These Ten Ugandan Startups Have Been Selected To Pitch At This Year’s Seedstars Kampala

Kevin Okyere: The Success Story of the Billionaire Who Once Sold Iced Water

Andrew Christian September 28

Transformation is the path to success, and people like Kevin Okyere know that. Despite the seemingly harsh reality of the African entrepreneurial landscape and that of Ghana to continue with, there are still people who are going tooth and nail to carve out the nicest and most profitable niches for themselves. In the hurdle-like bloated-budget nature of exploring oil, USD 70 Mn can yet be compared to a fortune. That’s just about how much cash one of the savviest entrepreneurs in Ghana has invested in the development of the highly promising West Cape Three Point Block 2 offshore Ghana (WCTP2). By persevering even in times of adversity, Kevin has successfully built Springfield Group, which controls an 82 percent interest and operatorship in the block which covers 673 square kilometers in the Gulf of Guinea’s Tano Basin. Kevin’s entrepreneurial up-play has earned him the title as the first homegrown Ghanaian company exploring oil even in the skyrocketing stakes.

Needful to say is that Kevin Okyere didn’t wake up on his bed one morning to find USD 1 Bn lying under his sheets. This 38-year-old has been through his own business bouts, shared his story and motivated a lot of entrepreneurs on their different journeys to fame. With a “We can’t afford to fail” kind of mindset, the oil dealer became the first Ghanaian company to venture into oil exploration.  

Going back to the bushes where it all began, Kevin was born in 1980 into no doubt and affluent family in Ghana’s gold-rich region of Ashanti. Having read this, it would be safe for you to say he was born with a silver spoon tackily dangling from his mouth, but the big question is “Did he use it?” Kevin’s father had well built a substantial fortune in construction, steel manufacturing, and large-scale cocoa farming, but instead of crossing his legs high atop the most expensive table, Kevin showed great entrepreneurial zest from a very young age. By 11 years of age, he was already pushing his iced water business forward by selling them to football fans in the Kumasi Sports Stadium to make some extra bucks for his pockets. There is many a wonder why the boy of a business tycoon would take on such a business, and such thoughtful opinions did come from his clients as well. When the Okyere family embarked on their annual vacation trips to London, he would take up jobs with textile companies in the U.K. let’s just say Kevin didn’t want to sit his butt down in one place and wait for his family to spoon-feed him with everything.

The Okyere family house was about three stone-throws from the Kumasi Stadium. Kevin would often pack water in chest freezers in the house and sell the iced water to supporters watching games at the stadium. This line of work earned him the nickname Eddie Murphy, in reference to the movie ‘Coming to America’ which was quite a recent title in Ghana at the time. After completing his high school education in Ghana, he went o0n to study Accounting at the George Mason University in Virginia, where he took on a several of jobs at different points. He once cared for the mentally challenged at their homes, also worked as a security guard and at another point in the mailroom at AOL. Any legitimate job that could earn him some extra bucks; Kevin was willing to take on it. At the later stages of his Accounting degree, he was able to get his foot in the door of more prestigious jobs, one of which was working as an early employee of XM Satellite (now Sirius XM Holdings) where he worked as a radio programmer. Another of his stints was at Sprint where he worked in the customer service department. Before he threw the graduation hat high up in the sky, Kevin had gotten a job offer from one of the leading United States commercial banks. He was to snag home a yearly pay of USD 72 K, but as enticing as the opportunity was, Kevin decided to return home to Ghana.

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Kevin reckoned that Ghana was virgin territory for a myriad of businesses compared to the U.S. nevertheless, there were many opportunities for him to explore in his home country, which made him sure would be more successful in Ghana than abroad. Kevin was sure he wanted to run his own business but wasn’t quite sure of what to venture in. His two previous jobs in the United States was in the aspect of telecom, so that inclined him towards launching a business in the same sector. On his move back to Ghana, which happened in 2004, Kevin first joined his elder sister in her business in order to wrap his head around how the country works. A year on, after working for her, he put together a small team of investors and established Westland Alliance Ltd, a telecoms company that provided call routing services for AT&T and several calling card companies on an international basis. Westland Alliance and its subsidiaries eventually had a diversification into cell towers and value-added services (VAS) for mobile phone companies. The firm was successful to the fault, but not long after did Kevin grow tired of the telecoms business and decided to opt out.

While he was still running Westland Alliance, sometime in 2006, Kevin began working with a business acquaintance who supplied crude oil and condensates to the Tema refinery. As he frequently interacted with this associate, Kevin learned that there was a shortfall of storage facilities for petroleum products in Tema.  With a flush of cash from his telecom coffers, he acquired land and began building a storage tank farm in Tema, in close proximity to the refinery. Upon inviting Ghana officials from the National Petroleum Authority for inspection of the project, they were awed that a 26-year-old (at the time) was undertaking such a capital-intensive project and employing scores of Ghanaians. They were so impressed that they urged to apply for a Petroleum import license. And that marked the genesis of Springfield Energy’s flagship trading business. Since 2008, the company has imported refined petroleum products including gasoline, dual-purpose kerosene, gasoil, naphtha and jet fuel to Ghana. The company as of now is the dominant importer of fuel products into Ghana with revenues of more than USD 1 Bn in trading alone. Only locally owned trading companies were as of then permitted to import fuel products. International oil companies looking to do businesses in Ghana were constricted to partner with locally owned companies.

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Springfield Group Meeting 

When BP PLC came to Ghana in 2010 looking for a trading company to partner, the British multinational found an ally in Springfield, and the partnership exists till today. Springfield Group has consistently driven it profits from its core trading business into building and acquiring other businesses within the energy value train. The company now co-owns gas stations in Ghana, storage facilities, an oilfield services subsidiary and a haulage company.

Okyere and his partner Geena Malkani visited Nigeria in 2011 to explore, and along the line the founded a new company – Springfield Ashburton. They applied to the state-owned oil corporation, NNPC to be included among the international companies to be awarded lucrative crude oil lifting contracts. In 2104, the company was enlisted for the 2014/2015 Crude Oil Term Contract. It was the first time a Ghanaian company became an awardee of the highly coveted long-term oil contract. In 2015, the company was shortlisted by NNPC for the Offshore Processing Agreement (OPA), but the agreement was later discontinued.

 

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Kevin Okyere Foundation

Aside from building his company, Kevin devotes his time and money to philanthropy. His Kevin Okyere Foundation in partnership with the Springfield Group supports programs in education and health across the Ghana region. The foundation has a standing pact with the largest government-owned hospital in the country whereby the platform funds the hospital bills for poor patients. The foundation also pays tuition for hundreds of Primary school kids in Ghana and sends the country’s brightest students to Universities in North America and Europe.

His looks may be modest, but his ambitions are anything but. In a matter of 12 years, Kevin Okyere, who looks more like the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup, has built a billion dollar company, as well as a multi-faceted Ghanaian energy behemoth. Springfield Group today has its tentacles spread across the aspects of trade and transport of hydrocarbons, terminaling and storage, gas stations and oil exploration, employing people by the hundreds in Ghana and Nigeria.

South African Supply-Chain App Khula! Wins Grand Prize Worth USD 14 K As MTN Business App Of The Year

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Khula!; a South African app that serves to link up farmers in emerging markets with the formal marketplace, has clinched top honors at this year’s edition of the MTN Business App Of The Year Awards.

In addition to being named the Business App of the Year, the platform has also received recognition in a special category dubbed; Best Agricultural Solution, as it has also emerged the winner in that category. As part of the perks that come with clinching the award, the developers of the app are now entitled to a trip to Silicon Valley in the U.S., worth up to USD 14 K in cash.

The app, Khula!, is known to facilitate delivery on bulk orders from supermarkets, restaurant chains, and even homes. This it does by effectively creating “one big virtual farm” which is basically comprised of multiple emerging farms for the purpose of crowd-sourcing produce to meet demands.

The platform’s complete software suite also incorporates an eCommerce web platform which makes it possible for clients to place orders from farmers. It also comes with an on-demand logistics solution which allows for the completion of deliveries by independent contractors.

According to Wanda Matandela, CEO of MTN Business, the awards afforded the telecommunications company the chance to place innovative solutions on the front burner and render support to these innovations with a view to helping them scale and go fully commercial, as well as help foster job creation in South Africa.

Industry experts, app developers, and past recipients of the award were amongst the panel of judges who selected and scrutinized the offerings of the shortlisted candidates of this year’s MTN Business App of the Year Awards.

Amongst other winners in the latest edition of the award were Pineapple (Best Consumer Solution),  Cowa Bunga (Best Enterprise Solution), Digemy Knowledge Partner and Besmarter (Best Incubated Solution), and Bestee App (Most Innovative Solution/Best Breakthrough Developer).

Other award recipients included such names as Stokfella (Best South African Solution), Difela Hymns (Women in STEM Solution), The African Cyber Gaming League App (Best Gaming Solution), dbTrack (Best Health Solution), Ctrl (Best Financial Solution), and Xander English 1-20 which took home the award in the Best Education Solution category.

 

 

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South African Tech Teams Scoop Cash Rewards In The SAB Foundation Awards

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Around a total of USD 875 K in cash rewards have been doled out by the SAB Foundation to a number of South African startups and tech teams who have distinguished themselves to merit recognition in this year’s edition of the Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards.

Hustlenomics; an affordable housing provider, as well as Clothes to Good clinched cash prizes worth USD 90 K and USD 84 K respectively for their offerings. While the former was recognized in the Social Innovation Award category, the former took home the accolades in Disability Empowerment Award category.

The SAB Foundation Awards are targeted at innovators, entrepreneurs, and institutions that have developed prototypes of products that are designed to tackle social problems or early-stage businesses that have set their sights on addressing social concerns.

The organization is known to offer assistance in the form of financing and mentorship to social innovations that are identified as possessing a recognizably viable business model while serving up veritable solutions to critical social problems. The SAB Foundation also claims to have disbursed more than USD 5.2 Mn since its inception in an effort to promote social innovation. More so, a total of 163 social enterprises are believed to have benefitted from the offerings of the Foundation.

The winners in the Social Innovation category, Hustlenomics, is a platform which makes it possible for underprivileged families who are holed up in the squalid conditions of informal backyard shacks to build lasting structures in their place. The startup does this by employing alternative building technology which incorporates the use of interlocking bricks made out of recycled materials. The new structures cost the homeowners virtually nothing as the housing projects are financed by means of a shared-home financing model. This model allows for the rental home income raked in by the completed structures to be used in offsetting development costs before full ownership of the property is ultimately transferred to the landowner.

Following Hustlenomics closely as second and third-place winners in the Social Innovation category are smart farming tech solution, Famru, and a microfinance solution created by InvoiceWorx for retailers in the informal sector; Spaza Credit. Both teams took home USD 63 K and USD 49 K respectively.

It appears there was enough to go around for everyone as shortlisted finalists in the Developmental Award category also got in on the act with such names as Fix Forward, Solar Lab in a Bag and ejoobi, taking home between USD 28 K to USD 34 K in cash rewards respectively. Bursary Network and Impulse Biomed were also rewarded with seed grants worth USD 14 K each.

Clothes to Good; the winner of the Disability Empowerment Award, was rewarded for helping to provide sustainable jobs and micro-business opportunities for people with disabilities by means of its clothing recycling program. Steps Clubfoot Care and Coral Tech’s VoQal took home USD 56 K and USD 42 K respectively for finishing in second and third place respectively. In what could be described as a good day at the office for Steps Clubfoot Care, the first runner-up in the Disability Empowerment Award category also scooped the Audience Award which came with a cash reward of USD 10 K. Three other shortlisted finalists in the said category also went home with USD 21 K as recipients of a special Developmental Award.

 

 

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Meet Silas Adekunle: The Nigerian Prodigy Who Is Fast-Becoming The King Of Robotics

Nzekwe Henry October 16

Africans are known to be making waves and holding their own amongst their peers on the global tech scene, and one Nigerian robotics engineer cum gaming guru is taking this to a whole new level. 26-year-old Silas Adekunle is a Nigerian robotics engineer who is considered one of the highest paid and smartest in the field. And as you will soon find out, these are anything but purported or bogus claims.

At a time when the Nigerian tech scene appears to be playing catch up with their counterparts in the developed world, the young robotics engineer seems to be pulling off remarkable feats in the world of robotics and giving ingenuity and innovation a whole new meaning,

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

Adekunle, who recently got snapped up by global technology and software giants, Apple Inc., to become one of the world ’s highest paid engineers on the robotics scene, was born and raised to his teens in Nigeria. Having had some of his education in Nigeria, he relocated to the United Kingdom where he completed his secondary school education before enrolling into the University of the West of England to pursue a career in robotics. This was going to pay off as the Nigerian engineer graduated Summa Cum Laude having bagged first class honors from the institution.

Silas Adekunle created Reach Robotics in 2013. The company is known to channel efforts towards incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into gaming for the purpose of performing functions. Fast forward four years down the line and the youngster already carries invaluable robotics experience under his belt. This feat is believed to have earned him the position of team leader in the Robotics In Schools program.

The Robotics In Schools program is targeted at honing the skills of students in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. His role in the program is believed to have triggered his ingenuity and inspired the idea which led him to another project which involved developing robotics to make education more engaging and entertaining for students in the STEM disciplines.

Silas Adekunle, Nigerian robotics engineer

But the young Nigerian genius was far from done as he again caused ripples on the tech scene when he got robotics circles buzzing after the launch of Mekamon in 2017. In Mekamon, Adekunle is said to have built what is believed to be the world’s first gaming robot. The robot is considered unique in that it possesses the inherent ability to customize its features for the purpose of performing personalized functions. Mekamon may have become an instant hit post-launch but putting the gaming bot together was anything but a cake walk. The young Nigerian’s chances of success were hampered initially when he encountered difficulties in securing funds for the project. But sheer persistence, resourcefulness, and resilience got him over the line, and Mekamon reportedly generated USD 7.5 Mn after its initial launch, having had 500 units sold.

The remarkable success enjoyed by Mekamon can be considered to have opened the floodgates as support began to stream in aplenty soon after the initial sell-out of the bot. London Venture Partners weighed in with USD 10 Mn and Adekunle’s company, Reach Robotics, wrapped up a deal with Apple in the same year — a deal which means the company now has exclusive sales in Apple stores.

The quality and design of Adekunle’s creations are deemed impressive owing to their ability to show emotion with movements that are subtly-calibrated. His four-legged “battle bots” are priced at around USD 300 by Apple, and they are featured in almost all Apple stores in the US and UK. As he told Forbes in an interview earlier this year, while techies and geeks may have accounted for most of the initial scramble for the product, the robot is now beginning to draw patronage from a growing number of parents presumably due to their STEM application which can serve to get children interested in those lines of study.

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“Balance, shared ideas, time management, and being oneself”, are the words and phrases fondly associated with the young robotics engineer as the tonic for the successes he has so far enjoyed. As his works have gained traction, so too has he gained recognition. Adekunle was listed in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe: Technology. According to TheBossNewspapers, he was also named “Someone to Watch in 2018” by the Black Hedge Fund Group.

Having taken the world by storm with his genius, Adekunle can be thought to be gearing up for even more feats. He currently puts in work at the Bristol Robotics Lab, which can be considered the cream of the crop of research centers in the U.K. Now, here’s to Africans all over the world who are doing the continent proud!

 

 

Image Credits: QED, Face2AFaceAfrica, JejeGuysEmpire, Naij.NG

Internet Ventures: 5 Africans Founders Who Have Railed In Massive Online Cash

Andrew Christian October 16

In the course of the past two decades, a significant number of digital ventures have been springing up from different parts of the world, due to the increasing embrace of knowledge technologies, information and social media. Several African entrepreneurs have also carved out online niches to birth economic benefits, employment and in the same way, enable globalization. Pivotal people such as Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin, Steve Chen, Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim (YouTube partners), as well as Lawrence Page have been scintillating the internet scene and cashing in big on the international front. So what about Africa? The continent is definitely not missing out, as innovative minds in the motherland are citing and exploiting internet opportunities, making them worthy of celebration and emulation. Here are five of them who have built successful online ventures.

Elon Musk – Co-founder PayPal, South Africa

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The legendary Elon Musk from South Africa is the co-founder PayPal. The entrepreneur, who has an African father and a Canadian mother, is one of the brains behind what has to be the most internationally recognized and used payments system. But that isn’t the only of his accomplishment, as he also co-founded X.com in March 2002 – a financial service and email payment company. In a matter of one year, the venture acquired Confinity – a company originally formed to beam money between Palm Pilots. The combined entity then capitalized on email payment through the PayPal domain. In February of 2001, X.com was officially renamed to PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for USD 1.5 Bn in 2002 via a stock deal. Before its sale, PayPal’s 11.7 percent shares formed the coffers of Elon Musk, making him the largest shareholder in the company.

Kamal Budhabatti – Founder Craft Silicon, Kenya

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Kamal, who is nicknamed Kenya’s Bill Gate, is the fuel to the engine and the man behind the wheels of Craft Silicon. He founded it to be a Kenyan software company that provides core banking, Microsoft, mobile, switch solutions software and electronic payments services for more than 200 institutional clients in over 40 countries spread throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Craft Silicon boasts of an office in the all-time Silicon Valley in San Francisco, which makes it one of the quite few Kenyan companies ever to bask in such affiliation. With its more than USD 50 Mn market value, the company is causing ripples in the African business ecosystem, driving tech in the East African region and putting Kenya on the world map of entrepreneurship. Kamal Budhabatti’s idea of a venture now rakes in annual revenue of USD 6 Mn.

Jason Njoku – Founder Iroko TV, Nigeria

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Jason, who happens to be one of the few Nigerian entrepreneurs that beat the odds of raising capital even in impossible situations, is the founder and CEO of Iroko TV in Nigeria. The internet company is now reported to be the largest distributor of African movies in the world. While that may come as a shock to you, this may be an absorber – Iroko TV is labeled as the Netflix of Africa according to a Forbes publication. In 2013, Jason’s business was able to raise USD 8 Mn in venture capital from Tiger Global Management, which is a New York-based private equity and hedge fund being managed by billionaire Chase Coleman. Iroko TV is an online streaming website that makes enormous profits from lucrative content distribution deals with companies such as Daily Motion, iTunes, Amazon, and Vimeo. According to analysts, Iroko TV could be worth an estimated amount of USD 30 Mn, with Jason Njoku being the company’s largest individual shareholder.

Njeri Rionge – Co-founder Wananchi Online, Kenya

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Rionge is the co-founder of Wananchi Online, one of the leading internet services providers in East Africa’s cable, broadband, and Internet-based IP phone companies. This woman is regarded as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Kenya, and her turning point was when she succeeded in turning a USD 500 K startup into the echelon internet form in the whole East African region. Wananchi Online now has a net valuation of no less than USD 175 Mn. She was one of the few people who went tooth and nail to put it out there that internet is not cut out alone for the elite, as just about anybody can found, build and make a fortune out of it. Her ISP company became massively successful so much that it rose to nearly USD 60 Mn in growth capital from a consortium private equity firm.

Mark Shuttleworth – Founder Knife Capital, South Africa

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Mark Shuttleworth is the founder of Thawte and Ubuntu/Knife Capital, South Africa. He founded Thawte when he was 22 to be a digital certificate and internet security company, which he later sold to VeriSign for USD 575 Mn in an all-stock deal. The company today is the second in the world when it comes to the provision of digital certification. When Shuttleworth was 26, he used a fraction of the proceeds from the Thawte sale to start a venture capital firm HBD Capital, which is today popularly known as Knife Capital, based on Cape Town. The firm invests in innovation-driven fintechs with proof of traction. Knife Capital was one of the participating investors in the Weetracker UberPitch series. Another of Shuttleworth’s founding was that of Ubuntu, a computer operation system that is distributed as free open-source software. The entrepreneur’s net worth is reported to be USD 500 Mn.

NEIP Disburses USD 10 Mn To Ghanaian SMEs

Andrew Christian October 16

The government of Ghana, through its flagship National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan Initiative (NEIP) has successfully funded 1,350 owners of Small and Medium Enterprises, with a total of USD 10 Mn in seed capital.

The disbursement is meant to aid these SMEs successfully set up their own business or vamp up the existing ones to gain some traction.
Each beneficiary of the scheme received an amount ranging between USD 2 K to GHC 20 K as financial support.

Owusu Karikari, the Director of Business Support at NEIP, told the press that the support is a loan expected to be refunded with a 10 percent interest, repayable within three years to enable more SMEs to expand and create more jobs.

According to him, NEIP identified the lack of knowledge about product development, limited market, insufficient management skills, lack of funding and little or no technical support a few of the many challenges facing SMEs in the region. He said that the support would shore up indigenous enterprises, so they have a competing chance with their international counterparts.

As part of the government’s support for small businesses, 7,000 more entrepreneurs have been taken through intensive training to build and handle their enterprises. This is quickly followed by the announcement of tax holidays for young entrepreneurs under 35 years of age, as is a respite for their businesses.

NEIP Business Support Program essentially concentrates on the provision of business development services, startup incubators and funding for early-stage businesses, seeking to enable them to grow and become successful.

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