Almost one-fifth of Africa’s 1bn strong population is estimated to be between the ages of 15 and 24. This age group is entering the working space where unemployment is high, and many are turning to entrepreneurship as a solution.
Every year the Anzisha Prize, Africa’s premier award for its youngest entrepreneurs, selects 12 of the continent’s top entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22 to gain access to Anzisha’s community of mentors, business contacts, investors and other young business owners.
To find out what it takes to be young and successful, we spoke to the top three award winners from last year’s Anzisha Prize.
Best Ayiorwoth (22), founder of GIPOMO, Uganda
When Best Ayiorwoth lost her parents at a young age, she had to cut short her high school education because her older siblings struggled to pay her tuition in the Nebbi District in northern Uganda.
Having always wanted to take her education further, this was a massive disappointment and inspired her to start an award-winning microcredit business at the age of 19, that would go on to help hundreds of women and young girls in Uganda.
Ayiorwoth realised that if she could empower mothers financially, they would support the education of their children, particularly young girls. “I have seen that when families can’t maintain all their children at school and have to make a choice, they would often choose a boy over a girl.”
At 17 she moved to Kampala and joined S7 Project, a skills empowerment centre, where she started to form her business idea for Girls Power Micro-Lending Organisation (GIPOMO). Using her savings earned while working in a restaurant, Ayiorwoth returned to her home community in early 2011 and started giving monthly micro loans to women with small businesses, on the condition that they kept their children, especially young girls, in school.
GIPOMO has helped 64 women start their own businesses, 111 women expand their existing businesses and kept 168 girls in school by supporting their mothers. Last year Ayiorwoth won USh. 1m (US$400) at the FINA Africa Enterprise Business Challenge and first place and $25,000 at the Anzisha Prize.
Ayiorwoth credits much of GIPOMO’s success to the good mentor she had at S7 Project and advises other young entrepreneurs to look for mentors.
She also believes her success comes from using the challenges she has faced as inspiration to make a difference in both her life and the lives of others.
“[Aspiring entrepreneurs] have to actually do something that they feel strongly passionate about, and in most cases they should seek inspiration from their own experience… If you had a terrible experience, you should despise the experience to the extent that you are continuously seeking a solution for it,” she advises others.
Titus Mawano (23), founder of Ffene, Uganda
Ugandan Titus Mawano is the entrepreneur behind Ffene, an award-winning business management platform for African small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that assists with accounting, customer and inventory management.
After studying computer science in the US for three years, Mawano decided to cut short his university education in 2012 and return to Uganda to pursue his passion of creating a business management tool that would assist SMEs. He told us that one of the main challenges facing small businesses in his country is keeping adequate financial records.
In less than a year after launching his app, Mawano was awarded a $10,000 prize at the Apps4Africa 2012 challenge and last year won second place and $15,000 in the Anzisha Prize.
Today close to 600 SMEs use Ffene’s software, which runs on both desktop and mobile devices.
According to Mawano, it is a myth that a person simply needs money and connections in order to be a successful entrepreneur. “It’s all about good strategy and it’s all about improvising with what you have. Really, the best tool is creativity. If you are a creative person, then you are going to figure it out.
“If you are not a very creative person – and have your own distinct set of skills – then get someone who is creative on your team. If you have a very creative team around you then pretty much anything that comes your way you are going to be able to knock down.”
Mawano believes his success comes from his tenacity, dedication and passion for what he is doing, adding that these traits keep entrepreneurs going through the long working hours that are typically needed to start a business.
He advises aspiring entrepreneurs to begin early. “And that doesn’t mean starting your own business early. It means thinking about the kind of industry you want to work in, analysing that market and just amassing information. Information is power and if you have a dream of starting a certain enterprise, it’s time to start researching that now.
“I feel that Africa is kicking into its golden age. There is so much opportunity that there is enough for everyone… So I suggest they get started.”
Domitila Silayo (21), founder of Jatropha Soap Production, Tanzania
The idea of producing Jatropha’s handmade soaps with medicinal uses came to Domitila Silayo when she attended an agricultural festival with her brother in 2012 and was introduced to some of the medicinal and cosmetic uses of the Jatropha plant. The plant extract, for example, has healing properties for a number of skin problems, such as ringworm and dandruff.
“We have Jatropha plants in our country but people are not using it,” Silayo explained. “So I thought that was an opportunity and started making the soap.”
After doing research and raising finance from family to buy the oil and equipment, Silayo and her brother went into producing Jatropha soap from a room they rented. Today she produces around 1,000 bars of soap a month and has one other full-time employee. Last year she won third place in the Anzisha Prize.
Although Silayo’s business is still young, she believes her entrepreneurial success comes from looking to solve a problem in her community, and suggests others do the same.
“[Young entrepreneurs] should try to look at the problems their society is facing and try to think of what can be the solution to the problem. That is how I came up with my idea of making soap with Jatropha oil… My society has a lot of people who are suffering from different skin diseases and the Jatropha soap is one of the soaps that help in curing [them].”
She has also learnt that business success does not come without hard work, humility, determination and focus. “I have learnt that you also don’t need to do everything yourself. Entrepreneurs should learn to delegate to other people. You need to have people who can help and advise you. You don’t have to leave all the baggage to yourself.”
Furthermore, she advises young entrepreneurs to be brave enough to try new ideas and think differently.
“You should know that entrepreneurs who are successful right now also faced many problems when they first started out. Entrepreneurship is a process. It’s a process that someone faces and has to go through – from a small stage to a higher stage – without losing hope. Always try to pull up your socks and open yourself up to new ideas. And have the courage to know that you can do it, because all entrepreneurs face the same problems. You are not alone,” she emphasised.