The African startup industry has been growing in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Inspite of the continent-specific challenges facing every young African CEO, they’ve managed to make their businesses survive and eventually make it into this list. They may not be known to you today, but in about a decade-or less, these young African CEOs could become household names all over the continent. This list is a look into the future of the African power scene. Find out who they are, follow their journeys and draw inspiration from them.
1. Obinwanne Okeke: 28, Nigeria.
Founder: Invictus Group
Okeke was raised in Ukpor village, 790 kilometres from the Nigerian capital of Abuja. He was the 17th child of a polygamous father. At the age of 10, he went to boarding school, and by 16, lost his father. He was continuously moved from one relative to another. This young African CEO is head of Invictus – the company named after a favourite poem of Nelson Mandela – by William Ernest Henley. A poem about the undefeated and unconquerable soul of a hard worker from a poor background who just won’t give up.
Invitus group is into construction, agriculture, oil and gas, real estate and telecoms. He has 28 permanent and 100 part-time staff across 9 companies.
2. Joel Macharia: 29, Kenya
Joel Macharia is a young African CEO with no fear of failure – little wonder, seeing as he’s had his own fair share of it, but has still pulled through, time and time again. The 29 year old has made money, lost it, fallen into debt and built a stronger enterprise from the ruins of the failed one. The young African CEO said “My earliest memory is of selling and trading my lunch for cash, sweets and WWF stickers when i was 8 years old.” By the time he was 12, , Macharia was already moving in the direction of finance. He fell in love with banking and was already being introduced to the phrase “Other people’s money” by his uncle in the finance sector. Macharia, from the town Kerugoya – 128 kilometers from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi studied the stock market in high school, as part of his commerce studies. By the time he was 19, he was managing other people’s money, at 22 he was running projects in bank technology and by 23, was already teaching finance.
In 2008, this young African CEO saw his business go down after the violence following Kenya’s 2007 general elections. The stock market dropped and his clients pulled out their money, leaving the 22 year old in debt. He was then forced to take a job as a product designer.
The story appeared to be over, but not for Macharia. He returned to investing and personal finance planning and built PesaTalk in 2012. After a falling out with venture capitalists, he walked away from Kenya’s largest consumer business news site. By 2014, the young African CEO had founded Abacus, the financial services company that now has over 3000 investors.
3. Mogau Seshoene: 27, South Africa
Founder: The Lazy Makoti
It all started in 2014 for Sesheone when she had to teach a friend how to make traditional meals. She then founded “The Lazy Makoti” – the cooking startup that teaches people how to prepare both traditional South African meals and other cuisines as well. Says Seshoene “There are shockingly so many people who don’t know how to make South African foods. it is also hard to find a traditional food recipe book, so I knew i had to concentrate on traditional food, although I teach other cuisines too.” This young African CEO went from teaching with spoken words to turning her lessons into a business. Seshoene sells branded chopping boards, tea sets and recipe journals as well.
4. Prince Boadu: 28, Ghana
Co-Founder: MapTech Logistics
Prince Boadu sold African-print clothing and founded a multimedia company to pay his way through university. He got a master’s degree in logistic and supply chain management, after which he worked in a company providing cheap toilets for poor people in urban areas. Speaking of the challenges they face, the young African CEO said “The major problem we faced at the time was inaccurate customer location data.”
These challenges led Boadu and his co-founder, a geomatic engineer to deploy geographic information systems(GIS) and location intelligence to solve the problem. That saw the birthing of Maptech Logistics, a tech company that develops GIS- based applications to solve business problems like logistics and supply chain management. Maptech was named in 2016’s 100 globally competitive startups in Ghana by The Startup Network and Boadu is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
5. Hellen Dausen: 29, Tanzania
Founder: Nuya’s Essence
This former beauty queen left the money on the runways to be her own boss. She lost money even before starting, but the resilience of the young African CEO saw her picking up the pieces to build a business in Zanzibar from scratch. After first investing in a soap-making plant in her parent’s house, the regulatory bodies found it not up to their standards and ordered Dausen to destroy it. The Miss Universe, Tanzania rebuilt the handmade natural bath and body care line and called the authorities for another inspection – they could find no fault this time. Nuya’s Essence is a line of bath and body care products from botanical oils, butters, herbs and spices.
6. Momar Mass Taal: 28, Gambia
Founder: Tropingo Foods
Momar originally wanted to be a diplomat like his father, but got into business by accident. At 17 years of age, he started printing t-shirts for friends, and later evolved into a clothing brand – Malyka clothing. In a few years, the young African CEO was manufacturing in Bangladesh and selling in 5 countries.
After noticing that most local producers and farmers had problems accessing the market, Momar set out to build a business to address the lack of value addition for local produce. This was how Tropingo foods was founded. The company processes and exports mango and groundnuts and exports to Asia and Europe. Momar is currently building a food dehydration processing facility in Gambia and has 140 employees, 120 of which are women. He turned over $1.6 million in 2015.
7. Uneku Atawodi: 28, Nigeria
Founder: Bamboo Green Concepts
Atawodi spent most of her life playing professional polo for brands in over 22 cities around the world. At 21, this young African CEO launched Bamboo Green Concepts with the help of her father – an investment outfit with a diversified portfolio. Bamboo Green Concepts owns Bamboo House, a boutique, hotel and lounge in Nigeria’s capital – Abuja. Bamboo evolved into what Atawodi loves most; a place where people can play polo. She partnered with SuperSport to bring polo to television across Africa and constructed the bamboo polo arena on the beach in Lagos.
After experiencing difficulty raising funds for her company, and noticing the difficulties SMEs experience when accessing finance, she launched Africa’s first equity crowdfunding platform, Malaik. Malaik closed its first $300,000 deal within two months of launching, and is currently raising its own seven-figure round to help connect more global investors with high impact investment opportunities in Africa.
She employs 67 full-time staff and over 100 part-time staff.
8.Hanta Tiana Ranaivo Rajaonarisoa: 24, Madagascar
Founder: Flore Aroma
Rajaonarisoa, hailing from the tropical paradise – Madagascar, comes from a family of entrepreneurs but the young African CEO was driven to entrepreneurship by bankruptcy and a black cloud of mosquitoes.
Her father went bankrupt in 2009 after Andry Rajoelina’s coup d’état, which plunged Madagascar into political crisis. Rajaonarisoa couldn’t afford to finish her business administration degree in the United States so she took over the family-owned unused essential-oil-making machine. She founded Flore Aroma, a low cost essential oils company, with the money she saved as a student. Her first batch was 100 bottles of mosquito repellent and antiperspirants, which she sold at a trade fair. She now supplies to 40 pharmacies in Madagascar.
9. Inga Gubeka: 28, South Africa
Founder: Indalo Décor
Gubeka came from a poor background. The young African CEO grew up in a single rented room, in KwaZulu-Natal, with five family members, being raised by his grandparents. He started a business homeless and hungry. “I had been awarded a commission by the department of health to design and manufacture information booths, I couldn’t because I required cash to manufacture the stuff, I went to all the banks they couldn’t [lend money to] my company because I lived hand-to-mouth.”
Indalo Décor – named after his son and meaning “creation” in isiZulu – designs and makes backpacks, clocks, lamps, and wooden accessories for cell phones. The plywood bags are his best sellers. Gubeka makes $77,000 a year. Glenfiddich named a $5,000 bottle of whiskey after the young African CEO.
10. William Elong: 23, Cameroon
Elong is a big dreamer and overachiever. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business at 18, an MBA at 20. At 23, he runs a drone business he started with little more than a PowerPoint presentation.
The young African CEO founded Will&Brothers, an IT innovation and competitive intelligence start–up, with a main project called DroneAfrica, promoting civil drones as a business service and civil defence tools in Cameroon against terrorism. The drones are also used in mapping, agriculture, media coverage and tourism. He employs four people and has a dozen drones. Now, his mission is to raise funds to become the first manufacturer of quadcopter type drones – unmanned aerial vehicles with four propellers, which can fly at an altitude of 500 meters with a range from 20 to 25 minutes and featuring a high-definition camera, in Cameroon.