Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 For 2016; Africa’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs

You may not know many of their names now, but in 20 years’ time, they could be on the cover of FORBES AFRICA. Peruse them, argue over them and follow their journeys. We find this list exciting, thought provoking and forward looking. We hope you will too.

FORBES AFRICA spent months looking for the best this continent has to offer. Research coupled with nominations from our readers brought the number to 250 potential under 30s. We worked for weeks, verifying and investigating, to whittle it down. We favored entrepreneurs with fresh ideas and took into account their business size, location, potential, struggles and determination. A panel of judges then debated the final 30. The list is in no particular order

1. Joel Macharia of Kenya founded financial services company Abacus (photo credit: Osborne Macharia)

Joel Macharia, 29, Kenya
Founder: Abacus

Macharia stares failure in the eye. At just 29, he has made money, lost it, fallen into debt and built a stronger business from ashes. He is a born entrepreneur who never quits.  “My earliest memory is selling and trading my lunch for cash, sweets and WWF stickers when I was 8 years old."

At the age of 12, Macharia, a passionate lad from Kerugoya, 128 kilometers from the capital Nairobi, paved his road to finance. He fell in love with banking, following the introduction to the phrase "Other People's Money" by an uncle in the sector, at high school when he studied the stock market as part of his commerce studies.  He was managing people’s money at 19, running banking technology projects at 22 and teaching finance at 23. In 2008, his business collapsed following the uncertainty of Kenya’s violent 2007 general elections.  The stock market dropped and his clients pulled their money, leaving him in debt at a tender age of 22. He was forced to take a job as a product designer.

Macharia went back to investing and personal finance planning. He built PesaTalk but in 2012, following a disagreement with venture capitalists, he walked away from the largest consumer business news site in Kenya. In 2014, he founded Abacus, a financial services company which has grown to over 3,000 investors.

2. Isaac Oboth, 26, Uganda
Founder: Media 256

Oboth built a business out of disappointment. In 2007, he hired a videographer to film his high school prom with the intention to sell the DVDs. The video was terrible, he says. But in just a day, he sold all 250 copies. He realized that people are willing to pay for what he considered a poor product, so it was clear they would pay more for a good product.  “I immediately went online and began googling what it took to shoot and edit great quality videos. Before I knew it, I was spending 16 hours a day behind a computer watching tutorials on shooting and editing,” says Oboth. He founded Media 256, which shoots and edits commercials, documentaries and TV shows.

He employs seven people and makes over $100,000 a year. CNN, Coca-Cola, Nestle and African Leadership Academy are among his clients. One of Oboth’s biggest achievements is a 10-part TV series dubbed Discover Uganda which aired in Uganda and later sold to The Africa Channel, a cable channel in the US.

3. Kelvin Doe, 19, Sierra Leone
Founder: K-Doe Tech

The youngest person on this year’s FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list hails from one of the continent’s smallest countries.

Doe was brought up by a single mother with five children in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. At age 11, he built a music set for entertainment; at 14 he upgraded it to a radio transmitter, all from scrap electronic pieces he picked on his way home back from school. At 16, he built a battery from acid, soda and metals from the bin. “There was a big electricity problem and school kids were suffering not being able to study at night, so I decided to make a battery that would provide electricity to some people. Sometimes, lights would come on once a week and the rest of the month it’s dark.”

Doe has also made an emergency shoe charger and a homemade amplifier.  His company, K-Doe Tech, also provides tools, workshops, mentorship, resources and networks, ultimately equipping young people in Sierra Leone with unique opportunities to take their future into their own hands. He currently works with people between the ages of 12 and 25.

4. Andrew Mupuya, 24, Uganda
Founder: YELI Paper Bags Limited

Raised in an extended family in a village in Manafwa district, eastern Uganda, Mupuya understands struggle. Government grants paid for primary school and he had to find money for clothes. In 2008, 16-year-old Mupuya collected used plastic bottles, sold them to a recycling plant for 28,000 shillings ($8.50) and borrowed 8,000 shillings ($2.50) from his teacher to start YELI Paper Bags, a packaging and manufacturing company producing and marketing handmade eco-friendly paper bags from recycled paper.

YELI has made 5.6 million bags that have sold in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, South Africa, Norway and the US. He employs 24 people, turning over $170,000 between June 2014 and June 2016.

5. Mogau Seshoene, 27, South Africa
Founder: The Lazy Makoti

Seshoene's The Lazy Makoti is a cooking start-up that teaches women to shine in the kitchen. The idea came in 2014 when she had to teach a friend to make traditional meals. “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 that I had to concentrate on traditional food although I teach other cuisines too,” she says. Through word of mouth, her lessons turned into a business. Seshoene also sells branded chopping boards, recipe journals, aprons and tea sets.

6. Sulley Amin Abubakar, 29, Ghana

Founder: Zaacoal

Abubakar says he is inspired by many who have been in this magazine, but his biggest inspiration is his grandmother. He grew up watching her sell everything she could get her hands on, from brooms to cigarettes. Her entrepreneurial spirit rubbed off.  Abubakar also drew inspiration from Steve Jobs and Elon Musk with their “rags to riches” stories. Following in their footsteps, he saw a gap.

According to Abubakar, there are over a thousand coconut sellers in the Greater Accra municipality alone, who find it difficult to dispose waste. “This creates a huge problem for city authorities, who already have challenges managing household waste. I had to solve the waste problem by using this waste for coal, save lives by creating green charcoal and still make a profit.” He risked his final year law school fees to build Zaacoal, behind his mother’s back, and it’s paying off. He is on course to sign a million-dollar deal to grow the company. He hopes to produce 1,000 bags of Zaacoal per day.

7. William Elong, 23, Cameroon
Founder: Will&Brothers

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.

He 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.

8. Michael Muthiga, 29, Kenya
Founder: Fatboy Animations

Animation struck Muthiga in childhood. He grew up as a lover of art, drawing, craft and painting. His parents were impressed, but feared he would fail at school. His father transferred him to a rural school, far from cartoons and arts in the city, in an attempt to push him towards physics and mathematics. It backfired. Art and animation followed him. One of his teachers also took an interest and showed him how cartoons were made. It proved an existential moment.

Free online tutorials became his educators. With practice and patience, Muthiga landed a job as a lead animator on the show Tinga Tinga Tales, a children’s cartoon series based on African folk tales to improve his skills. He saved 90% of his salary every month for equipment and registered his business in 2010. When Tinga Tinga Tales announced its last season; Fatboy Animations was born. A YouTube upload of his work earned him a job with a Kenyan telecommunications company. Lucrative contracts streamed in. He employs nine people and handles seven projects per month on average, charging $14,000 for 30 seconds.

9. Edwin Bruno Shayo, 29, Tanzania
Founder: Smart Codes

Shayo first got his first taste of entrepreneurship at the age of 13, selling cassettes. At 17, he graduated to selling CDs. With a government allowance for university, he bought his first computer and a modem. With the only $10 left in his pocket, he printed business cards.

He built websites for companies to advertise their products. Clients trickled in. He named the business Smart Codes, a digital agency that focuses on advertising, research and marketing. One of its most successful products is M-Paper, a platform that distributes printed newspapers and books directly to readers’ phones. M-Paper won the AppsAfrica award for the best innovation and educational application in Africa. Shayo also won a Hall Of Fame Tanzania leadership award and Young Achiever of the Year in the Tanzania Leadership Awards in 2015.  Smart Codes turns over $350,000 a year and has 29 full-time employees and 15 contract workers.

10.Fatoumata Ba, 29, Senegal
Founder: Jumia

Ba has always been fascinated by technology. She hacked her dad’s computer at the age of nine, created her first email address at 11 and built her first website at 16, all out of curiosity.

She launched Jumia Ivory Coast, an online retail platform supported by Africa Internet Group. From 10 employees in 2013, to more than 300 in 2015, Jumia Ivory Coast became the fastest growing African e-commerce site with more than 500,000 monthly unique visitors buying more than 50,000 products. She later on took the reins of Jumia Nigeria, the largest e-commerce site on the continent in market share, employees and revenues. She has partnered with more than 30,000 vendors and brands, including Apple, L’Oreal and New Look.

11.Barclay Okari, 24, Kenya
Founder: Impact Africa Industries

Okari started thinking about being an entrepreneur at an unusual age in a dangerous time. He was six and in the middle of Kenya’s political violence. A few weeks before the elections, on his way home from school, he saw a so-called outsider beheaded on the street. At the age of 11 he helped in the family grain business. At 15, he started SkypeScience, an IT company that he ran for a year but which failed. Two years later, he started yet another IT company, MarketPlace which also failed. “My third venture, Impact Africa Industries Ltd, which I started in 2010, has gone on to be a successful company, creating employment and changing lives.”

Impact Africa Industries produces low cost reusable sanitary pads. He now sells as far as Uganda and South Sudan. “We have more than 1,300 schools across East Africa on our sanitary pads program which means we, year on year, keep at least 125,000 young girls in school who would miss up to three months of school in year because they can't afford sanitary pads,” says Okari. The company located in Kitile, a small town in western Kenya, employs 80 people and made $800,000 last year. It now manufactures baby diapers to increase revenue.

12. Mark Doumba, 29, Gabon
Co-Founder: CLIKAFRIK Group

This is fortune born out of luck. It all started when friends asked Doumba to find, procure and ship goods from his home in Dubai to Africa. “I initially viewed these requests as inconvenient but as the frequency and volume of the requests grew, I realized there was an opportunity to organize these informal and friendly requests into a formal and sound business venture,” he says.

Doumba hired one employee and the business grew through word of mouth. “I got into this to address the unmet need for professional and reliable sourcing, shipping, delivery and after-sales support of Dubai-based consumer and industrial products to SMEs and consumers based in Africa.”

“With the aim to grow the business and make our processes more efficient, I chose to develop and invest in ventures that can elevate small and medium enterprises and fill the efficiency gaps I was faced with in my earlier days as an entrepreneur.” The company has evolved as an investment holding company lending venture capital to companies across Africa. With operations in Senegal and Gabon, CLIKAFRIK Group offers support to 492 SMEs in Gabon and over 230 in Senegal, turning over $1.2 million in revenue.

13. Obinwanne Okeke, 28, Nigeria
Founder: Invictus Group

Okeke could not fail his mother. A promise meant hard work and dreaming big.  He was raised in Ukpor village, 790 kilometers from Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, as the 17th child of a polygamous father. He went to boarding school aged 10, lost his father at 16 and moved from one relative to another. He named his company Invictus after one of Nelson Mandela’s favorite a poems, by William Ernest Henley, about the undefeated and unconquerable soul of a hard worker, from an impoverished background, who will not give up.

Invictus is in construction, agriculture, oil and gas, telecoms and real estate. He has 28 permanent and 100 part-time employees across nine companies.

To Be Continued. ......