The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) created by the Jack Ma Foundation is aimed at supporting and inspiring the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors. Its 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize holds today, with five budding women entrepreneurs among the top 10 finalists. Assistant Editor CHIKODI OKEREOCHA looks at the exploits of the women entrepreneurs eyeing a share of the $1.5 million prize pool.
Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is evolving rapidly. And the intriguing thing about the emerging ecosystem that is already creating jobs and economic opportunities for the continent is that a group of young and dynamic women entrepreneurs is determined to be on the driver’s seat; they are giving their counterparts a run for their entrepreneurial prowess and investments.
For instance, five budding women entrepreneurs are among the top 10 finalists for the 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize, a flagship philanthropic programme created by the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) which holds today.
The ANPI is spearheaded by the Jack Ma Foundation. It was launched to identify top entrepreneurs from across the continent, not only to reward them, but also to inspire a whole new generation of potential game-changers for Africa.
Under the initiative, the foundation set aside a $10 million grant to be awarded to 100 African entrepreneurs over the next 10 years. In other words, the ANPI is awarding $1 million each year for 10 years. And this is done at an annual pitch competition where the top 10 finalists will compete to win a share of the prize money.
The prize is open to entrepreneurs from all industries. But Ma especially encouraged those running small businesses, those making a difference in their local communities and women entrepreneurs to apply.
The inaugural Africa Netpreneur Summit and “Africa’s Business Heroes Show” was held at the Accra International Convention Centre (AICC), Ghana, November 2019. The 2020 edition, which is virtual, holds today, and winners will be announced tomorrow.
Five women entrepreneurs, whose innovativeness, resilience and entrepreneurial acumen are helping to build a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the continent’s future, are among the top 10 finalists.
They include Founder/CEO, Bright Green R. Energy (Kenya), Chebet Lesan; Co-founder and Executive Director, Moneymart (Zimbabwe), Ethel Mupambwa.
Others are CEO/Founder, Uganics (Uganda), Joan Rukundo Nalubega; CEO/ Founder, Diarrablu (Senegal), Mame Diarra Bousso Gueye; and Founder, MST Junior School (Uganda), Dr Emma Naluyima Mugerwa.
These five outstanding women entrepreneurs, representing 50 per cent of the 10 finalists, will join five their male counterparts to pitch at the competition’s online grand finale for a chance to win a share of the $1.5 million Africa Netpreneur prize.
The Nation learnt that the 10 finalists were selected from over 22,000 applications across 54 African nations, following several rounds of rigorous and painstaking evaluation.
With an average age of 34 years, the top 10 represent eight African countries — Nigeria, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, and their businesses span key industries such as agriculture, fashion, education, healthcare, renewable energy, and financial services.
The top 10 heroes will present their business ventures, as well as their vision and leadership profile, to the finale judging panel that includes Founder of the Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Group, Jack Ma; Chairman of FirstBank of Nigeria and Founder/CEO of The Chair Centre Group, Ibukun Awosika.
Other judges are Founder and Executive Chairman of Econet Group, Strive Masiyiwa; and Executive Vice Chairman of the Alibaba Group, Joe Tsai. ABH televised show featuring this year’s competition will air this month and December.
The exclusive virtual event is an opportunity to hear directly from the ABH 2020 finalists on their journey in the competition so far, their businesses, and how they are working to solve pressing problems in their countries.
Indeed, for the five women entrepreneurs, it’s been an exciting journey signposted by innovativeness, doggedness, resourcefulness and, of course, challenges. And these are factors that will sway the judges in favour or against the finalists.
For instance, Chebet’s BrightGreen is a hardware-tech company that designs machines to recycle farm waste into eco-friendly, energy-efficient cooking fuel blocks. With the tagline, “Revolutionising Africa’s kitchens”, the company has been producing life-saving fuel bricks that reduce the cost of cooking for underserved communities across Africa and save forests.
Chebet, a strong believer in gender equality, has a background in Leadership from The University of Cambridge, Product Design from The University of Nairobi, Supply Chain Management from Rutgers School of Business and a Business-Design Fellowship from Massachusetts Institute of Technology D-lab.
With nine years of experience in finance, Ethel, a Level 2 Chartered Financial Analyst candidate, is also not a neophyte in the entrepreneurial space. She is the executive board member and the managing director at Moneymart Finance, which she founded in 2014.
With its focus on “Creating Wealth; Changing lives,” Ethel’s Moneymart, a Zimbawean- based microfinance institution, has been offering tailor-made business loans to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and individuals who live off the power grid to access quality solar-lighting kits.
Ethel is passionate about fighting all forms of exclusion and inequality and is on a mission to positively transform people’s lives by developing solutions that address society’s problems such as financial exclusion, energy-poverty, and decent work, among others.
Similarly, Dr Emma, a veterinarian, smallholder farmer and educator with a desire to train young people and change their lives through modern and purposeful farming, founded MST Junior School (Uganda). With the tagline, ”Little Seeds, Big Dreams,” MST is a primary school with a unique approach and learning model.
Its aim was to equip the pupils with unique skills to solve agriculture issues such as food insecurity, waste mismanagement and malnutrition.
Emma had worked for the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank and as an officer in Entebbe in charge of a Livestock Environmental Station.
She worked for the President of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, on his personal dairy farm to improve the genetics of his herd through artificial insemination.
She also served as the chairman of Red Cross Mbarara. Emma earned a Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Medicine and Masters of Health Services Research from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
Also, with the slogan, ”Buy a Soap – Save Lives,” Joan’s Uganics (Uganda) has been a social business that manufactures life-saving organic anti-malaria soap to address malaria, which kills millions of people every year. The soap sells around the world at a high profit margin to subsidize sales to poor populations at the same price as regular soap.
Joan is a malaria survivor and a social entrepreneur with a vision to fight malaria. The entrepreneur while growing up in an orphanage struggled with malaria, which that inspired her business idea.
The Ugandan woman entrepreneur subsequently developed an organic soap that repels mosquitoes. It was part of her contribution to fighting the spread of malaria caused by mosquito bites.
Another outstanding woman entrepreneur eyeing the $1.5 million prize money is Diarra, CEO of Diarrablu. Diarrablu is a Senegalese fashion tech company merging African artisan traditions with technology to empower artisans and build an ethical and sustainable fashion future centred around ancestral African craftsmanship.
The company is led by Diarra who has experience in finance, mathematics, and design. She is a high school mathematics teacher and clothing designer who uses mathematical equations and transformations to design beautiful textiles and bring the work back to her classroom to share with students.
Commenting on the ANPI, Ma said: “I continue to be amazed by the passion, resilience, and vision of Africa’s entrepreneurs, and I look forward to meeting these ten extraordinary businesswomen and businessmen at the finale. I am excited to learn more about how they are driving positive change and progress across the continent.”
The Chinese business mogul and founder of Alibaba Group, a multinational technology conglomerate, said the passion, excellence, and diversity of the finalists reflected the DNA of the competition.
The ABH programme will recognise 100 African entrepreneurs and allocate $100 million, over a ten-year period, in grant funding, training, mentoring and learning initiatives, access to key networks, and to develop a vibrant entrepreneur community to support Africa’s future business leaders.