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.
- Joel Macharia, 29, Kenya
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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- Sulley Amin Abubakar, 29, Ghana
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fatoumata Ba, 29, Senegal
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Siya Beyile, 22, South Africa
Founder: The Threaded Man
Beyile is a man of style adored by many. Growing up, money was scarce and life tough. He worked hard in school but realized he wasn’t gifted. In 2013, he started The Threaded Man, a fashion blog for men, inspired by his mother, who often called him “umfana othungiweyo”, the threaded man in isiXhosa.
Making money was hard. He lobbied for investment and the company has grown to become a middleman between brands and consumers.“We are now more like an agency, we consult, dress celebrities, sell content, style and creatively direct events and we are taking fashion to a whole new level in South Africa.” Beyile employs 20 people, is the first South African men’s fashionista to collaborate with H&M and the new face of American Swiss.
- David Asiamah, 28, Ghana
Founder: Agro Mindset
After completing a postgraduate degree in agriculture, Asiamah turned down a number of job offers to farm in Ghana – founding Agro Mindset Group instead. Asiamah owns 15 acres of land, raising chicken, and employs 12 people. “Our future outlook is to adopt more innovative, cutting-edge technologies to produce animal feed, manage waste, and construct solar power plants,” he says.
Asiamah is the winner of an African Achiever Award for agricultural excellence, the Future Awards Africa for agriculture and Ghana UK Based Awards for corporate sustainability after his nomination at the House of Commons.
- Vital Sounouvou, 25, Benin
His is the tale of a graduate who grew up in poverty, cheated death and ended up crippled. These tough times steeled him to make his fortune. Sounouvou says, at the age of six, he had malaria and doctors gave him an injection to cure it, but it also attacked his bones and killed the nerves. He was almost paralyzed on his left leg and has had to use a walking stick since then.
Sounouvou founded Exportunity, a site that promotes export opportunities for Africans by connecting producers with traders. It allows a farmer in Benin to sell his produce to a buyer in South Africa – or the United States – through a cell phone. Through the trade events, Sounouvou claims Exportunity has engaged with over 750 clients, and built a database of 85,000 companies trading with Africa. He also employs 17 people.
- Inga Gubeka, 28, South Africa
Founder: Indalo Décor
Gubeka knows poverty. He 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 him.
- Prince Boadu, 28, Ghana
Co-Founder: MapTech Logistics
Boadu paved his way to success through hard work, on the streets of Ghana. He sold African-print clothes and founded a multimedia company to pay for university. After his master’s in logistics and supply chain management, he worked for a company which provided affordable toilets for the urban poor. “The major problem we faced at the time was inaccurate customer location data.”
Faced with this challenge, with his co-founder, a geomatic engineer, they deployed geographic information systems (GIS) and location intelligence solutions to solve the problem. MapTech Logistics, a technology company, focusing on developing GIS-based applications to solve business problems, such as logistics and supply chain management, was born. The company also provides mapping services for geospatial analysis. Maptech has been named in this year’s 100 globally competitive start-ups in Ghana by The Startup Network and Boadu is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. Boadu employs six people.
- Uneku Atawodi,28, Nigeria
Founder: Bamboo Green Concepts
Atawodi has lived the good life. She spent most of her life playing professional polo for brands in over 22 cities around the world. When she was 21, she launched Bamboo Green Concepts, an investment outfit with a diversified portfolio, with the help of her father. Bamboo Green Concepts owns Bamboo House, a boutique hotel and lounge in the heart of 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. She constructed the bamboo polo arena on the beach in Lagos.
Her experience raising funds to launch the arena, and the difficulty for SMEs to access finance, led her to launch 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.
- Alex Muriu, 29, Kenya
Founder: Farm Capital Africa
At university, Muriu ran a successful computer hardware shop and started researching other business ventures. “Upon a chance conversation in 2013 with a farmer, I got to know about the problem of access to finance by small-scale farmers in Kenya. My research revealed a $1 billion annual gap in the agricultural finance space. This is a big problem, and I saw an opportunity to create an innovation that would help fix this problem.” In 2014, he founded Farm Capital Africa, an agri-investment company.
“We help small-scale farmers between 25 and 35 years old to access expansion capital to grow their businesses. We partner with small-scale farmers with great growth potential. Through our investor networks we help them to access funds they need to scale up their agricultural ventures. This is all done through a profit and loss sharing arrangement between the agri-preneur, Farm Capital Africa, and the investor.” Muriu has helped farmers raise $100,000 to grow their businesses.
- Emmanuel Bonoko, 26, South Africa
Founder: EBonoko Holdings
As tragic as it was, Bonoko’s father’s death spurred him to success. It meant he had to grow up. “I was doing grade 11 and I had to start working harder in school because my mother is a domestic worker. I knew she will not have the capacity to take me to university,” he says. He studied hard, got a scholarship and studied a BCom marketing degree. But he chose entrepreneurship over a salary.
Bonoko founded EBonoko Holdings, a media consulting, public relations and events company, which employs five people. He also founded EBonoko Foundation, a social enterprise for book drives and business and career exhibitions. He was named a Lead SA hero by Radio 702 and by the Mail & Guardian as one of the 200 Young South Africans in 2014.
- Momarr Mass Taal, 28, Gambia
Founder: Tropingo Foods
Taal says he got into business by accident. He wanted to be a diplomat like his dad. At the age of 17, he printed t-shirts for fun, then for friends and gradually grew into a clothing brand, Malyka Clothing. Within a few years he was manufacturing in Bangladesh and selling in five countries.
“With the intention to build a business that would address the lack of value addition for our local produce, I found that most local producers, particularly farmers, had market access problems and I set about building a business which used value addition to create that market.” Tropingo Foods, a groundnut and mango processing and export company, was born. He exports to Asia and Europe and is building a food dehydration processing facility in Gambia. Taal has 140 employees, 120 of which are women. He turned over $1.6 million in 2015.
- Hanta Tiana Ranaivo Rajaonarisoa, 24, Madagascar
Founder: Flore Aroma
Rajaonarisoa is the only under 30 in this year’s list hailing from a tropical paradise, Madagascar. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs but bankruptcy and a black cloud of mosquitos drove her to entrepreneurship.
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. 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.
- Nadav Ossendryver, 20, South Africa
Founder: Latest Sightings
Ossendryver has always been fascinated by wildlife. At 15, he founded Latest Sightings, a wildlife crowdsourcing site for visitors who are in the Kruger Park to report the animals and events that they are seeing live. They report their location, time and sighting to Latest Sightings, which in turn broadcasts it on social media.
He spent hours on YouTube teaching himself how to code an iPhone app. “Within three weeks, I had the app out on the App Store. I used social media to grow a community of around 30,000 in three weeks. All of this for only $10 for the domain name for my site.” Four years later, Ossendryver has one of the top-viewed YouTube channels in South Africa. With over 215,000 subscribers and over 255 million views worldwide, it makes money.
- Trushar Khetia, 29, Kenya
Founder: Tria Group
Khetia grew up among entrepreneurs. In 2012, Khetia founded Tria Transit Media, a company that advertises via buses, rail and planes. In less than a year, he secured prestigious clients such as Unilever, Google, Coca-Cola, and Lenovo. Trushar also has partnerships in Kigali, Rwanda, with over 100 buses. In 2014, Tria Transit Media launched operations in Tanzania with bus and airline media through partnerships with Precision Air, RwandAir and UDA Rapid Transit buses in Dar es Salaam.
In November 2014, he started the first retail store via an acquisition. Within a year he opened three more stores which then tripled the retail turnovers. He now has five supermarkets. Society Stores turned over $14 million in 2015, Tria Kenya turned over $700,000 and Tria Tanzania turned over $200,000.
- John Armah, 24, Ghana
Founder: Orios Group
Armah grew up squeezed in a single room with four other people in Kaneshie, Accra. At 18, he had a dream to change lives.
While in school, he worked as a library assistant at the Ghana International School, before joining Hotel Wangara as its assistant human resource and marketing manager at the age of 16. He left Hotel Wangara for university, where he established a job recruitment firm.
It took soul searching and research, before the Ghana Center for Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation (GCEEI), now Orios Group, was born.“There are 11 million new entrants into the job market in Africa each year and it is up to us to create jobs for them and also train some of them to create jobs for others.” Armah is empowering Ghanaian entrepreneurs to build successful businesses.
“We have trained over 10,000 youth in Ghana, formalized over 50 businesses in Ghana. With no formal title, I am easily your business strategist, young investor and consultant.” Armah is ranked as one of the most influential young Ghanaians and has earned respect from fellow entrepreneurs.
- Kelvin Macharia Kuria, 25, Kenya
Founder: Sunrise Tracking
Kuria’s entrepreneurship journey began when he was 15. He failed dismally in school. It was just as well his entrepreneurship aspirations grew.
“I felt like life had come to the end but I decided I’ve got only one option in my life – to start a business – because education was proving futile. During the same time, my uncle got hijacked and never managed to recover his vehicle. I saw a challenge in the security of vehicles and buildings and an opportunity for me to find authentic user-friendly innovations to assist people secure their assets and generate revenue for myself.”
With only $300, he founded Sunrise Tracking, a company that offers tracking, fleet and fuel management system, CCTV surveillance and biometrics. Sunrise Tracking was nominated for the CIO100 East Africa Awards from 2013 to 2015 and reaped $80,000 in revenues in 2015.
- Nkosana Mazibisa, 27, Zimbabwe
Founder: Mazibisa Inc.
Mazibisa was born in the heart of what used to be Zimbabwe’s industrial town, Bulawayo, in 1988. The idea of fixing the world dawned on him in his high school debate team in Bulawayo. “The country was collapsing and we had a debate at school about these issues and how to solve them.” When it was over, everyone went home and continued with their lives, but not Mazibisa. “I knew that I had to do my bit to make a difference. That’s why I decided to start a business to solve the unemployment problems we have and revive our industries.”
He founded a food retail brand, Swaad “The Taste of India,” and Mazibisa Inc., a brand strategy consultancy firm in Bulawayo.
- Nana Opoku Agyeman-Prempeh,28, Ghana
A church app? You better believe it. Agyeman-Prempeh is the founder of Asoriba, a web-based church management application for church worshipers and leaders. Members can also give tithes, offerings and pledges to the church online.
“I grew up in the church and during these years I could not help but notice the administrative difficulties my father faced while managing the church. It is not an easy task to communicate with church leadership and members, while simultaneously putting in place a solid administrative and financial system,” he says. He has signed 395 churches in Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria and the US and registered 30,000 church members to his platform. Churches pay from as little $9 per month for the service.
- Hellen Dausen, 29, Tanzania
Founder: Nuya’s Essence
Not many former beauty queens can say they left the money of the runways for entrepreneurship; lost money before they started and picked up the pieces to build a business in Zanzibar from the ground up.
When she first started, after making an investment in a soap making plant in her parents’ backyard, the regulating authorities deemed it not up to standard and instructed her to destroy it. Dausen, a 2010 Miss Universe Tanzania, showed resilience like no other and carried on. She built her handmade natural bath and body care brand, Nuya’s Essence, against the odds. A few weeks later, she called the authorities back for another inspection. This time she made sure they could find no fault.
“We handcraft natural bath and body care products from botanical oils, butters, herbs and spices. Our line of products includes natural handmade soaps, body oil, body butter, shea butter and virgin coconut oil.”
Credit: Forbes Africa is a South Africa-based licensee of Forbes Media.