Amid the cascading global crises that have severely impacted the African continent, entrepreneurs emerge as game changers in reshaping the continent’s future and enabling it to grow and thrive. From north, west, east, down to south and north Africa, African entrepreneurs have created – and continue to create – business models to address many of the numerous woes facing the continent, including in the areas of health, education, agriculture, food, transportation, e-commerce, e-payments, and energy.
Innovative, out-of-the-box, African businesses recently contested in the fifth edition of Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition held in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. This year, the finalists secured a total of USD 1.5 billion in grants, in addition to training and business engagement programmes.
The first winner was Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wellahealth Technologies (a health insurance service provider) from Nigeria.
Wellahealth increases healthcare access in Africa via alternative care avenues and technology that reduce costs and improve accessibility. The company uses a technology-enabled network of over 2,000 health providers to solve the challenge of high costs associated with healthcare fragmentation and out-of-pocket payments on the continent.
Wellahealth is digitally connected to over 27 insurance companies, leading banks, telcos, and a network of sales agents to enable the efficient distribution of affordable healthcare services.
Neto’s innovative business enables patients to obtain high-quality care easily for just $1 a month. Wellahealth has served over 130,000 patients, making over $100,000 in monthly revenue from fees charged to companies and individuals.
The Kenyan Thomas Njeru, CEO and Co-Founder of Pula Advisors Limited, an agro-tech insurance service provider, came second. Pula offers comprehensive coverage based on yield performance, protecting smallholder farmers against multiple perils, including drought, frost, floods, hurricanes, plant diseases, and pests.
It uses innovative technology to assess damages quickly, provides digital tools and agronomy advisory services to improve farming practices, and leverages partnerships with governments, insurers, and distribution channels, creating linkages and synergies for better cooperation. Pula aims to enable all farmers in Africa to access insurance and achieve yields similar to those of developed economies while sustaining their livelihoods.
From Egypt, Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and Co-Founder of Sprints, an Egypt-based e-learning and training solutions provider, took the third position.
Sprints is an end-to-end service with a mission to bridge the tech talent gap. The company assesses and pairs talent with top-paying jobs, delivers customized learning journeys, and supports its clients’ career growth.
Sprints believe itself to be the only social enterprise in the Middle East and Africa that offers guaranteed hiring programmes where graduates only pay upon successful hiring, in zero per cent interest payments over three years. In four years, it delivered more than 50,000 learning experiences, graduated more than 15,000 learners, and delivered over 1.3 million learning hours in the 13 most-in-demand technology fields. Based on the programme’s objectives and duration, the company’s prices range from $50 to $400.
From Rwanda, Albert Munyabugingo, CEO and Co-Founder of Vuba Vuba, a retail services provider, also made it in the top 10. Vuba Vuba is a Rwandan mobile app that provides a convenient solution for residents in Kigali, Musanze, and Rubavu to order meals and daily essentials for delivery to their homes or offices. Since launching in January 2020, its team of 31 full-time employees, 100 delivery riders, and 50 casual workers has successfully delivered over 1,000,000 orders and continues to reach an average of 1,000 deliveries per day.
Vuba Vuba stands out in the market by not charging extra fees on top of the regular prices of products, only adding a delivery fee of $1. It strives to provide reliable delivery service to its customers.
African Female Entrepreneurs
Female entrepreneurs also had a strong presence in the competition with innovative solutions developed to tackle the issues in energy, agriculture, and health fields, which supports the point that Africa has the highest percentage of women-led businesses in the world.
For instance, three women were among the ABH competition’s top 10, making up 30 per cent of the ABH applicant pool. More interestingly, the percentage of women rose to 42 per cent of the 50 ABH finalists, and 75 per cent of the Grand Prize winners in the past four years.
Women have also been awarded 47 per cent of the ABH prize money to date. This representation is crucial when, on average, male entrepreneurs get 25 times more investment than females.
Nthabiseng Mosia, CMO and Co-Founder of Easy Solar company from South Africa, was one of them. The company is a leading energy distribution company in West Africa, providing financing on high-quality solar systems and appliances for those with limited or no access to the conventional grid. Customers can finance their purchases over time by paying in weekly or monthly instalments, with the option to pay via cash or mobile payment. To date, Easy Solar has reached about one million people, distributed through its extensive network of more than 400 agents and outlets across Sierra Leone and Liberia.
ABH Prize Competition is a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Chinese Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy to support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors and build a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future of the continent.
For over ten years, ABH’s mission has been to recognize 100 African entrepreneurs by allocating grant funding, training programmes, and support for the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The top 10 list this year represents eight African countries, including Egypt, with the top three list representing three African countries: Egypt, Kenya, and Nigeria. Together, they have managed to raise over $153 million in investment, serve over 37.5 million customers and users, receive $7 million in prize money, operate in 52 countries across Africa, create over 123,000 direct and indirect jobs, and report revenues exceeding $252 million.
Pan African Review had the opportunity to meet all of those heroes, who stressed that they have plans to expand in other African countries in a pan-African effort that benefits the people of Africa for a better future across all sectors.
They also urged the policy- and decision-makers on the continent to provide more incentives for entrepreneurs and startups in a way that enables them to grow, expand and play a significant role in creating more job opportunities and boosting the continent’s economies.
In a nutshell, this year’s ABH Prize Competition showcased the transformative power of entrepreneurship in Africa. The top 10 finalists from diverse sectors and countries underscore the continent’s entrepreneurial potential. With significant investments, millions of customers served, and thousands of jobs created, these entrepreneurs are making a substantial impact on Africa’s economy.
The entrepreneurial landscape in Africa holds great promise, and the ABH competition serves as a testament to the determination and ingenuity of African entrepreneurs in shaping a brighter future for the continent.