The African continent, despite being home to approximately 30% of all global mineral reserves, faces significant developmental challenges. Governments grapple with managing economies burdened by external loans, hindering the cultivation of a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Compounding these challenges is the continent’s distinction as the home of the world’s youngest population. In 2022, nearly 40% of its inhabitants were 15 years old or younger, surpassing the global average of 25%. Within this youthful demographic lies a wealth of innovators and entrepreneurs actively contributing to Africa’s transformation through innovative and sustainable solutions.
Despite their potential, many of these visionary individuals have very limited support or no support. This impedes the growth of Africa’s entrepreneurial landscape. Amidst these obstacles, the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy have undertaken a decade-long mission to fortify the continent’s entrepreneurial ecosystem through initiatives such as the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Competition.
Launched officially in 2019, the competition has evolved into a significant platform, featuring 50 finalists and distributing an impressive $1.5 million per edition, totalling approximately $7.5 million. The 5th edition of the competition was held last week in Kigali on the 23rd and 24th of November; a melange of meticulously curated activities, encompassing keynote speeches, compelling pitch sessions, insightful jury discussions, and grand award ceremonies.
#DAY 1: ABH Summit: A gathering of innovators, change-makers, and investors
The inaugural day of the event witnessed a convergence of entrepreneurs, investors, and key stakeholders within the broader ecosystem, uniting in a summit dedicated to the theme AI: African Innovation, Insight, and Impact. This dynamic summit unfolded through a multifaceted approach, featuring TED Talk-style discussions, debates, live podcasts, and interactive workshops centred around entrepreneurship and innovation.
To set the stage, ABH’s past and present top-ten heroes shared compelling narratives of their significant impacts across the continent. These stories showcased transformative initiatives that touched lives and improved livelihoods, resonating from communities to entire countries. One notable hero, Moulaye Tabouré (ABH 2019), Co-founder & CEO of ANKA, shared the success story of his e-commerce venture, fostering sales and exports for African fashion and various products. With partnerships extending to Visa, DHL, and a network of over 7,000 sellers from 47 African countries, ANKA has executed transactions exceeding $15 million in 170 countries. Tabouré imparted a valuable lesson from his ABH journey, emphasizing that “the only consistent trait among successful entrepreneurs is a steadfast focus on customers and the team,” a wisdom gleaned from an interactive session with Jack Ma, Founder of Alibaba Group.
Other sessions featured engaging presentations by past heroes including Charlot Magayi (ABH 2021), Founder of Mukuru Clean Stoves; Mohamed Ali (ABH 2023), CEO of PowerLock; Omar Sakr, CEO of Nawah Scientific, and Natalie Jabangwe, Group Digital Executive Officer at Sanlam.
#Day 2: The grand finale: pitches, jury discourse, and awards.
The second day of the event saw a distinguished gathering of high-level investors, social media influencers, and business moguls from various parts of Africa and beyond. It was a momentous occasion marking the pinnacle of the 2023 Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) competition. This day, the top ten finalists stood before the judges and audience with impressive pitches, vying for the coveted $1.5 million prize.
Originally, the stellar list of finalists comprised Bola Bardet, CEO and Co-Founder of Susu (Benin); Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and Co-Founder of Sprints (Egypt); Christina Gyisun, CEO and Co-Founder of Sommalife Limited (Ghana); Thomas Njeru, CEO and Co-Founder of Pula Advisors Limited (Kenya); Ismael Belkhayat, CEO and Founder of Chari (Morocco); Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wellahealth Technologies (Nigeria); Albert Munyabugingo, CEO and Co-Founder of Vuba Vuba Africa LTD (Rwanda); Nthabiseng Mosia, CMO and Co-Founder of Easy Solar (South Africa); Theo Baloyi, CEO and Founder of Bathu (South Africa); and Andrew Takyi-Appiah, Founder of Zeepay Ghana Limited (Ghana).
However, due to unavoidable reasons that made Ghana’s Andrew Takyi-Appiah absent from the event, he was replaced by Egypt’s Mohamed Ali, the visionary Founder & CEO of Power Lock, an innovative business dedicated to enhancing electrical safety standards in homes around the world.
All ten heroes were scrutinised by judges Ibukun Awosika, Founder, The Chair Centre Group; Dr Diane Karusisi, CEO, Bank of Kigali; and Joe Tsai, Chairman, Alibaba Group. Following a rigorous pitch session, the judges decided Thomas Njeru, CEO and Co-Founder of Pula Advisors Limited (Kenya); Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and Co-Founder of Sprints (Egypt); and Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wellahealth Technologies (Nigeria) could proceed to the final round and compete for the first place.
While shedding light on the selection process, Diane Karusisi emphasized that Thomas Njeru of Pula Advisory Ltd earned his spot because of his profound business acumen, numerical expertise, stellar business model, and most importantly that he is addressing a critical problem that numerous African governments have struggled to solve. Pula, an agricultural insurance and technology company, pioneers innovative solutions to safeguard smallholder farmers globally. By derisking the underserved agricultural sector, Pula has made a significant impact. Njeru’s inclusion in the top three opens avenues for additional financing, propelling him to further scale his impactful initiative.
Regarding Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and Co-Founder of Sprints, Joe Tsai, Chairman, of Alibaba Group, explained that Sprints is solving critical educational problems by providing inclusive education models for young people, especially at a time when Artificial Intelligence is gaining significant momentum. Sprints stands out as the pioneer of an end-to-end solution, effectively closing the tech talent gap in the MENA region. The platform’s comprehensive approach spans talent assessment, tailored learning journeys, securing high-paying jobs, and actively supporting the career growth of its alumni.
As for Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wellahealth Technologies (Nigeria), Awosika underscored the crucial contribution of Wellahealth in tackling the accessibility of healthcare across the African continent. Given the substantial percentage of young people, many countries grapple with inadequate healthcare services to meet the needs of their vulnerable populations, a challenge that Wellahealth is actively addressing.
Following the announcement, the three finalists engaged in a one-on-one round table session with the jury, delving into detailed discussions about their business models, impact, and visions. Concluding this pivotal round, the judges unanimously declared Dr Ikpeme Neto of Wellahealth as ABH Top Hero 2023 because of his leadership style and overall business integrity. Thomas Njeru of Pula Advisory emerged 1st runner-up, with Ayman Bazaraa as 2nd-runner-up.
The first-prize winner, Dr. Neto, gets $300,000, while the 2nd and 3rd prize winners will be awarded $250,000 and $150,000, respectively. Notably, the remaining seven finalists will each receive $100,000. Additionally, there is an allocated fund of $100,000 for further training initiatives, emphasizing ABH’s commitment to ongoing support and development within the entrepreneurial community.
ABH Inaugural Journalism Awards
Beyond the grant prize money and accolades bestowed upon the top 10 finalists, the event distinguished itself by introducing the inaugural Africa’s Business Heroes Entrepreneurship Journalism Excellence Award. This groundbreaking initiative sought to acknowledge and celebrate the pivotal role played by journalists in championing and fostering African entrepreneurship.
In a collaborative effort with APO Group, the inaugural ABH Awards featured categories delineated by geography, with awards presented to outstanding journalists from each of the five regions in Africa. Furthermore, a prestigious Grand Journalism Excellence Award was designated for the journalist whose work was deemed the most exceptional overall.
The Grand Journalism Excellence Award (Pan Africa) went to Hadassah Egbedi, Editor, Ventures Africa (Nigeria). While five other talented journalists emerged victorious in their respective geographical categories. The recipients included Doaa Abdel Moneim, Head of Business and Economic Affairs Desk at Ahram Online (Northern Africa); Asanda Beda, Journalist and Writer at SABC (Southern Africa); Juliana Olayinka, Channels Television London Bureau Chief and Host of Channels Business Global (West Africa); Nana Kamsu Kom, Multimedia Journalist at Africa 24 (Central Africa); and Dusabemungu Ange de la Victoire, Founder of Top Africa News (East Africa). This comprehensive recognition underscored the event’s commitment to honouring journalistic excellence and promoting the vital role of media in the entrepreneurial narrative across the diverse landscapes of Africa.
About Africa’s Business Heroes
The Africa’s Business Heroes Prize Competition is a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy. It aims to support, inspire and enable the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors who are building a brighter future for the continent, by offering grant funding, training programs and support for the development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Over 10 years, each year the ABH Prize Competition and show features 10 entrepreneur finalists as they pitch their business to win a share of US$1.5 million in grant money.