African Company Executives Flip To Tech Entrepreneurship


By Eric Osiakwan

For the last century, the fashionable and accepted route to success for young Africans has been to complete their education and join the corporate world. Some students aspired to become entrepreneurs. Most educational institutions did not offer entrepreneurship programs. With a few exceptions, African families led their children to join a leading multinational company or work for a government institution in the hopes that they would climb the corporate ladder to become CEOs, or at least senior executives. This was prestigious until the paradigm shifted to tech entrepreneurship with the advent of the computer, mobile, and internet industries in the second half of the 20th century. While many African families have historically built successful entrepreneurial ventures, this essay highlights the growing transition from business to technical entrepreneurship.

Dr. Nii Narku Quaynor, who founded Network Computer Systems (NCS) in 1988 and played a key role in building the Internet in 1994, Strive Masiyiwa, who founded Econet in 1993, Mo Ibrahim who built Celtel in 1994 and sold it for $ 3.4 billion in 2005 Irene Charnley led MTN’s expansion into the rest of Africa and the world, making it a leading global telecommunications company with a current market cap of $ 4.8 billion. Others deserve credit for breaking mold and sparking a paradigm shift. Your transition from government and corporate life to building some of these leading African companies was a sign of the light to be followed in the 21st century. As mobile and connectivity became ubiquitous in Africa, a new generation of entrepreneurs – digital natives and digital immigrants – began creating digital innovations. Some of these digital immigrants are African business leaders who transition to entrepreneurship later in their careers. In this two-part essay, I analyze the transition path of some of these business leaders who have become entrepreneurs and highlight their current innovative ventures that are changing the face of Africa. Starting with Ted and Adesuwa.

Ted Koka started his corporate life at CNBC & Forbes Africa as a sales manager in South Africa. He grew into business development and what followed was an exciting journey as director of content distribution and sponsorship for Viacom International Media Networks. Managed sales for a portfolio of amazing global brands; including MTV, MTV Base, Comedy Central, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. and Nick Toons gave him the edge he would need for his next business. According to Ted, “When I felt like my time in the corporate world had matured, it was time to set out to make my vision a reality.” In the final quarter of 2019, Ted took the plunge and launched Epic Contests, a social competition platform that designs and aggregates the world’s most amazing experiences to give users the chance to win them and create social good. Koka’s transition from the traditional corporate world to dealing with social goods underscores the global shift in corporate ethos. Epic Contests is based on the fact that there is a cost and accessibility barrier between people and their most desirable bucket list experiences. Your experiences are divided into Music & Lifestyle, Sport & Fitness, Travel & Adventure, and Children and Family – this makes them the “Netflix of Experiences”.

In a post-COVID-19 world, the $ 8.2 billion global tourism market, which accounted for 10% of global jobs and GDP, had to adjust or die. This is where Ted’s business experience came in handy. He was able to lead his team through the development of a new product called Digital Formats to steer the business. That vertical positioned them to disrupt the $ 3.1 billion worth of TV formats industry. By digitizing the format ecosystem (X-Factor, Idols, Got Talent, etc.) they have created a scalable digital environment where participants around the world can compete in digital formats that could change their lives forever. This means that an aspiring musician, DJ or dancer in Johannesburg, Lagos or Accra can compete against their counterpart in New York, London or Sao Paulo without being subject to geographic or production restrictions. This feature offers significant cost savings and flexibility to an industry struggling to monetize high-cost TV formats. Epic Contests is a new way to engage and reward consumers – their latest World of Wonder experience is the ultimate giveaway for the bucket list. The opportunity to win a Ferrari California and a trip for two to Milan in a post-COVID-19 world.

After spending the last 12 years in investment banking and private equity at companies like JP Morgan, TLG Capital and Syntaxis Capital Africa, Adesuwa Okunbo Rhodes started Aruwa Capital Management in 2019 with her own money in Nigeria after having the convenience of a six-figure salary . To make an impact on society with her skills and track record, her focus is on changing the narrative for women and small businesses in Africa. Aruwa Capital is one of the few funds for gender lenses in Africa founded and run by African women. For her previous fund, Adesuwa had struggled to raise capital from institutional investors who had been on the fundraising path as managing partners for four and a half years. She added, “I wanted to ensure that by launching my own fund, I could give women entrepreneurs access to capital that traditionally only women and people have not had access to because of the structural barriers that exist for a woman who leases capital with color ”. Adesuwa also wanted to change the presentation for other female fund managers who, despite their track record, may have struggled to raise capital. Aruwa as a success story would motivate and inspire them.

Aruwa Capital Management was founded on the belief that the gender imbalance among capital allocators on the continent offers a unique opportunity to invest in untapped sectors of the economy while bridging gender-specific economic gaps in society for higher returns. When women are empowered to be capital distributors, there is a natural impact on women entrepreneurs. When women have access to capital with freedom of choice, society is better off. Aruwa Capital is currently investing from its first $ 20 million fund focused on Nigeria and Ghana with a successful first investment in a local manufacturer of feminine, girl and baby toiletries.

I would end this first part with a quote from Adesuwa; “I believe that we can effectively give women more seating at the table by creating our own tables. More women who are successful as capital handers mean more women will be funded, more mentors, more torchbearers, and more examples to follow. We don’t need more seats, we need more tables! “

Thank you for reading and for your interest in Africa. The content is created in collaboration between the editorial team and our partners – including non-governmental organizations, private sector stakeholders, agencies and institutions. If you are interested in storytelling in an impactful way to put a specific topic in the spotlight, please email [email protected]. We are happy to hear from them.

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