Meet the 2016 Winners of the $1M African Entrepreneurship Award

1st Place – $150,000 Awards

Mahmud Johnson
Liberia – Startup
Environment Category

Potential in the Palms

Mahmud Johnson believes in building a zero-waste manufacturing capability in his country that is both environmentally efficient and financially effective for farmers.  He has invented a way to harvest the potential of palm fruit to transform the lives of rural, smallholder farmers. The Liberian entrepreneur founded J-Palm Liberia, a company producing everything from oils to cakes to skin care products and briquettes, using every part of the palm fruit. The entire manufacturing process is zero-waste; ensuring farmers get 200% more profits from their harvest.

J-Palm Liberia partners with smallholder farmers in Liberia who themselves lack machines and processes to efficiently transform their palm fruit into marketable products. Mahmud and his company provide the crucial manufacturing tools that ultimately increase revenues by staggering amounts for farmers. Waste is eliminated and efficiency guarantees profits.

Mahmud says that “right now J-Palm works with about 1500 smallholder farmers,” and, the day after winning the African Entrepreneurship Award, he says that “nearly 200 farmers have contacted me to get involved.” With increased farmers come expanding markets. J-Palm Liberia is working to increase their market share by using local ambassadors to bring their product to new markets, and eventually to markets outside of Liberia.

Elea Reusable Sanitary Pads
Jennifer Shigoli
Tanzania – Startup
Education Category

Keeping Girls in School in Tanzania

Jennifer Shigoli’s inventiveness and insistence keeps girls in school. The entrepreneur from Tanzania designs and manufactures reusable sanitary pads. With Elea Reusable Sanitary Pads, Jennifer is “committed to help women and girls break the barriers that menstruation creates in their lives.” The goal is simple, but impactful: provide affordable pads and keep girls in school.

Elea Pads are produced in Tanzania and packaged with information on hygiene. Jennifer says that “about 65% of women and girls in Tanzania cannot afford disposable sanitary pads.” Many resort to non-hygienic alternatives every month. The multiplying effects of affordability and absenteeism exacerbate drop out rates and young women falling further behind. With Elea, these barriers are no more.  She says that “among piloted users of ELEA pads…only 5% of the respondents were unable to attend school during menstruation.”

In addition to keeping girls in school, her manufacturing process employs dozens of women. And, after winning the African Entrepreneurship Award, she plans to scale her business to increase her impact.

Abdeladim Moumen
Morocco – Prototype
Uncharted Category

Boldly Leading BioTech from North Africa

Abdeladim Moumen and his business Moldiag invented a molecular diagnostic kit for the detection and quantification of diseases. This working prototype is a kit that costs $100 and is easy to use for rural clinics to diagnose and monitor breast cancer and Hepatitis C. Today, those tests typically require $500 procedures and sending specimens to Europe often with long delays and false diagnoses.

Adbeladim describes Moldiag’s kits as “the first Moroccan invention by Africans, for Africa, where we can invent and manufacture bio-molecular technology here on the continent instead of relying on Europe.”

Abdeladim’s invention has been incubated at the biotechnology incubator within MAScIR (Moroccan Foundation for Advanced Science, Innovation & Research). With a patent, Moldiag is ready to leave the incubator and launch the next stage: commercialization in Morocco. Once the invention is sold to distributors in Morocco, it can be easily scaled across Africa.

With this Award, Abdeladim’s new company will manufacture 500 kits in 2017, growing to sales of 1000 kits per year in three years employing local scientists and technicians who are returning to Africa, just like he did. With each kit in a clinic, Abdeladim’s invention will improve lives – both by bringing down the cost of accurate diagnoses and by paving a road for future biotechnology inventions to be commercialized across Africa.

2nd Place – $100,000 Awards

Ernie Aylward
South Africa – Prototype
Environment Category

Low Cost, Eco-Friendly Transport

More than just a taxi service, Mellowcabs eliminates carbon emissions. Neil du Preez, the company’s founder, says that “A single Mellowcab vehicle could save 12 kg of carbon emissions per day, or 4.3 tonnes per year.” In urban Africa, carbon savings mean a lot, and efficiency is king.

Mellowcabs are electric mini-cabs that provide low cost, eco-friendly taxi and transportation services in congested urban centers, focusing on last mile transportation. The company says that “80% of all urban vehicle trips are shorter than 4km.” This is the market the company targets with their services. In a world of Uber and Lyft, Mellowcabs uses a similar mobile app where users can easily order an efficient, 100% electric mini-cab to their door.

Revenue comes from passengers, advertisers, and cargo delivery, making Mellowcabs a sort of urban taxi/billboard/bike messenger service. Ernie Aylward, lead engineer for Mellowcabs, says that with good traction already, the company is “looking forward to get the Mellowcab into operation.” Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award means Mellowcabs can immediately begin building more cabs and meet their 5 year goal of deploying over 500 vehicles, and creating over 1000 jobs. 

Abideen Adelu
Nigeria – Startup
Education Category

No More Drop-Outs

Abideen Adelu launched a business that can make the difference in students staying in school or dropping out. His technology invention, Prepa, “will reduce the number of drop outs in high school education.” A startup business in Nigeria with over 10,000 students today, Prepa prepares students for standardized exams with unlimited test questions and a network of resources.

Abideen invented Prepa to propel students above secondary education systems that leave students ill-prepared for exams. According to Abideen, only 3 in 10 students pass standardized, secondary exams. In neighboring countries, that number is even lower. With Prepa, Abideen says students “can easily clear their doubts or difficulties on various subjects” and be well-prepared for important tests.

Prepa does not stop at preparing students for exams. Abideen plans to scale Prepa as an adaptive, individualized education content for students who cannot afford expensive, private tutoring. Still in the startup stages, Prepa will use the African Entrepreneurship Award to scale into dynamic test prep software and reach 50,000 students in 2017, improving their lives by ensuring their education continues!

Pumpkin Value-Add
Joyce Kyalema
Uganda – Startup
Uncharted Category

Pumpkin Power

Joyce Kyalema and her business Pumpkin Value Add invented new, nutritional foods from all pumpkin parts in Uganda. Joyce explains “I see people throwing away parts of the pumpkin and I believed we could make nutritious foods for our children from this natural resource.” Joyce invented nine products using the pumpkin’s stem, leaves, skin, pulp, fibrous strands and seeds.

Joyce’s business has been incubated at the agribusiness incubator, CURAD within Makere University. For two years she perfected the formulas and packaging for her best-selling porridge, along with juice, leaf powder, roasted seeds, spices, soup, male-booster-powder, nutritional supplements and pumpkin wine.

With this Award, Joyce’s business will launch its own manufacturing facility to increase farm to shelf production to 200,000 goods manufactured each year and employ 100’s of woman. With a backlog of orders from Kenya and other countries, her business will have a pan-African presence. Her margins will reflect her value-add at 50% so she can continue creating jobs and improving lives across Africa by providing nutritional products, with no waste, and employing Ugandan woman in rural areas.

Forward-Looking and Early-Movers – $50,000 Awards

Frederico Peres da Silva
Mozambique – Prototype
Pioneer Award

Unleashing Economic Power

Frederico Peres da Silva’s prototype, Biscate, is an adaptive technology connecting blue-collar, informal workers to customers.  Biscate, “odd-job” in local slang, allows workers to “transition from the informal to the formal sector, thus guaranteeing them a stable income.”

The informal sector drives the majority of Mozambique’s economy. With a population of roughly 25 million, Frederico’s prototype Biscate unleashes the economic power of the informal sector because it is “the Uber for handymen and informal services.”

Frederico believes he can positively impact Mozambique’s “widespread challenge of low employment and income opportunities.” In an economy dominated by informal, blue-collar workers, Biscate offers an opportunity for laborers to competitively market their skills. In the early stages of business, Biscate quickly attracted nearly 1000 workers to the app. With the African Entrepreneurship Award prize, Frederico will take this prototype to market, launching his business, increasing his reach to workers and customers, and exponentially increasing his impact by creating jobs and improving lives in Mozambique.

Achiri Nji
Cameroon – Startup
Pioneer Award

Forward-Looking Connections in Cameroon

Achiri Nji and his business, Traveler, pioneer a new technology in Cameroon. Achiri says that he and his team invented a prototype that has “done something even the most advanced countries haven’t done!” Traveler’s mobile application prototype is a free, mobile app for people to give live updates on road conditions, rate bus drivers, report road problems, and even connect accident victims to early medical responders and concerned family members.

Achiri says that “we are looking forward to having the first platform that will connect people” on Cameroon’s busy and often dangerous roads via a simple mobile app that works on most phones in Cameroon.  Traveler’s impact reaches many groups: Passengers feel empowered to give direct feedback on the quality of public bus drivers. Governments responsible with regulating their roads can study data to investigate the factors leading to accidents. Families find peace of mind when family members travel Cameroon’s challenging roads.

All of this technology is available entirely in the hands of the user via a simple, free, mobile app.In Cameroon, passengers crave better travel experiences with peace of mind. Traveler delivers this peace of mind – and measurable data for monitoring safety by multiple groups. Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award allows Achiri to take this prototype to the Cameroonian market and take road safety beyond the borders of Cameroon, improving lives one bus at a time.

Veterinary Ambulatory Clinical Services
Benti Gelalcha
Ethiopia – Startup
Pioneer Award

“We want to fill the gap” 

Tadele Tolosa’s ambulatory veterinary clinic saves farmers from their worst-case scenario, the loss of their cattle. In Ethiopia where Tadele says that “small scale dairy farms are flourishing,” his Veterinary Ambulatory Clinical Services provides emergency services to keep them flourishing. Healthy animals lead to healthy farms, boosting the local economy.

The Veterinary Ambulatory Clinical Services brings veterinary services to the farm, at any time. Previously farmers had to arrange for expensive transportation of their cows to the vet’s office, and only during working hours. This is expensive and inefficient, and a sick cow can die in transit. Tadele solves this problem, saving farmers enormous amounts of money. Dr. Benti Gelalcha, the company’s lead epidemiologist,  says “we want to fill that gap” of nighttime and weekends when farmers and their cows are most vulnerable.

Not only does Veterinary Ambulatory Clinical Services provide 24/7 life-saving medicines and treatment to cows, but the business creates employment opportunities for veterinarians, drivers, and technicians. Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award means Tadele can purchase a truck, hire vets, and begin providing services to the 50 farmers in his immediate area, with the potential to scale all over Africa.

Murtala Sanni
Nigeria – Startup
Pioneer Award

“We Know” Seamless mobile payments to build trust

In the competitive Nigerian market, Murtala Sanni knows the answer. Wesabi, or “we know” in Nigerian slang, knows the need for trust in relationships between craftsmen and homeowners in the marketplace. Murtala says that “People don’t fix things in their homes because they don’t trust the freelancer, so we want to bridge that gap, the gap of trust.”  Creating trust creates employment, something that both skilled artisans and customers desire.

Wesabi builds the trust bridge — or — fills the trust gap between services and markets with a 24/7 call center and a seamless mobile payment method, simplifying the hiring process of skilled artisans and craftsmen. The platform allows users to give recommendations and rate craftsmen. And, the Wesabi experience is not just for the customer. Craftsmen receive certified training through Wesabi, a reality that Murtala says can “make learning vocational skill more attractive and in turn reduce the unemployment in society.”

Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award increases Murtala’s ability to hire more freelance craftsmen, and thus increase his impact. With targeted advertising, Wesabi wants to create a platform for at least a million jobs in the next three years, employing at least 200,000 more skilled craftsmen.

Omar Kadiri
Morocco – Startup
Pioneer Award

Phone Credit For You

Omar Kadiri’s business, LIK, solves the problem of credit for the millions of pre-paid phone users in Morocco, and all of Africa. LIK, or “for you” in Moroccan Arabic, allows users to receive free calling credit in exchange for targeted advertising. Omar says that “phone credit has become of prime necessity in our continent with the high rate of prepaid lines.” In Morocco alone there are over 13 million smartphones, nearly 95% of them operating on prepaid lines.

Omar and LIK believe that “free phone credit constitutes a helpful boost in Africans daily spendings and is a smart way to keep them connected.” And, with LIK, users stay informed and receive useful information, like updates on water shortages, reminders to vote, and important health information.

Winning the African Entrepreneurship Award allows Omar to scale his business. Already on the market with over 300,000 customers in Morocco alone, Omar wants to scale LIK throughout Africa, creating more employment opportunities. 

Meet the Finalists

Read about the entrepreneurs who made it to the Presidential Round in Casablanca

Round Results

From Round 2 through Round 3, uncover important quick facts about the third edition

More Stories

Discover some of the business ideas that applied to the African Entrepreneurship Award


Results of the 2016 Edition