaps the most important reason why entrepreneurs around the world give up on starting a business. Many passionate people – including Africans – don’t have enough courage to realize their business ideas, projects and make the dreams come true just because they don’t have a capital. But the lack of capital is not a real “serial killer of business dreams”. Many startup founders might ask why or disagree.
As the experience of many billionaires show, lack of capital is to a great extent just a convenient excuse. Moreover, capital is not the most necessary element of success. Capital is even abundant in the present day world. And there is a proof to this hypothesis. There a few problems. First, many businessmen who need capital don’t know where to look for it. For this reason, the real problem consists in a lack of awareness about the sources and ways of how to raise capital.
Second, sometimes happens that the business idea itself is not worth the capital. It’s a rare thing, but if the product or service is not relevant to the customers they will not spend their money on it. Third, success doesn’t depend only on the business idea but on the businessman himself. If he is forced to run a business, afraid to do that or faces any other difficulties, becoming successful might be a problem.
During the last decade, a lot of capital has been flowing into African countries. It boosted a huge increase in African economic development. In 2016, Africa received up to $300 million in tech startup funding and the following year this number rose to almost $400 million. These numbers do not even include other startups.
The good news is that there are no reasons to stop this capital flow to rise higher and higher. And as the years go by, African entrepreneurs become more and more confident. They integrate into the world of business with ease, but it has not always been like that.
Checkout several examples of young Africans who have successfully raised funding to start, grow and expand their billion-dollar businesses.
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The most successful young African entrepreneurs
These success stories prove that it is possible to raise capital even during tough and challenging times. If all these young people could find capital in Africa, you can do it as well.
This short list of successful African entrepreneurs is going to change your way of thinking and possibly your business. So, here are 5 of the most exciting success stories of young African entrepreneurs who built their businesses from scratch!
1. Patrick Ngowi (33, Tanzania)
This young entrepreneur believes that if opportunity knocks, answer. He once said:
“It was a business on the side, nothing serious, but I loved the fact that I was making money and I was becoming a bit independent. The very foundation of the little success I’ve achieved was formed during those years. I learned about profit and loss, about margins, about marketing and hiring the right people – I learned so many things at that stage”.
Patrick Ngowi is Tanzanian business celebrity who started as an entrepreneur at the tender age of 15. In the beginning, he earned money on the side during high school, but later he became a founder and chairman of Helvetic Group of Companies. Today, this is the fastest growing network of renewable energy companies in East Africa. Ngowi is also a chairman of the United Nations Global Compact in Tanzania. Patrick Ngowi is also a board member and advisor to several local companies in Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda.
When he was 18, Patrick Ngowi got engaged in trading cell phones as he discovered that cell phones in Asia were cheaper to buy than in Tanzania. The young entrepreneur bought cheap models from Chinese manufacturers and sold them to Tanzania’s gadget enthusiasts at much higher prices. This first start-up gave Ngowi a $150,000 profit.
Patrick Ngowi founded Helvetic Solar when he was 22 to provide renewable energy solutions for clients in Tanzania, the United States, making $8 million in revenues. In 2013, Helvetic Solar was awarded the Fastest Growing and Number One in Tanzania’s Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies Survey.
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As it is widely known, a lack of electricity is one of the most important questions on the agenda of many African governments. As for Tanzania, its electric power grid meets only 10% of the population’s electricity needs. The problem is that the lack of electricity makes a negative impact on most companies, government agencies and wealthy families that depend on electrical generators.
What Ngowi was doing when selling low-cost cell phones and traveling back and forth from China to Tanzania was learning about solar panels and renewable energy. Ngowi realised that this was a new business opportunity that was knocking his door, so he decided to answer. Therefore, he founded Helvetic Solar Contractors, to help his country manage the energy crisis. This little start-up was transformed into the Helvetic Group. Ngowi’s company has installed 6,000 rooftop solar systems. He also founded similar companies in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.
Helvetic Group is known to partner with The Climate Reality Project to make the renewable energy solutions more affordable and accessible for as many Tanzanians as possible. Ngowi’s non-profit social initiative, Light For Life Foundation, is known to provide free solar power to women living in the villages of Tanzania providing better access to clean renewable energy.
This story sounds like Patrick Ngowi was just lucky to notice easy ways to make money but his journey to success wasn’t an easy one. To start selling China-made cell phones, he took a loan of $1,800 from his mother, and one of his close friends sponsored his travel to China. Patrick Ngowi has been featured by Forbes as one of “10 Young African Millionaires to Watch”.
2. Lorna Rutto (28, Kenya)
A young African businesswoman possesses all the needed entrepreneurial skills she gained during her career in the waste recycling business. In 2010, she quit her job in the bank to start a waste recycling business. She built a big company, called EcoPost that is engaged in collecting and recycling waste plastic into aesthetic, durable and environmentally friendly fencing posts. This idea is aimed at conservation of forests by replacing timber for alternative materials. Lorna Rutto managed to get financial support from international and local investors and non-governmental organizations.
Lorna Rutto has contributed immensely towards the saving forests in Kenya. Thanks for her efforts, hundreds of jobs were created in Kenya, and 100,000 new positions are expected to be created in the following 15 years.
In 2010, Lorna applied for and won a $6,000 SEED Award and used it to start her business. Also, she won a grant award of $12,700 from the Enablis Energy Globe-Safaricom Foundation. Another business plan competition she took part was organized by the Cartier Women’s Initiative. In this competition, she received a prize award of about $12,000.
Attracting investments is a great way to grow a business. Some of the biggest investments Lorna Rutto’s business attracted were an equity investment from the Blue Haven Initiative and the Opus Foundation amounting to $500,000. This money was used to purchase the necessary advanced recycling equipment.
Many organisations in African countries are willing to support businesses that work towards developing the continent.
This success story shows how a business can start as a small venture and move to a large manufacturing facility equipped with advanced recycling equipment.
3. Jason Njoku (38, Nigeria)
Jason Chukwuma Njoku is one of Nigeria’s top celebrities in the world of e-commerce. Jason Njoku is the co-founder of IrokoTV, a mobile entertainment, and internet TV platform. It is hugely popular in Nigeria for its extensive catalog of African ‘Nollywood’ movies. This company was co-founded in 2010, with a $150,000-investment from Njoku’s friend Sebastian Gotter. As for today, Iroko Partners is known to be the world’s largest companies that distribute African entertainment around the world.
As the co-founder of Iroko Partners and IrokoTV, Jason Njoku’s principle is simple: "I am trying to make people happy”.
Njoku’s struggle in the early days of his business was not as funny and glamorous as it might seem to be. In 2010, Njoku started on YouTube before he built a successful world-known entertainment empire. It has brought many challenges. What Njoku told himself:
“I make more mistakes than I make good choices. My only saving grace is that the choices that I make are better and more significant”.
After the unsuccessful attempts at YouTube business in the United Kingdom in 2010, Jason returned to Nigeria. He established close relationships with local film producers and founded a startup, IrokoTV.
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Njoku didn't have enough capital, but his friend and business partner, Sebastian Gotter invested £90,000 in his business which boosted the growth of IrokoTV. In 2011, Iroko Partners received $8-million investment from American hedge fund, Tiger Global. In the same year, an annual revenue of Iroko TV was $1.3 million and, as Njoku claims, the current earnings are surpassing the figures of the passing year.
Recently, IrokoTV received $19 million in investment which helped to expand the media empire into Francophone countries in Africa. As for today, the business has attracted up to $40 million in investment funding from the local and foreign investors. Currently, Njoku is planning to transform the entertainment company into a $100-million conglomerate within the following few years.
Today, Njoku is a venture capitalist who is obsessed with funding local entrepreneurs. The young African entrepreneur once said: “I want to help young entrepreneurs build the next IrokoTV”. By the way, IrokoTV was described by Forbes Magazine as the ‘Netflix of Africa’ which became its second name.
4. Anna Phosa (South Africa)
Anna Phosa is often called a ‘celebrity pig farmer’ as she is one of Africa’s most successful pig farmers. Similar to many other businessmen, her career journey wasn’t that easy as at the beginning she struggled to raise capital to start and grow the business.
In 2004, Anna Phosa founded her first pig farm in Soweto with $100 which was her own contribution. At first, her farm counted only 4 small pigs, but after 4 years, she was contracted by Pick ‘n Pay, the South African supermarket chain. According to the contract, the supplier had to sell 10 pigs per week. This was kind of a breakthrough, and soon the request grew to 20 pigs per week. After 2 years, Anna Phosa signed one more contract for five years with Pick ‘n Pay to supply 100 pigs per week. It was an R25 million deal (this amount equaled $1.9 million). This contract allowed Anna to raise capital from ABSA Bank and USAID and buy a 350-hectare farm property. At the moment, the farm rears around 5,000 pigs employing about 20 staff.
While many young entrepreneurs trying to start a business turn to banks ended up disappointed, Anna Phosa managed to start her business without a financial help of banks. The point is that banks mostly tend to focus on more or less mature businesses.
Many businessmen don’t understand, but bank loan is just one out of many options for entrepreneurs to raise a capital. This is actually not the best option. The problem is that too many unqualified businessmen ask banks for loans.
5. Abasiama Idaresit (39, Nigeria)
“We must inspire our kinsmen to look beyond the now and to see the big picture. If we don’t roll up our sleeves and get dirty, no one else will”.
Abasiama Idaresit is one of the most successful African entrepreneurs who managed to be ahead of many businessmen. He believed in digital marketing and the possibilities of the internet for the African continent. He founded Wild Fusion, a Nigeria-based digital marketing agency. Similarly to his founder, the company is quite young, but it has a presence in some other countries including Ghana and Kenya. It has a clientele of stable companies such as Pepsi, Unilever, Diamond Bank, and Vodafone.
In 2008, Abasiama Idaresit completed the Information Systems and Management course at the London School of Economics. After, he returned to Nigeria to start a business. Wild Fusion was founded a time, digital marketing was quite an unpopular thing in Nigeria. Almost nobody heard about digital marketing in Nigeria.
Idaresit struggled with financial difficulties and couldn’t make any money for the first 8 months. Finally, he found a client. Idaresit’s first client was Baby M, a small company that produced goods for new mothers and their babies. Baby M was a network market company that hired sales agents who searched for customers on a daily basis. The company could hardly make ends meet. Idaresit managed to convince the Baby M owner to give him a chance under the money back guarantee if he didn’t give the company a return on investment.
The company gave Idaresit USD 250 as payment in advance so that Idaresit could do his job. With this little capital, Idaresit managed to increase earnings by 100 percent in three months. Baby M’s revenue grew from USD 1,000 to USD 100,000 a month through the implementation of the internet marketing technologies to grow the presence of this business. The company was simply overwhelmed with orders.
The result amazed Google so that the company adopted it as an internet marketing case study. Wild Fusion became Google Adwords’ first certified partner in Nigeria. In 2011, it was named Nigeria’s best digital agency. The next year, with no external funding, the company had an annual turnover of $6 million. Idaresit said that he had always loved the Internet and wanted to see it change Africa. Today, Wild Fusion boasts clients like Unilever, Vodacom, Diamond Bank, Planned Parenthood, and many other African and international clients.
The story of Idaresit’s success shows how one can grow from graduate to high-profile online marketing company owner.
Each of the stories shows that becoming a successful entrepreneur doesn’t come easily. Success consists of many ingredients including patience, luck, perseverance, etc. And capital seems not to be the most important thing in achieving the top.
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