How three Nigerians became finalists at Jack Ma’s Foundation 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes competition

Nigeria is one country whose citizens bring to limelight through outstanding achievements of global recognition, despite the level of socio-economic and infrastructural deficit in the nation.

Some outstanding Nigerians who have not only been passionate about their personal growth and development, but have also deemed it fit to be solution providers; have taken the nation to another ground-breaking level by getting shortlisted among the 20 finalists in the Jack Ma Foundation’s 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes competition, a flagship philanthropic program established by the Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) in support of African entrepreneurs.

Apparently, 20 entrepreneurs selected from a pool of over 22,000 applications that ABH gathered from all 54 African nations earlier this year are still competing and undergoing selection. They represent 11 key sectors and industries of the African economy, such as agriculture, fashion, education, healthcare, manufacturing, e-commerce, renewable energy, financial services, food & beverage services, retail and transportation. 55% of the finalists are female.

Out of the 20 finalists from 14 African countries, three are from Nigeria. They are Chinedu Azodoh (Transportation entrepreneur), Ifeoluwa Olutayo (Agricultural entrepreneur) and Oluwasoga Oni (Health Care entrepreneur).

Other countries represented are Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal.

Since 2019, Jack Ma Foundation has committed to supporting African entrepreneurs who are creating significant impact and driving change in their local communities for 10 years.

Through ANPI, 10 top finalists of the 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes, will take the stage to pitch business legends – including Jack Ma – for a chance to win their share of a US$1.5 million prize pool.

The top 10 finalists will compete in the Grand Finale for a chance to win a share of the 1.5 million USD dollars in grant funds. But the way to position it is that the top 20 and even the top 50 are all winners, and the value of ABH goes beyond the money but also lies in the training, networking, knowledge-sharing that participants are able to access.

Last year, the first ABH competition was won by a Nigerian – Temie Giwa-Tubosun.  And there were in total four Nigerians in the top 10 from where the grand winner emerged.

ChineduAzodoh, a transportation entrepreneur and the co-founder of Metro Africa Xpress Inc (MAX.ng), a digital transportation company (a pioneering West African mobility startup that is backed by elite global investors and corporations such as Novastar Ventures, Techstars, Yamaha Motor Corporation, Goodwell Investments, and Breakthrough Energy Ventures – an investor-led fund backed by the world’s leading business executives); spoke on how the Nigerian state has aided his entrepreneurial and innovative skills. He emphasised on how the nation has helped him to be springy in building up his business with his co-founder, AdetayoBamiduro. He said: “Nigeria has helped me develop an incredible level of resilience. It’s popularly said that if you can do business in Nigeria you can do business anywhere. The amount of growth and learning I’ve gained building here has been fantastic. We have the capacity to go even further.”

Azodoh, who in his stead, is building technology and financial infrastructure for mass-market mobility in Africa and eliminating development challenges by creating a proprietary driver licensing system, aggregating credit providers, implementing an IoT network for mobility, providing mobile-enabled wallets and using transaction data to create digital identities and credit profiles for millions of informal drivers.

While unveiling his future plans, he said “We’re focused on helping government digitise every part of the industry.

As Nigeria continues to grow, the need for data, and technology for long term success becomes more critical. At MAX, we have built a system called MetroGov to help government digitise and automate. We’re focused on helping Nigeria shoot for the moon.”

Azodohis a recipient of the Prestigious Lila Self Leadership Academy Scholarship – a $200,000 academic scholarship given to up to 4 first-year students at the Illinois Institute of Technology for exceptional leadership in the community and the classroom.

In 2017, he was admitted into the first XL Africa Program as one of a select 20 innovative companies across Africa leading growth and development.

He was also admitted to the AlibabaeFounder Program, organised by Alibaba under the guidance of Jack Ma. In 2018, he was admitted into the MastercardStartpath program and won the LAComotion Mobility Competition. He is a finalist for the 2019 Forbes Africa 30-under-30 in Business and Technology

Ifeoluwa Olatayo, who is the founder of Soupah Farm-en-Market Limited(an innovative enterprise on the agricultural value chain that utilises mobile technology to create farm linkages for smallholder farmers in Nigeria), spoke on how delighted she is to have etched her name in the league of people who have put Nigeria on the brink of outstanding achievers.

She said: “Getting selected as one of the top 20 finalists very much validates us. And it feels great, cause of the National identity that is attached to the feat. When one is solving a real problem and one’s solution gets “accolades”, which have global recognition it very much helps to give visibility to one’s vision and of course, energy to the team.

It is especially encouraging to realise that Agriculture is considered a driving force in Africa. The support that is being given to young people like myself to drive food systems transformation is absolutely awesome.”

Olatayo has been able to carve a niche for herself by building a fantastic profile for herself. She was named a fellow of the Young African Leaders Initiative; 2019 Borlaug-Adesina Fellow; AshokaChangemaker Scholar;Chivas Venture Fellow and; the National Winner of the 2019 MSME Award in Nigeria; recognised by the Presidency amongst others.

She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Ibadan and holds a Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management from the Enterprise Development Centre, Pan Atlantic University, Nigeria

She, therefore, told Saturday Tribune the plans she and her company have for the future, making use of technologies and artificial intelligence to build a value chain for agricultural growth in Africa.

“We have planned a blockchain-enabled infrastructure with a logistics network that will allow us to create a steady market for over 400,000 farmers and 100,000 informal retailers in a way that creates a rising opportunity for social and financial inclusion for both beneficiary groups.

“Our plan is to reduce food prices for ‘nutritious’ impact on over 180 million people while deploying full transparency and traceability for food safety.

“We will also further develop our technologies and use artificial intelligence to create predictive data models.

“We believe such technology will be widely adopted and necessary for predictable food commerce in Africa; it will be very useful for other value chain actors and investors for Agricultural growth,” she said.

As for Oluwasoga Oni, who is a health care entrepreneur and the CEO and Co-Founder, MDaaS Global (an e-health company that builds and operates tech-enabled diagnostic centres in clinically-underserved communities across Africa), he spoke on the efforts he and his team put into this competition in achieving the feat. He also addressed the plights of entrepreneurs and how government policies affect them.

“To get to this phase of the competition, my team and I have spent many hours writing our application, prepping for the interview, and rehearsing our pitch.

“Generally, being an entrepreneur means sacrificing a lot – a stable job, a competitive salary, vacations, time with family and friends, peace of mind – but getting to build something that matters with an amazing team makes those sacrifices more than worth it.

“The “Nigerian System” throws a lot of obstacles your way but by overcoming them, you learn to adapt to tough situations.

“In the end, we can’t always entrepreneur our way out of many of the challenges Nigeria faces. We need help on the policy side from the government, such as making it easier to register and start a business, cutting the red tape many businesses face, increasing access to capital for young businesses, providing constant electricity, and reducing multiple taxations among others,” he said.

Oni was able to launch SentinelX, anew digital health offering; in response to COVID-19, which leverages existing diagnostics infrastructure to provide expert disease surveillance and health monitoring for both individuals and employers.

Oni holds a degree in Computer Engineering from Covenant University, as well as a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology and a Master’s Degree in System Design and Management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where he was a MasterCard Foundation and Legatum Fellow.

Zahra Baitie, Partnerships and Program Manager, Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) and a native of Ghana spoke extensively on the criteria for selection and the impacts of the initiative on Africa.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, this year has proven to be particularly challenging for businesses and communities in Africa and around the world.

“Overall, ABH’s finalists are a great representation of Africa’s relentless entrepreneurial spirit. Judges have definitely had a challenging task selecting finalists as all candidates this year have shown extraordinary talent, passion and skills, and showcased innovative and strong businesses.

“We look forward to unveiling the final ten and getting even more entrepreneurs inspired and mobilized by their peers,” she said.

 

Impacts of the initiative in Africa

While addressing Tribune Online, Zahra highlighted the impact of the African Business Heroes (ABH) initiative in Africa, the vision of the initiative and what participants in the competition stand to gain. She said “ABHrepresents the Jack Ma Foundation’s long-standing commitment to entrepreneurship in Africa.

“Over a ten-year period, we will be highlighting 100 outstanding entrepreneurs from across Africa and allocating US$100 million in this same time window in grant funding, training programs, and support for the broad African entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“However, the impact of ABH goes beyond the US$1.5 million grant funds shared between the final Top 10 finalists.

“In the long term, we hope we will have helped to catalyse a movement around entrepreneurship across Africa where an entire ecosystem of players: entrepreneurs, investors, educators, policymakers, civil society – all working together to create new opportunities and jobs.

“In addition, our 2019 finalists, have begun to build partnerships with other entrepreneurs from across Africa and from around the world. Several have also gone on to receive multiple investments and grants from other investors and partners.

“It is promising to see the beginnings of this movement take shape.”

However, the top 10 finalists have been announced while Oluwasoga Oni was selected among them, giving him and other access to the Grand Finale on November 14, 2020.

 

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