Agnes Mulewa and her success story. Don’t give up and be positive

African women continue to surprise the world in every aspect of life. Form being survivors of the cruelty in war to starting new businesses and giving back to their community. African women are now at the front of many companies and startups that are now becoming successful.  African women and families have to struggle a lot to reach their dreams, but even so it is possible for each one of them. The story of Agnes Mulewa is about how somebody can overcome obstacles and still reach the goal of having a multimillion business under her watch. This is her story, or at least some of the highlights of it.

Since she was very young odds were not on her favor. She grew up without a father figure and struggling family to pay for education fees. “All these however, did not stop me from becoming somebody in this society” as she says. She started working at the age of 17 and having contact with people from higher economic level who gave her the motivation to look for a brighter future. Even since she was very young, she bought pencils to re-sell them at school for a higher price. She sees herself as a positive person “I believe I am a very positive person, I do not allow anything to bring me down, although emotionally I struggled I believe due to the lack of a father, I pushed on” Business was in her blood, she knew the ups and downs of life  and now she had the motivation.

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Image courtesy of United Nations Photo at Flickr.com

Agnes has not yet finished the university because she took a break from classes to focus full time on the business. She is now going back to study in May. While taking classes at the university, she realized that she had a lot of free time between classes. She then decided to start doing research on her business idea and get a better picture of it before formally launching the business and start looking for clients.

She then came up with an idea called IBS, International Brands Solutions. IBS is a Market Research company that works at understanding markets and targets and report to their clients whether their products will sell or not, or if it is viable to launch a product or tap into certain market. Most people start businesses assuming they will work in the market, but they do not have accurate information to know if their product is going to be successful or not, or what could be the product´s life cycle on certain market. She then realized while in 2nd year that there was a need to explore research for business purposes for products for new markets and old products that wanted to explore new possibilities. IBS focuses on questions such as Who are the clients selling to? Is there a need in the market? If there is a need, how are clients going to sell? IBS then proposes a marketing strategy for the clients and based on those and many other key questions and in depth research.

The business was registered only in 2015 but had been working for many years before. IBS is not a big company at all and in only six months and with only six employees (A research analyst, a creative officer, an operations officer, an accountant, digital marketer, and a social media officer), according to its latest accounts, it has already made profits of over Sh1 million.

Agnes Mulewa faces challenges like any other company or CEO in any other business. Some of her biggest challenges are that companies are not ready to hear that they need to rebrand or that they cannot sell in certain market despite the numbers and figures;  some companies are not totally convinced of the success of such research and the period of time and budget are not enough for Agnes´ company to complete the mandate. Also, her age sometimes is an issue when it comes to very traditional companies. But the results give a different picture and always attract more clients.

Although she is much respected in the business world, she feels that being young and rich is part of a stereotype for women. She thinks that women in Africa are not prepared for the future because education is not giving them the tools or the direction they need to stand out in society. She thinks girls should give the same attention they give to beauty and fame to education, business knowledge and career advance. She also has a girl empowerment program to mentor those girls who want to get into business.  The audience in this program is mainly women and girls that are discovering what they really want to do in the future with their career choice so they can be prepared to be successful and manage their personal, spiritual and professional wealth the best way possible.

5 areas under the spotlight this year in Africa

It is becoming more and more evident that Africa is a fast growing continent and a land of opportunity for not only the economic sector, but also as a cultural influence worldwide. Based on the events in recent years, here is what is happening this year in several key areas.  

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Image courtesy of Tilemahos Efthimiadis at Flickr.com
  1. Women:
    More than half of Africa’s total population are women, most of them under the age of 25. These women have endured economic exclusion, discriminatory financial systems, limited or no participation in political and public life, lack of education, gender based violence and cultural practices that go against their human rights and life quality. However, at the 8th African Union Gender Pre-Summit held in January, the union confirmed their agenda to make sure African women have rights to own and inherit property, sign contracts in their own right, own businesses, hold at least half of the managerial positions in the public and private sectors and eradicate harmful cultural practices. There have been considerable advances in Zimbabwe on the matter, where there was a ban to marry anyone under the age of 18. And in Gambia last December, there was a bill passed to criminalize female genitalia mutilation with a penalty of up to life in prison.

  2. Education:
    The fastest growing industries in the world are healthcare, engineering, management consulting, semiconductors and circuits all tied to the development of technological gadgets and software. This means that education will definitely have to focus more on subjects such as math, science, economics, accounting and business science to keep up with these developments. Also research efforts must be made in STEM areas (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to make sure these advances are well implemented to fit the African context. The African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg South Africa has already made this change. This secondary school has a two year academic pre-university program for young leaders of ages 16 to 19 from all across the continent. Its syllabus is multidisciplinary and includes English, Mathematics, Entrepreneurial Leadership, African Studies and Writing and Rhetoric; students can also choose a combination of Cambridge-administered IGCSE, AS or A2 electives that can include courses from the Natural Sciences, the Humanities & Languages and Commerce. Outstanding students have the opportunity to join research groups in the Sciences, the Humanities or Creative Arts.

  3. Energy:
    Africa’s great amounts of natural resources make it a potential for earth-friendly alternative energy generation. Currently, about 600 million people on the continent have no access to electricity and only 7 continents have access rate to electricity of over 50% of the population (Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal and South Africa). Thanks to renewable sources such as gas, hydro, solar, wind and geothermal sources soon 70 to 80% of Africa will have access to electricity with about 1.2 terawatts of capacity that will cost $800 billion in capital per region to generate, transmit and distribute.
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Image courtesy of International Rivers at Flickr.com

Advances in this area include the Grand Inga Dam hydroelectric project that could potentially save $32 billion in capital spending and 60 megatons of carbon emissions each year. Morocco has built a solar mega-plant in Ouarzazate city. This plant will help provide almost half of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2020. In Kenya, 300,000 households have been connected to solar energy by M-KOPA and the plan is to reach one million homes by 2017. The advantage of this system is that customers can buy a solar power home system at only $35 and then pay installments of 45 cents a month for a year.

And then we have gas which will account for over 40% of the electricity from renewable resources. The plan is to use biogenic methane which is extracted from cow manure and methanogens that eat the organic garbage in landfills that produce methane. Since agriculture and livestock are 32% of Africa’s GDP, animal manure will definitely not be hard to find.

  1. Business:
    Economists are already saying that this year is going to be one of the most challenging of all with all the startups shaping the African economy. According to a report from VC4Africa, a startup funding initiative, more than 40% of startup firms are successful in securing external capital. Among the most successful new businesses are computer software, internet and e-commerce set in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. In 2015, South Africa was the top investment destination, having raised approximately $54 million, followed by Nigeria with approximately $49 million and Kenya with approximately $47 million.

Thanks to Africa’s young population (70 percent of Sub Saharan Africa’s population is aged below 30), the continent will continue to house a great number of startups under the initiative of entrepreneurs attempting to provide services where they are needed.

  1. Technology:
    the sub-sector to focus on this year will be the gaming industry. According to a report by PwC, the gaming industry generated profits of around $181 million in 2013 in South Africa, $71 million in Nigeria and $44 million in Kenya.

 

How startup ecosystems need to improve in Africa?

There has been a lot of noise around the up and coming startups of Africa and how they are changing the game. The reality is that they truly have all of the possibility of going big, but in fact don’t do as much as they could due to the reality that many entrepreneurs face in Africa when trying to follow their dreams. The startup ecosystems are not up to par, or practically non-existent, to the thrive behind the brilliant and hard-working entrepreneurs.

When analyzing and comparing different locations around the world where a group of entrepreneurs and like-minded individuals unite to start to develop their ideas, you can’t do this by discussing cities or countries. This is mainly true because even in the same city or country you could find two completely different ecosystems sharing a zip code, but not the basic characteristics of what make them tick. Due to this, usually startup ecosystems steal the attention.

What is a startup ecosystem?

A startup ecosystem is a group of people, companies and market conditions that interact with each other to a system that motivate and help new startups emerge. These ecosystems could be physical or virtual, but either way their end result is the same. The elements of a startup ecosystem are the intellectual work of the entrepreneurs, startup at their different stages, along with their members, entrepreneurs, Angel investors, startup mentors and advisors and basically everyone and anyone interested in startup activities or with some experience in entrepreneurship. As participants, each one takes on a role and does their part, all with the same objective in mind: to help new startups make it. Many organizations take part in this ecosystem for instance universities, funding organizations, incubators, accelerators, research organizations, service providers like legal or financial services companies, and large corporations.

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Image courtesy of Upstart Africa TV at Youtube.com

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Challenges in the African startup ecosystems

Africa, besides being this mecca for startups in the past few months in the news, is a place that unfortunately is still lacking in some aspects like basic financial aid, available mentoring and government support. Understanding the context that Africa lives in is essential to knowing that there are basic needs that were not met and are still behind due to a series of conflicts and wars the continent has lived. The needs that affect directly the startup ecosystem range from education quality and level in Africa to lack of funding opportunities. Businesses in Africa are constantly in search of ways to make it big but here are some of the common reason why they don’t get off the ground.

  •      Lack of integrated entrepreneur community

Many competing entrepreneurs have been known to be jealous or overly protective when it comes to sharing thoughts with other influential thinkers in their ecosystems. Unfortunately, for a startup ecosystem to work there has to be an active mentoring program, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn and grow.

  •      Hard work that doesn’t necessarily pay off

While analyzing many of the startup initiatives and business ideas, it becomes evident that many of them would take off immediately if set up in a different ecosystem in the United States or the UK. So, it comes down to African entrepreneurs having to work twice as hard to simply make a monthly income.  

  •      No risk capital, more like private equity

In Africa it is becoming common to see investment firms interested in a project if and only if there is a high profit margin or if there is some kind of collateral property that can be used. The reality is that most situations compare more to private equity then risk or venture capital. This obviously slows down the growth of startups in Africa significantly.

  •      Doesn’t have a viable consumer market

Even though there is a big growth in the tech industry of entrepreneurs, companies and startups hitting the scene, if you analyze carefully there is not quite enough people to sell to. In countries like Kenya, 45 percent of the population live below the poverty line, which puts buying or investing in tech gadgets last on their list. So, that brings the question, who will they be selling to if these are the conditions in their ecosystems. Therefore, it is important to recognize which is the opportunity for tech business ideas, which should spill over into real life to see real effects.

  •      Unemployment rates

In some countries in Africa, there is a new wave of educated, but unemployed entrepreneurs in search of a break. In the meantime, the unemployment rates continue to grow and business looking for talent are still not finding what they need. Hopefully one of the many initiatives like iHub, Nailab, among others will help to assure these entrepreneurs find what and who they need.

  •      Government corruption and lack of regulations

In general, many countries in Africa are still struggling against government corruption that leads to too many consequences to mention here, but in regards to startups and entrepreneurship it is holding many people back who are eager to find a path in their ecosystems.

The best business ideas that are leading the way in Nigeria

Putting The Puzzle Together
Image courtesy of Ken Teegardin at Flickr.com

Nigeria has recently been dubbed as the hub for startups in Africa becoming the country that generates so many successful business ideas turned lucrative businesses that it’s tough to keep track. In fact, Nigerians are setting an example to many other countries showing a slow but steady diversification of their economic structure, stepping away a little from their sole valuable resource for years: oil. This new generation is opening doors and demonstrating that they are a new kind of entrepreneur who can identify and execute innovative business opportunities.

Nigeria’s pool of business opportunities has become quite large in a number of different segments. So, if you’re looking for just the right business idea to develop this is a great place to start.

Fast food business

Getting a food business right is the key. There has to be a mix of good customer service and management, besides the obvious initial capital investment. You do have several options to open a restaurant, either start from scratch or acquire a franchise.  

E-commerce

All of the tools and the collaborative community available at your fingertips will make any ecommerce business easier to get off the ground. This a low-investment start up that allows for easy and on-the-go adjustments with a quick learning curve. The other big advantage is that there are tons of tools to measure the effectiveness of business strategies along the way.

Agriculture

The potential behind agriculture has spread to a few different types and is now leading at the front of business ideas as a replacement for the oil business. Poultry farming is one of the biggest ones, and giving up to 30 million Naira annually. Cassava, which up to recently had not been explored, is now on the rise especially since it is a main ingredient in many dishes in Nigeria. Snail rearing is also on the list, although many people are still not doing it on a large scale. Finally, rice farming, which if managed correctly can bring in a big return, will be able to compete with imported rice and fill the need of the food by choice of Nigerians.

Construction business

The Nigerian population continues to rise and so does the need to build housing. Trying to keep up, the construction and housing business has boomed in the past few years. There is great demand for variety, so there all types of projects available. The investment is considerable, not as much as other businesses, but what you can be sure of is that you won’t be short of work to make the return.

Hotel business

This is a quite competitive business, but if done right it can be just the right timing to get into the hotel and tourism industry. This business idea will require a large amount of capital, planning and patience since it is not a quick return. The key will come down to customer service to get visitors to return and attract new ones.

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Image courtesy of Jeff Attaway at Flickr.com

Haulage services

This is a good business idea that responds to real need in Nigeria. The rail transportation system in Nigeria is very poor, so having alternative for shipping goods is an excellent service to offer.

Dry cleaning

Dry cleaning tends to be a quite expensive business in Nigeria, so finding affordable rates and good quality service is very scarce. To be successful you really have to set yourself apart from the current services offers by keeping to deadlines and offering fair prices.

Furniture business

Again in this case the imported furniture is quite expensive, so being able to design and assemble furniture locally can also be a great business idea. You don’t necessarily have to be a carpenter, you could outsource and just make sure to get a responsible and punctual provider.

Online advertising agency

As mentioned before, there has been an increase in all things online related, so of course other business ideas surge from the booming industry. One of the most relevant nowadays is online advertising which takes care of promoting online businesses and managing marketing strategies for them.

Fashion and entertainment business

There has been a boom in the entertainment business in Africa in general, but Nigeria has definitely stood out especially in music and movies reason why it was coined Nollywood. In 2009 it had surpassed Hollywood as the world’s second largest movie industry, preceded by Bollywood. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the fashion industry followed in line and started to cater to all of the new national and international stars of the Nollywood industry with its particular style. They are setting trends, making big moves in the movie and music industry, so being part of this growing community right now would be a smart business move. The important this is to know where you would fit and what service or product you could offer to the already structured segment.

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Image courtesy of j-No at Flickr.com

African startups: striving for a world with cleaner energy

African countries are some of the world’s top places to apply technologies related to renewable energy. Hence, the December 2015 announcement that WeChat would invest about $3.4 million USD in African startups didn’t come as a surprise. Here are a few examples of some of the initiatives that may hold the key to the future of clean energy:

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Image courtesy of Gerry Machen at Flickr.com

Smart Solar Kiosk

Based in Rwanda, this team claims to have developed a mobile solar Kiosk, aimed at charging small electronic devices, product sales and Wi-Fi internet access for on-the-move customers.

Henri Nyakarundi leads the project, which has implemented 20 kiosks in Rwanda thanks to a partnership with Airtel Rwanda. You can watch a video demo of these kiosks at their official website, http://www.a-r-e-d.com/

ColdHubs

This Nigerian startup thought of a solution to store and preserve vegetables and fresh fruit: modular, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that are installed in farms and markets that are close to retailers and farmers. The temperature in said rooms (5°C) prolongs the freshness of vegetables and fruits up to 21 days instead of 2 days with no refrigeration. Their business model includes a pay-as-you-store option that allows farmers to pay a flat fee every day for each crate that they store.
You can read more at http://www.coldhubs.com/

Strauss Energy

With the promise of providing disruptive energy solutions, this company’s goal is to diminish the energy deficiency in the African continent. Led by Tony Nyagah, they introduced a new technology to the Kenyan market: solar cells on roof tiles, which are capable of powering a house while saving roofing costs at the same time.  

They plan to feed the excess power from commercial or residential units into the country’s  grid in order to provide home owners with additional income. A return on investment is estimated to be reached in 18 to 24 months.
Their website: http://straussenergy.com/

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Image courtesy of Sterling College at Flickr.com

GreenChar

GreenChar produces and distributes charcoal briquettes out of agricultural waste. GreenChar’s briquettes are cheaper, produce little smoke, provide higher amounts of energy and last longer than conventional burning materials. They are sold to households in rural settlements that spend an average of $1.50 every day and experience health problems from polluted air caused by cooking with firewood and charcoal.  They also mitigate deforestation and help reduce CO2 emissions.
Read more at http://www.greenchar.co.ke/

Biogen Kenya

They are committed to produce environment-friendly, renewable fuel. This bio-diesel is derived from excess vegetable oils. The company is located in Nairobi and it follows a complete production cycle to process waste vegetable oil and turn it into fuel. They list six key points within their strategy: ease of use; power, performance and economy; emissions and greenhouse gas reduction; energy balance and security; toxicity, biodegradability, safety and recycling; and economic development.
Read more at http://www.biogenkenya.co.ke

PayGo Energy

Their pay-as-you-go model aims to provide users in rural areas with affordable, clean gas. Through micro-payments, potential customers can avoid cost barriers and have access to a reliable supply of gas for cooking purposes. Their slogan: “modern energy for all”.  Their website is http://paygoenergy.org/

Nadji.Bi

Nadji.Bi develops, manufactures and commercializes solar products through a distribution network in Sub-Saharan Africa. They can be found in Burkina Faso, Cameroon and Senegal. Among the products they offer are solutions for off-grid systems, solar streetlights, solar modules and solar inverters; all with the ideal of lowering costs and keeping their products affordable.
Read more at http://www.nadjibi.com

Juabar

All the way from rural Tanzania comes Juabar, a solar-powered charging kiosk that uses a 50W solar system. It is capable of charging between 10 or 20 phones simultaneously, as well as other electronic devices. Their mission is to create opportunities for small businesses in Tanzania while meeting the connectivity and energy needs of the community. Each kiosk works as a retail and charging platform.

According to their website, their longest running kiosks have been in operation for more than an entire year and their operators charge about 20 phones every day.
You can read more at http://juabar.com/

Skynotch Energy Africa

Founded in 2012, this company promotes access to renewable energy and focuses mainly on distribution of solar lanterns, energy generation and real-world application of solar energy. They develop projects involving initiatives such as solar and hydro farms and promote water pumping and purification through solar powered appliances. In alliance with development agencies, civil society organisations, academic and microfinance institutions, they provide energy solutions to meet the needs of their target audiences and potential customers. By doing so, they add value and enable social and economic development. In 2013 they joined forces with the World Bank to become one of Kenya’s innovators in renewable energy, to provide access to clean energy solutions to the off-grid community in said African country.
Read more at http://www.skynotchenergy.com/