Successful African business stories
Njeri Rionge (Kenya) – Wananchi Online and Ignite
48-year-old Njeri Rionge started her entrepreneurial career by borrowing a car from which she would sell yoghurt to schoolchildren during break times. She then became a hairdresser, before establishing a luxury goods business, which involved traveling between Dubai, London and her Kenya home.
In 2008, Njeri founded Wananchi Online, which is now East Africa’s number one cable, IP and broadband phone company, with start-up funding of $500,000. Today the company is worth an estimated $175m and has raised growth capital amounting to almost $60m from a private equity firm.
Not content with her success with Wananchi Online, Njeri went on to found Ignite, a management consultancy, which has grown to include healthcare subsidiary, Ignite Lifestyle, Business Lounge, a support and advice consultancy aimed at assisting overseas companies interested in setting up in Kenya and domestic start-ups.
Njeri Rionge became the first African female to sit on the board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). A position she held from June 2003 to November 2008.
Tunde Folawiyo (Nigeria) – Yinka Folawiyo Group
Born on April 12, 1960, Tunde Folawiyo earned a BSc in Economics and an MSc in Law from the London School of Economics.
In 1957, Tunde’s father, Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo, who died in 2008, founded the Yinka Folawiyo Group, which began as an import/export company and eventually grew into one of Nigeria’s largest private corporations.
Tunde Folawiyo took over the running of the company on the death of his father and has since concentrated on growing it into one of the most profitable companies in Africa. Today the group has broadened its interests to include agriculture, shipping, banking, energy and construction. He is also on the board of MTN Nigeria, Access Bank and Unic Insurance.
In addition to being one of Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs, Tunde is recognized as being a generous philanthropist. Tunde Folawiyo’s African Leadership Academy is one example and his dedication to improving his countrymen’s living standards; the environment and protecting endangered species are well-known, both within Nigeria and across the entire continent.
Folorunsho Alakija (Nigeria) – Rose of Sharon Group
Folorunsho Alakija is said to be the wealthiest black woman in the world, with net worth of over $600m.
Alakija’s fortune has been made from her interests in a diverse range of industries, including oil, fashion and printing. She is currently MD of the Rose of Sharon Group, which is made up of Rose of Sharon Prints and Promotions Ltd and Digital Reality Prints Ltd. She is also VC of Famfa Oil Ltd.
In addition to being an incredibly successful businesswoman and entrepreneur, Folorunsho Alakija is also a generous philanthropist and owner of the Rose of Sharon Foundation, which offers financial and moral support to Nigerian widows.
Vinny Lingham (South Africa) Click2Customers, Yola Inc. and Gyft
Born in East London, South Africa, on February 7, 1979, Vinny Linghgam’s first venture into the world of e-commerce came in 2003 with Click-2-Customers a search engine marketing company with offices in Cape Town, London and Los Angeles. Today, the company has a turnover of around $100m
In 2007 Vinny founded Yola Inc., a free web building, hosting and publishing site, which has attracted in excess of $30 million in venture capital from the likes of Columbus Venture Capital. The company, which has offices in Cape Town and San Francisco, currently has around 9 million customers around the world.
The entrepreneur’s latest venture is ‘Gyft’, a mobile gift card app company, based in Redwood City, California, which was launched in 2012. In 2014, Vinny sold Gyft to First data for a reported $54m.
It is a reflection of the fact that so many African countries are developing as rapidly as they are in economic terms, especially Nigeria and South Africa, that entrepreneurs have found it possible to raise the necessary investment to establish and grow their businesses to the point that they are making a significant contribution to the wealth of the entire continent.