Othman Benjelloun is the Chairman and President of BMCE Bank of Africa. Nominated Banker of the Year in 2007 by the Union of Arab Banks, Mr. Benjelloun has been awarded many awards and honors from leading institutions and personalities worldwide for his social and entrepreneurial contributions to Africa. He is dedicated to Corporate Social Responsibility. As founder of BMCE Bank Foundation, Mr. Benjelloun prioritises education reform and environment protection in Morocco and Africa. He is the inspiration behind the African Entrepreneurship Award and describes it as a part of values that have stemmed from 75 years of doing business and a belief that “inspiring the future for young generations is a critical responsibility for us.”
Gong Li is the retired Chairman of Accenture in Greater China. With 30 years of experience in China and the US, Gong is known for identifying talent and potential in leading edge technologies. With Accenture, Gong led innovation in China through a team of 10 000 young innovators with entrepreneurial mindsets. Gong saw himself as being “well positioned to help lead innovations that address local market challenges in areas such as energy, health, education, urbanization, logistics and other critical issues.” The former Chairmen of Accenture is not resting in retirement. “Retired” Gong is exploring what’s next through a yearlong program at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative where he hopes to uncover the next place to invest in technological innovation in China, the United States, and the world!
JB Duler, French/American, has launched six successful companies in France and the United States with several significant exits. He has held leadership positions in Europe and the US within large Fortune 100 companies. His two most successful companies: Esurance was sold for $1B cash to Allstate (NYSE: ALL) in June 2011 and Duler & Co. was sold to AJ Gallagher (NYSE: AJG) in January 2012. As a resident of Silicon Valley, JB brings the AEA Presidential Jury an unparalleled combination of entrepreneurship, successful risk-taking, European and American mindsets plus proven skills in corporate strategy, innovation, marketing (consumer, analytics), worldwide operations, applied math, finance, and technology. To help entrepreneurs around the world, JB co-founded Enterprise Futures Network (EFN) in 2003 which encourages entrepreneurship by supporting university business plan competitions and entrepreneurial programs; JB is part of a 2000 person community that is focused on developing entrepreneurial leaders to create better futures. JB began his career in Paris after graduating from Ecole des Mines. He then moved to the US and earned his MBA at The Wharton School before moving on to Silicon Valley where he resides today.
Marie-Paule Niat is the co-founder and Vice President of the AWEP (African Women Entrepreneurship Program) Cameroon Chapter. She is also the co-founder of VATIS Travel Services, the 1st network of independent travel agents of the CEMAC region. Marie-Paule holds an MBA from the Olin Business School at Babson College, MA, USA.
Past Jury Members
Deborah Ahenkorah is the founder and executive director of Golden Baobab, a social enterprise that “inspires our own writers to create our own stories and have incredible impact in education and literacy” in Africa. A developer of ideas into thriving operations, as she describes herself best, Ms. Ahenkorah has enthusiastic goals and a commitment to bettering education and life first in Ghana, then all over Africa. Through Golden Baobab, she leads a dream to fill the “global imagination” with African literature, sponsoring an annual competition for the best children’s stories from all over Africa. She has also recently launched a children’s publishing house based out of Ghana. Ms. Ahenkorah is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College where she started her first organization, Project Educate In Africa, a mission to collect books for education centers and libraries in Africa. Ms. Ahenkorah is an award winning social entrepreneur with accolades including the Echoing Green Fellowship and the Aspen Institute New Voices Fellowship.
Professor Thompson, co-author of The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook, co-founded and directs the Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Pennsylvania. As a South African, his work focuses on startups that improve societies around the world with a special focus on Africa. Investing in research and businesses in high-risk markets, he has personally led transformations throughout communities in poor economic environments in Africa. He co-created a process for pressure testing, planning, and successfully launching businesses. Growing up in Zambia, Professor Thompson dedicates his knowledge of Africa and entrepreneurial wisdom to mentoring entrepreneurs and helping grow their ideas.
Rebecca Enonchong is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of AppsTech, a leading global provider of enterprise application solutions. Forbes magazine listed Ms. Enonchong as a Top Female Tech Founder in Africa. NewAfrican magazine named her one of The Most Influential Africans in 2014. In addition, Rebecca is Chair of ActivSpaces (African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures), an incubator in Cameroon which was voted one of the Top Global Tech Hubs to watch. Rebecca recently cofounded I/O Spaces, a shared work space in the Washington DC area for African diaspora entrepreneurs. She is cofounder and board member of Cameroon Angels Network and African Business Angels Network. Rebecca currently serves as a mentor/advisor to several Africa based technology startups. A recipient of numerous awards, Ms. Enonchong was named a Global Leader for Tomorrow (GLT) by the World Economic Forum of Davos, Switzerland. Also, 2013 African Digital Woman of the Year Finalist, Rebecca also sits on the board of Venture Capital for Africa (VC4Africa), of Salesforce.org Foundation and the African Media Initiative.
But Rebecca’s passion is mentoring tech entrepreneurs “I support the African Entrepreneurship Award because it provides mentoring which is the #1 need that all African entrepreneurs have – here in Africa or in the diaspora, she explains, “I have been a part of numerous awards, but this one is the real deal. They care about the entrepreneurs and are finding real people to coach and mentor along the way, not just look at numbers and spreadsheets and never meet anybody!”
Paul Szyarto is an American businessman who makes entrepreneurship look easy. With more than 17 years of executive experience, Mr. Szyarto has started 9 diverse businesses in areas including management consulting, software development and sales, construction management, banking lead generation, social marketing, printing solutions, and community development, which still flourish today with activities taking place in more than 32 countries. His experience is not only in business creation, but also in keeping his businesses alive and making money. The operations of the businesses he has managed have exceeded $200 million, providing this global entrepreneur diverse management skills. While Mr. Szyarto has released five of his companies from his direct governance, he is still an active, executive member in the other four, which include DELCON and The Project Group. He holds multiple management degrees and certificates from institutions including Oxford University and the Wharton School of Business.
What Does The Jury Want from Entrepreneurs’ Business Ideas?
Insights from the 2015 African Entrepreneurship Award Presidential Jury
James Thompson, South African, Wharton Professor of Social Entrepreneurship
I’m trying to find out where the risks and uncertainties are. And then I’m asking the question, given what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard, does this entrepreneur have the capacity of navigating through those risks and uncertainties. And if so, how? And then the second thing I’m interested in is what are the barriers to success in this venture; what is going to get in the way? And is what they are asking for going to help them get over those barriers because they are there, they are almost always there. So, numbers, key uncertainties, risks, and the likely barriers to success. And if I’m reasonably confident they can work through those 3 things, then it’s a thumbs up.
Deborah Ahenkorah, Ghanaian, Entrepreneur
My number 1 criteria is the grit of the entrepreneur because I can tell you firsthand how tough it is to build a business in Africa. I define grit as the pure hustle, the resiliance, like how many times are you going to get up after falling down. How many times are you going to push through the hurdles? I think you can have the most brilliant idea with the finest models, but if you’re not willing to go the long haul, I find it very difficult to believe that you can make it as an African entrepreneur because it really is very tough. You need to be very, very tough.
Gong Li, Chinese, Innovation and Technology Leader
I always look for 2 things. Number 1 is to understand their business model. How the money is going to be made, who are the customers, and how the services or products are going to be delivered. And 2, I’m looking for differentiation and to try to understand how different his or her business is going to be different than the rest of the providers in the market.
Paul Szaryto, American, Serial Entrepeneur
I really wanted to understand the real impact they were trying to achieve; how concrete was the idea; how much true effort they put into this. Were they just coming out to receive money at an amazing award or was this truly a viable business that can have a true impact on Africa? I figure that out by looking at the financials and business objectives. Most of all I looked at the entrepreneur to see inside of them to see were they truly passionate about what they were trying to achieve.
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