African Entrepreneurs You Should Know

I spent the last few days at the World Economic Forum Africa in Dar-es-Salaam. The larger plenary sessions mainly comprised of platitudes and a restating of the challenges facing Africa – I think the format just doesn’t allow for anything else. The smaller sessions I managed to attend were interesting, as in past WEF conferences I’ve attended, people tended to speak openly (with a few exceptions) about their experiences either in business, government, or social entrepreneurship…I and I learned new things especially when I attended sessions that didn’t automatically jive with my interests or passions. As always, the best part of the conference are the random conversations had in corridors, on the buffet line, while waiting for the shuttle, etc. One thing that struck me this year (and last) were all the young entrepreneurial Africans who’d managed to circumvent the perennial challenges we complain about when it comes to doing business in Africa, who’d managed to build strong, profitable, businesses , and who the had ambition to scale even further heights. And this are not just businesses that make money but that touch on critical sectors for the future of Africa – media/information; technology; infrastructure; agriculture.

The kind of stuff that makes you want to run back to your hotel room and start putting a business plan together instead of tweeting in my case :-)

Anyway, I thought I’d share the profiles of some of these entrepreneurs with you…always important to keep telling the success stories, no?

First is Erik Charas (@erikcharas), he is the president of @Verdade (the truth), which is Mozambique’s biggest circulation newspaper. @Verdade reaches more than 400 000 people in Mozambique and is the country’s first high-quality, free newspaper. Charas is also the founder and CEO of Charas LDA, an investment company that invests in Mozambican entrepreneurs. Erik runs a profitable *free* newspaper. How so, one wonders? Well, to hear him tell it a few days ago (and I’m sure I’m butchering the story), after realizing that most of Mozambique’s population can’t afford to spend money on a daily newspaper, he decided to offer if free to people who could not afford to buy one (his paper is literally hand-distributed), everyone else is told to go online. Because of the exclusivity of the paper as it were, advertisers scramble to get their ads in, and he also has other revenue channels through the integration of mobile and social media. Perhaps he should be advising American newspapers on alternative media models?

Next is Michael Macharia founder of Seven Seas Technology a software solutions provider. The company’s revenue in 2008 stood at $15 million. What’s always struck me about SST is the deliberate strategy to go regional – something Kenyan companies only do tentatively or when they “are big.” Mike’s goal is to go public in 2011.

Demonstrating that finding your niche and capitalizing on local knowledge is key is, Kola Karim, CEO of Shoreline Group. Doing big thing in infrastructure in Nigeria and West Africa.

Finally, it was great to reconnect with Eleni – last time I saw her was at TED Arusha (we both marveled at how monumental that conference was still). What was just an idea then – the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange – is now a reality and helping shape agricultural markets in Ethiopia.

We build…

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