“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” – Albert Einstein
The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get anywhere if you are willing to work. This is a popular quote from Oprah Winfrey. I agree with with her. What do you think?
We’ve seen different lists about people who have amassed wealth out of ideas, but this article highlights those who have succeeded without formal education. You may call them dropouts, we call them visionaries, inventors, innovators, and ultimately billionaires. Here is a list, in no respective order, of 7 African CEOs who have displayed immense courage and drive to overcome their seeming lack of formal education to build reputable businesses.
Anas Sefrioui, Morocco
Anas Sefrioui is considered Morocco’s third richest person. This real estate magnate’s worth is estimated at $1.3 billion. Anas is also the CEO Addoha Group. At a young age, he opted out of college to work with his father on a project to create a popular clay for washing a person’s body and hair. Producing this substance would allow Sefrioui to accumulate the knowledge and basic business skills needed to run his business empire in later years. He was able to gather the money needed to form a real estate development group in 1988. Building on that venture, he earned his first billions in 1995 when he was asked to build more than 2000 geared-to-income homes that received subsidization by the government of the late King Hassan II of Morocco. Today, his affordable housing stint has become a guide to real estate development in the United Arab Emirates.
Ashish J. Thakkar, Uganda
Ashish is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Mara Group. He started his first company at the age of 15. In 1996, Ashish borrowed $6,000 to start his first IT Company where he bought and sold computers. Brimming with confidence, he chose to drop out of school and concentrate on his business which at that point, merely constituted of buying and selling computers and floppy disks; from Dubai to Uganda. In an interview with Arabic Knowledge@Wharton, Ashish stated concerning those early days, “I didn’t have enough working capital to do cargoes and shipments. I would travel to Dubai every weekend. Fill my suitcase with IT stuff. Pay my taxes on Monday. Sell Tuesday through Friday. Get my cash on Friday…That was my cycle for six months. And then I was thinking, “There are so many people coming to Dubai to do exactly the same thing. Why don’t I set up a base to help them? We then set up an office in Dubai when I was 15 in 1996 to actually supply IT hardware into African countries. And the rest is history.”
His company, Mara Group, a 16 year-old pan-African multi-sector business conglomerate with operations in 26 countries spans four continents. Mara’s current businesses operate in a broad range of sectors including information technology (IT) services, business process outsourcing (BPO), a multi-faceted mobile-enabled online platform, agriculture, real estate, hospitality, packaging and asset management.
Mara Group has received global recognition for its achievements and contributions not only in Africa but also worldwide. In 2010, he was also appointed as a World Economic Forum Global Young Leader by the World Economic Forum.
Johann Rupert, South Africa
Billionaire tycoon Johann Rupert is the chairman of Swiss-based luxury-goods company Richemont, as well as of the South Africa-based company Remgro. He grew up in Stellenbosch, South Africa. He gained admission to study Economics and Company Law at the University of Stellenbosch, but dropped out of the university to follow the money. The rest is history. Rupert served his business apprenticeship in New York, where he worked for two years. He then returned to South Africa in 1979 and founded Rand Merchant Bank of which he was CEO. He started the Small Business Development Corporation in same year (over 600, 000) jobs created since inception.
Described as “reclusive” by the Financial Times and Barron’s, Rupert rarely grants interviews and shuns public events. Without getting any glamorous education, he was able to predict a world economic crisis in 2006 earning him the name, “Rupert the Bear” by the Financial Times. In 2004, Stellenbosch University awarded him an honorary doctorate in economics and in 2008 he was awarded another honorary doctorate in commerce from Nelson Mandela University.
Cosmos Maduka, Nigeria
Cosmos is Chairman/CEO of Coscharis Group of Companies and sole distributor for BMW in Nigeria. At age 4, he lost his father, which took him into poverty. However, it marked his sojourn into business. Young Cosmos reportedly hawked bean cake (akara) to make ends meet. Like Bill Gates, he was not a dullard, but had to withdrawn from elementary school because he could not afford to pay fees. Cosmos was sent to his uncle, where he served as automobile apprentice. He didn’t bother to go back to school and decided to fully go into enterprise. His first major business venture went from 300, 000 to millions within a year. In the early 80’s, humble Cosmos incorporated Coscharis Motors and he was fortunate that his company was the seventh company, among 10 motor companies, that were granted import license by the Ministry of Trade in the 80’s because, ‘Coscharis’ sounded like a Greek name. The company is now a multimillion dollar venture and has continued to grow.
Justin Stanford, South Africa
Justin is tech-genius who at 29 is deemed one of South Africa’s leading entrepreneurs and investors. At age 13, Justin’s started his first business by selling apple juice to his classmates. A few years later he decided to totally “depart high-school early” because he found the classroom boring. He made his way to the top by starting his first company at 18.
Inspired by Bill Gates, the lad set out to launch an internet security company which didn’t thrive. This nonetheless didn’t deter his resolve to succeed. For years, he forged on and continued to grow his 100 percent-Internet based company from a garage in the suburbs of Cape Town. Justin started dealing in anti-virus software ESET and he became the exclusive distributor for the product in South Africa. Today the brand, which operates in about 20 sub-Saharan countries records over $10 million in annual turnover and controls 5 percent of the anti-virus market in Southern Africa.
In 2011, Justin was listed in the Mail & Guardian ‘Top 200 Young South Africans’ for the year. A college dropout, and in just his late 20’s, Stanford now sits atop an information technology empire.
Said Salim Bakhresa, Egypt
Said is an extremely reclusive business tycoon with a net worth of $520 million. He is the founder and the chairperson of the Bakhresa Group Of Companies. A man of humble beginning, he dropped out of school to become a potato mix salesperson after which he got involved as a restaurant operator in the 1970.
Now, his group employs more than 2000 people and is Tanzania’s largest conglomerate. Other specialties produced through Bakhresa’s conglomerate includes: confectioneries, frozen foods, various kinds of drinks, and packaging. His Azam brand is considered Tanzania’s most successful chocolate and ice cream manufacturing venture. Its daily capacity alone is 2100 metric tons and made sales of $800 million in 2011. Bakhresa’s Azam Marine division is providing international tourists with quick ferry services as more people discover Tanzania.
This particular ‘ex dropout’ created a business empire within a span of three decades. He is the mastermind behind the success of all the businesses. His vision and excellent managerial skills contributed to the growth of this group to great heights in a short spate. His Group is now a conglomerate of various companies and is the largest milling company in East Africa with operations in Tanzania and five other countries.
Orji Uzor Kalu, Nigeria
Kalu was once suspended from the University of Maiduguri for participating in a riot against the then Education Minister. He is now an entrepreneur and chairman of SLOK Holding and Daily Sun Publishing, to mention a few. He once served as Governor of Abia State for 8 years. The assiduous politician when later pardoned by the school, refused on grounds of solidarity with his comrades that were not pardoned, sticking to his guns. With about $35 to his name, which he borrowed from his mother, he began trading palm oil, buying the oil from Nigerian Eastern parts and reselling it in the Northern regions. His business continued to grow rapidly. Kalu established Slok Holdings, a conglomerate that would consist of a number of successful companies, such as the Ojialex furniture co., Slok Nigeria Ltd., Slok United Kingdom and others. Kalu also later got a degree from Harvard University and the University of Maiduguri presented him with an Honorary Doctorate
30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs In Africa 2014
There has never been a more inspired generation of young Africans. These builders, innovators and risk takers are fervent in their resolve to transform the continent. They are solving critical socio-economic problems, exporting African culture to the world, creating job opportunities for Africans, re-telling Africa’s stories, and writing the future.
Following a request I made last week, I received over 800 nominations for this year’s tally of Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs under age 30. Seven of the names on this year’s list were featured last year, but there are 23 new rising stars you need to watch. Since there weren’t enough under-30 entrepreneurs who could meet the criteria, I included a few 30-year-olds.
I present to you Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs. These are the ones who are making the most dramatic impact in Africa today in manufacturing, technology, real estate, media & entertainment, financial services, agriculture, fashion and the service industry. They are impatient to explore new possibilities and slowly but surely, they are building empires. They may be today’s upstarts, but they are tomorrow’s legends. Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Chris Kirubi and Patrice Motsepe may call the shots today, but these ones will take center stage tomorrow.
Meet the 30 prodigies transforming Africa as we speak.
After working in financial services in France, first as an analyst at French investment bank Quilvest Group and as an associate at Findercord in Paris, Christian Ngan returned home to Cameroon to start his own business in 2012. With $3,000 of his savings, he founded Madlyn Cazalis, an African hand-made bio cosmetic company that produces body oils, natural lotions, creams, scrubs, masks and soaps. Madlyn Cazalis products are sold and distributed across more than 30 chemist stores, beauty institutes and retail outlets in Cameroon and neighboring countries in Central Africa. The company does not reveal revenues but says it is profitable. Ngan, 30, is also founder of GoldskyPartners Advisory, a small financial advisory firm in Cameroon.
The 27 year-old Ethiopian entrepreneur is the founder of Feed Green Ethiopia Exports Company, an Addis Ababa-based outfit that produces and exports popular Ethiopian spice blends such asShiro, Mitmita, Korarima and Berbere. Wolderufael founded the company in 2012 primarily to serve the needs of the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States and Europe, but as demand for Ethiopian spices increased significantly, Feed Green began exporting to new markets within Africa. The company employs only women.
The 29 year-old Kenyan is the founder of Shades System East Africa, a $1 million (annual sales) company that manufactures military and relief tents, branded gazebos, restaurant canopies, car parking shades, marquees, luxury tents, wedding party tents canvas seats and bouncing castles across the region. The company’s biggest clients are non-governmental and humanitarian organizations. Based in Nairobi, Shades System exports its products to Somalia, Congo and Rwanda. The company says it is profitable and has 18 full-time employees.
South Africa’s own Daymond John in the making, Nick Kaoma is building an urban legend. The 28 year-old Cape Town native is the founder and creative director of Head Honcho clothing, a prominent South African lifestyle brand that designs, manufactures and markets streetwear clothing that is hugely popular among South Africa’s young urban dwellers. The company’s product line includes t-shirts and caps to cardigans, varsity jackets, hoodies, tank tops and female dresses.
Shah, a 26 year old Asian-Kenyan, is the founder of Kronex Chemicals Ltd, a fast-growing manufacturer of low-cost household cleaning products. Shah founded Kronex in January 2013 and the company has two products- a dishwashing liquid and a multi-purpose detergent, both of which are gaining market share amongst Kenya’s lower middle-class.
Issam Chleuh, a 27 year-old Malian national and former Ernst & Young Senior Associate, is the founder of the Africa Impact Group, an international organization focused on directing investment to socially and environmentally beneficial ventures, an asset class called Impact Investing. The company’s services include data & research, news, advisory services, and start-up incubation. Africa Impact Group’s clients include impact investors, private equity firms, family offices, leading African corporations, governments and nonprofits.
Patrick Ngowi, 29 is the founder of Helvetic Group, a company that pioneered the supply, installation and maintenance of solar systems in Tanzania’s Northern Circuit. Helvetic Solar Contractors continues to grow. Helvetic did more than $5 million in revenues in 2013 and KPMG East Africa recently valued the company at $15 million. Helvetic is also expanding into the South African region and Ngowi is gearing up to take the company to Dar es Salaam’s capital markets.
After dropping out from school in the United States, Heshan de Silva, 25, worked briefly for a tea exporting company owned by his parents before breaking out to start VenCap, a business that sold travel insurance bundled into long distance bus tickets. The company became profitable very quickly, grossing over $1 million in revenues within its first year and setting the pace for travel insurance for bus commuters in Kenya. He is now a venture capitalist and the founder of DSGVenCap,a company that makes seed investments in the tech, media, agribusiness and consumer industries in Kenya.
At 26, Julie Alexander Fourie runs a company that employs 40 people and services more than 4,000 clients a month. Fourie is the founder of iFix, which repairs and services all Apple products and Samsung Smartphones. iFix has branches in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Fourie started the company in 2006 from his dorm room at the University of Stellenbosch, helping colleagues and friends repaid broken and faulty iPods and computers. Satisfied friends subsequently referred other Apple product owners in search of repairs and Fourie’s business took off.
Delle, 27 is a co-founder of Golden Palm Investments, a holding company that invests in early stage venture and growth financing across Africa with a strong bias for Real Estate, healthcare, agribusiness and technology. GPI has backed startups such as Solo Mobile in Nigeria, mPharma in Ghana and Zamsolar in Zambia. He is also the co-founder of cleanacwa, a non-profit working to provide access to clean water in Ghana’s underdeveloped regions. Sangu, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Valiant Capital Partners, is currently an MBA candidate at Harvard.
The 29 year-old Nigerian media entrepreneur is the founder of BellaNaija, a thriving new media company that develops online media content for African (primarily Nigerian) audiences. BellaNaija.com is Nigeria’s premier lifestyle, entertainment and fashion website, and garners an average of 10 million page views every month.
The 29 year-old South African public relations maverick is the founder ofDitshego Media, a leading PR firm specializing in Media Relations, Investor Relations, Reputation Management and Corporate Communications. Ditshego is also the Chairman of the South African Reading Foundation.
Cardoso, 25, is the founder of the Nigerian operations of EasyTaxi, a taxi mobile App that was founded in Brazil in 2012 by German technology startup incubator, Rocket Internet GmBH. EasyTaxi serves to connect cab drivers and would-be passengers. Through the App, passengers can confirm their pickup point and then order a cab at the click of a button. EasyTaxi sends the passenger a confirmation of the name and phone number of your driver and gives passengers the option of tracking their driver and the vehicle in real-time. Before setting up EasyTaxi in Nigeria, Cardoso worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Carlyle Group in New York.
Isaac Oboth, 24, is the founder and CEO of Media 256 LTD, a film and television production company in East Africa. Media 256 was founded in 2011 and has a client list that includes Coca Cola, UNDP, USAID, the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, Marie Stopes International, the African Leadership Network, and the African Leadership Academy. The company says it is profitable and employs 7 full-time videographers and editors. Isaac is also an Anzisha Prize Fellow, a pan-African award that celebrates innovative young African entrepreneurs.
The 22 year-old Kenyan is the founder of Impact Africa Industries, a company that produces low cost sanitary pads for poor women in informal settlements Kenya three years ago and he now sells the pads to as far as Uganda and South Sudan. The company is located in Kitale, a small town in Western Kenya and has 23 employees, 15 of whom are women who help in production and distribution of the sanitary pads. Paul was an Anzisha Prize Fellow in 2013.
Akumani, 30 is a co-founder of ClaimSync, an end-to-end claims processing software that enables hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities all over the world to automate patients’ medical records and to process records electronically. Claimsync’s solution allows these healthcare providers to easily prepare medical claims and send electronically to health insurance companies. In 2013 ClaimSync was the sole African company to participate in the high-profile, IBM, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline backed Accelerator program HealthXL in Dublin. ClaimSync was recently acquired by GenKey, a Dutch-based biometrics company.
The 29 year-old South African visionary is the Managing Director of Propertuity, a South African Real Estate development company and the brains behind the construction of the Maboneng Precinct, a thriving cultural district in the east side of Johannesburg’s CBD. Once a neglected and deteriorating neighborhood housing abandoned industrial complexes, Liebmann transformed Maboneng into a vibrant urban mixed-use community complete with Art galleries, artist studios, retail spaces, offices and artist studios.
The 30 year-old Harvard MBA grad recently stepped down as co-founder of Jumia Nigeria, the country’s largest online retailer. Kehinde founded Kasuwa, a Nigerian online retailer in 2012. Within days of its founding, Kasuwa received seed funding from German online startup incubator and the company’s name was changed to Jumia. Kehinde resigned in January to start a logistics company.
Adii Pienaar, 28, is the founder of Woothemes, a company that designs and develops customizable commercial themes and plugins for WordPress. Adii built the business with a bootstrap budget, and the company today generates over $3 million in annual revenues from the sale of its themes. Woothemes also develops and sells themes for other content management systems, including Tumblr. Pienaar also runs PublicBeta, a service that allows successful entrepreneurs to transfer knowledge to new startups.
29 year-old South African media entrepreneur Zaheer Cassim graduated from Columbia’s Journalism school and returned home to South Africa to foundOne Way Up Productions, a television production outfit with a client list that includes Ogilvy South Africa, Hollard Insurance, the African Leadership Academy and Hackett.
Muthiga, 26, is the founder of Fatboy Animation, a Nairobi-based animation company that produces 3 and 2 dimensional animation for both film and commercial use. FatBoy Animations has produced several viral animated commercials for Kenyan blue chips like brands such as Safaricom, Telkom Orange, Barclays Bank and Jamii Telecommunications (JTL).
Muchemi, 29, is the founder of WebTribe Kenya, a leading IT company in Kenya with operations in online payment systems, web applications and network security. Webtribe’s flagship company, Jambopay provides e-payments services for e-commerce players as well as e-ticketing services and electronic cash disbursement services. Jambopay is a recipient of the Google Innovation Awards in Financial Services for 2013.
Kunmi, a 30 year-old Nigerian fashion entrepreneur is the founder of Minku Design, a company that makes leather bags for men and women by subtly blending Aso-oke fabric (a hand loomed cloth woven by Nigeria’s Yoruba people), into contemporary leather bag designs. Minku also makes Yoruba-themed leather purses and jewelry. All Minku Design’s products are hand-made at a workshop in Barcelona, Spain, but they are sold at high-end stores in Nigeria and on the company’s website.
27 year-old Mazen Helmy is the founder of The District, one of the first co-working spaces in Egypt and one of the few in the region. The District provides an inspiring workspace (sitting on a total area of almost 1000 square meters) for entrepreneurs and freelancers. Helmy founded the company in 2011.
The 22 year-old Egyptian entrepreneur is the founder of Mubser, a new assistive tool for blind people. Mubser, which will be launched officially in March 2014, is a wearable belt with a Bluetooth-connected headset that leverages RGB imaging and infrared dept data captured by a 3D depth camera that allows blind and visually impaired people to navigate around in a safe and easy way. The device recognizes object and obstacles such as staircases and chairs.
Mwale who is now 21 years old founded SkyDrop Enterprises, a rainwater filtration and bottling company which produces low-cost purified drinking water, milk and other dairy products in Kenya. In 2012, Mwale sold a 60% stake in Skydrop to an Israeli firm for $500,000. Next stop: Education. Last year Mwale founded Gigavia, an educational social networking website.
In 2010, Lorna Rutto, 28, founded Ecopost, a Kenyan company that collects consumer plastic waste such as polypropylene and polyethylene and converts them into durable, easy to use and environmentally friendly plastic lumber, an eco-friendly alternative to timber which is used to manufacture fencing posts.
Ashley Uys, 30, founded Medical Diagnostech which develops and markets affordable and reliable medical test kits for malaria, pregnancy, syphilis, malaria, HIV/ Aids for South Africa’s rural poor. Uys is a recipient of the South African Breweries $100,000 Annual Social Innovation Awards.
Kimiti Wanjaria, 30, is a co-founder of Serene Valley Properties (SVP), a Real Estate development company in Nairobi that constructs and sells residential properties to Kenya’s ever-growing middle class. SVP is behind the development of Sigona Valley project, a $4 million gated residential community outside Nairobi.
Arthur Zang, Cameroonian
Zang, a 26 year-old Cameroonian Engineer is the inventor of the Cardiopad, a touch screen medical tablet that enables heart examinations such as the electrocardiogram (ECG) to be performed at remote, rural locations while the results of the test are transferred wirelessly to specialists who can interpret them. The device spares African patients living in remote areas the trouble of having to travel to urban centers to seek medical examinations. Zang is the founder of Himore Medical Equipments, the company that owns the rights to the Cardiopad.