10 Successful African Entrepreneurs With Amazing Beginnings

There are many successful African entrepreneurs transforming lives in their own unique ways. Becoming a successful entrepreneur is a dream that sometimes one struggles to achieve. Almost all entrepreneurs in Africa mention insufficient capital as the top challenge to starting a business in the continent. Sadly, many banks do not lend to startups and when they do, the interest rates are too high.

Nonetheless, there are many entrepreneurs in the African continent that have overcome this challenge to establish successful companies and businesses. To them, the absence of adequate capital, which is an important contribution to the success of a business, is not an excuse.

These African entrepreneurs continue to grow the businesses they started without much support. In today’s highlight, we uncover our list of 10 African entrepreneurs who have overcome the odds to set up successful businesses. Read on to discover them and what they do.

List of Successful African entrepreneurs

1. Aliko Dangote

Aliko Dangote, richest man in Africa

Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa. Photo credit – Time

The Nigerian is currently the richest man in Africa. It is worth nearly $ 18.3 billion and is a role model for entrepreneurs on the continent. As his business interests currently spread across Africa, Dangote’s impressive fortune was built from very humble beginnings. He started his business in 1978 with 500,000 nairas borrowed from his grandfather. He paid off the loan in just six months.

During the early years, Dangote focused on importing unprocessed products including rice, frozen fish, sugar, and baby food into Nigeria. Today, his business interests have extended to the local production of cement, salt, flour, and most recently, petroleum refining. Its aggressive expansion and diversification efforts have led to huge investments in Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, Ghana, South Africa, Togo, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Also Read: Top 10 Richest People in Africa

2. Desmond Mabuza

Desmond Mabuza, a South African Entrepreneur

Desmond Mabuza, a South African Entrepreneur. Photo credit – Smallstarter

Desmond Mabuza is the first black person in South Africa to own and operate a successful gourmet restaurant business that serves the rich and famous in his country. Born and raised in a poor neighborhood in Soweto, and trained as a civil engineer in the United States, Desmond returned to South Africa before the end of the apartheid era to start a small civil engineering company.

After a few years, he gave up his engineering practice and invested the money he had made in the gourmet restaurant business. He opened his first restaurant in 2001 (aged 28) and currently owns two remarkably profitable and well-run restaurants – Signature and Wall Street – both located in Johannesburg. He also opened a restaurant (Signature) in Abuja in 2014 and is moving to other countries on the continent.

Also Read: Richest Countries In The World In 2021

3. Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, one of successful African entrepreneurs from Ethiopia

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu. Photo credit – Womenofrubies

Born in Addis Ababa, Bethlehem Alemu grew up in a suburb of the Ethiopian capital. Her company – SoleRebels – is one of the most popular and dynamic African footwear brands in the world. Also, its collection of eco-friendly footwear made from recycled materials has been sold in more than 50 countries around the world, including the United States, Canada, Japan, and Switzerland.

In 2004, it was with a capital of 10,000 US dollars raised from her relatives that she launched her business. More than ten years later, SoleRebels generates annual revenues of over $ 1 million. Bethlehem Alemu is an active woman. The one Forbes magazine described as “one of the most powerful women in the world” is also the founder of Republic of Leather. This is a company that markets luxury leather products like bags, belts, and other accessories.

Also Read: 10 Most Influential Africans Making Incredible Impact In Africa And Beyond

4. Fomba Trawally

Fomba Trawally

Fomba Trawally. Photo credit – BBC

He didn’t have much. But Fomba Trawally decided to succeed. In 1989 when he left his country Liberia as a victim of a civil war, he chose to take refuge in Gambia. Two years later, he returned to Liberia where he started selling rubber slippers with a capital of US $ 200. This initial investment in rubber slippers made quick returns and the business has grown steadily.

By 2005, this self-made multimillionaire entrepreneur owned three retail stores in Monrovia, selling items such as paper products and cosmetics imported from around the world. Seven years ago, Fomba Trawally made the transition from an importer to a manufacturer. He created National Toiletries Incorporated, the first toilet paper and toiletry company in Liberia. Since then, annual sales at its factories have passed the million dollar mark and it plans to double its production capacity soon.

Also Read: Top 10 Richest People in Uganda (2022) and Their Net Worth

5. Jason Njoku

Jason Njoku, the co-founder and CEO of Iroko TV

Jason Njoku, CEO of Iroko TV. Photo credit – Africanentertainment

Jason Njoku is the co-founder and CEO of IrokoTV, an Internet TV and mobile entertainment platform that is particularly popular for its impressive catalog of African “Nollywood” films.

The growth of this activity has been very remarkable. To date, IrokoTV has attracted up to $ 40 million in investment funding from foreign investors. This Nigerian however encountered several difficulties before launching his business. After a few unsuccessful attempts at previous companies in the UK, Jason returned to Nigeria in 2010 to establish local relationships and purchase content rights for his new venture, IrokoTV.

Also Read: 10 Richest Musicians in Nigeria and their Wealth

6. Patrick Ngowi

Patrick Ngowi, the founder of Helvetic Solar Contractors

Patrick Ngowi, the founder of Helvetic Solar Contractors. Photo credit – GPF Org

It was at 19 that Patrick Ngowi got into business. This Tanzanian was selling mobile phones made in China at the time. To date, he owns one of the most successful solar energy companies in East Africa – Helvetic Solar Contractors. The entrepreneur started his company using a loan of 1,800 US dollars taken out from his relatives who also helped him to go to China. A few years ago, his company’s turnover exceeded $ 5 million. In 2014, the company was valued by KPMG East Africa at $ 15 million.

Featured by Forbes as one of the “10 Young African Millionaires to Watch,” Patrick Ngowi also created a foundation that is dedicated to providing renewable energy to communities. His company Helvetic Solar Contractors has already installed more than 6,000 small rooftop solar systems in Tanzania and other East African countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi.

7. Anna Phosa

Anna Phosa, one of the successful African entrepreneurs in pig farming

Anna Phosa. Photo credit – Motivation Africa

Anna Phosa is one of Africa’s most successful pig farmers. She is often referred to as a “famous pig farmer”. This South African decided in 2004 to build her pig farm in Soweto after visiting that of one of her friends. Surprisingly, it was with 100 US dollars and 4 little pigs that she started her activities.

In 2008, Anna Phosa was hired by Pick ‘n Pay, the South African supermarket chain, to supply her stores with 10 pigs per week. Luckily, demand rapidly increased to 20 pigs per week. In 2010, she signed a huge contract with Pick’n Pay to supply 100 pigs over the next five years under an R 25 million deal, or nearly $ 2.5 million. With a contract in hand, the entrepreneur received funds from ABSA Bank and USAID to purchase a 350-hectare agricultural property. She currently employs around twenty people who help her to farm nearly 4000 pigs.

Also Read: 10 Bitcoin Business Ideas and Opportunities for Cryptocurrency Investors

8. Lorna Rutto

Lorna Rutto, founder of EcoPost

Lorna Rutto, founder of EcoPost. Photo credit – Lionessesofafrica

In 2010, Kenyan Lorna Rutto quit her banking job to start a waste recycling business. Her company, EcoPost, collects and recycles plastic waste in aesthetic, sustainable, and environmentally friendly poles, an alternative material to wood. Through these efforts, it has made a huge contribution to forest conservation, employs hundreds of Kenyans.  Lorna hopes to create 100,000 new jobs over the next 15 years.

Its remarkable activity and achievements have received financial support from international and local NGOs. For example, in 2010, she won a SEED award of $ 6,000 which served as start-up capital for her business. That same year, she received an award of $ 12,700 from the Enablis Energy Globe-Safaricom Foundation. She also won a business plan competition organized by the Cartier Women’s Initiative and received a prize of nearly $ 12,000.

EcoPost has attracted capital investment from the Blue Haven Initiative and the Opus Foundation for an amount of USD 495,000. Above all, her company has a large manufacturing plant equipped with state-of-the-art recycling machines.

Also Read: 5 Business Ideas for Couples, Whether Young or Old

9. Adii Pienaar

Adii Pienaar, South African entrepreneur

Adii Pienaar, South African entrepreneur. Photo credit – Eventualmillionaire

Adii Pienaar is a co-founder of WooThemes, a South Africa-based tech company that was acquired by Automattic, a US online tech giant, for $ 30 million. The young South African entrepreneur started WooThemes in 2008 aged 23 while still in college.

Adii was working part-time as an online freelance writer. Alongside that, he was a side consultant while working on WooThemes. He used his savings and income at the time to support the business.

10. Fred Deegbe

Fred Deegbe, one of successful African entrepreneurs from Ghana

Fred Deegbe, a successful entrepreneur from Ghana. Photo credit – Newsghana

Fred Deegbe is the mastermind behind Heel The World, a luxury shoe brand entirely handcrafted by skilled artisans in Ghana. In 2011, this Ghanaian decided to quit his banking job to found his business. He started his company with savings from his banking work. Also,  his business partner, Vijay Manu, helped to start the business. That way, he bought shoe machines and equipment and hired the first group of workers.

Today, Heel The World has an impressive range of footwear – from retro brogue shoes and sleek loafers, to sleek slippers and eye-catching Oxfords.

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One Response

  1. Macek
    April 24, 2022

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