VENTURES AFRICA – Technology is at the centre of African development, driving progress in the fields of education, health and transparency while also acting as a source of wealth generation for a number of individuals who have ridden the wave of tech growth on the continent. Tom Jackson takes a look at ten of the prominent African tech millionaires.
Mark Shuttleworth (Thawte and Ubuntu)
Just 22 when he founded Thawte, the digital certificate and internet security firm, Shuttleworth became a tech millionaire by selling the firm to software giant VeriSign for more than $500 million. Not ready to rest on his laurels, Shuttleworth used the proceeds to fund a tech incubator and VC firm, before making his biggest wave yet by founding Ubuntu, a computer operating system distributed as free open source software.
He has not restricted his influence just to business, having founded the Shuttleworth Foundation to back social entrepreneurial projects. He also gained worldwide fame in 2002, becoming the second self-funded space tourist and the first ever African in space. While in space he had a radio conversation with Nelson Mandela.
Jason Njoku (iROKO Partners)
Co-founder of Iroko Partners, the pioneer platform for the streaming of Nollywood films which now has a library of over 5,000 films. The company, which was entirely financed by operational cash flow and founder’s funds in the initial stage, has now attracted big investors, including $8 million from a US venture capitalist and $2 million from a Swedish firm. The platform, iROKOtv, has been hailed as the “Netflix of Africa” and has already registered 570,000 users in its first seven months.
Having come from humble beginnings and had several failed business efforts in the past, Njoku has now built a wealth-generating platform that is changing the face of Nollywood. iROKO Partners is now the fastest-growing internet company in Nigeria and is currently YouTube’s biggest African partner with distribution deals with Dailymotion, iTunes, Amazon and Vimeo.
Njeri Rionge (Wananchi)
Rionge has founded a variety of different types of business in her time, making her one of the most prominent East African entrepreneurs. Business consultancy Ignite Consulting, startup incubator Business Lounge, healthcare consultancy Ignite Lifestyle and digital marketing outfit Insite are amongst her other creations, but her co-founding of Wananchi Online has put her on a new level. Wananchi has gone on to become East Africa’s leading cable, broadband and IP phone company, raising close to $60 million in growth capital from private equity firms.
Now dividing her time between homes in Nairobi and Toronto, Rionge began her life in business by selling yoghurt to Nairobi schools at the age of twenty.
Kamal Budhabatti (Craft Silicon)
Budhabatti is an Indian-Kenyan entrepreneur who is the founder and CEO of Craft Silicon, a Kenyan software company with a local base and global aspirations. The company provides software in core banking, microfinance, mobile, switch solutions and electronic payments for over 200 clients in 40 countries spread across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. The Africa clientele includes some of the most successful financial institutions, while the company has offices in Kenya, India, Nigeria and the United States. The company has a market value of around $50 million and annual revenues of $6 million.
Budhabatti developed an interest in computers and software while at university in India, and worked in data entry prior to his entrance into the world of business. He began developing software for banks, which gave him his break. Craft Silicon was born in 2000, and has expanded ever since.
Mike Macharia (Seven Seas Tech)
A qualified accountant, Macharia founded Seven Seas at the age of 25 and has steered the company ever since. The company has become a true Kenyan success story, receiving accolades from major forums for its pursuit of excellence, performance and growth. Under his leadership, the company has expanded into Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. The company’s customer portfolio includes industry leaders in Telecoms, Banking and Government Institutions. SST currently boasts a workforce of over 100 employees.
Macharia dropped out of the University of Egerton after a year as a mathematics and physics undergraduate to study accounting at Strathmore. He is heavily involved in the Knowledge for Life Initiative, which mentors and educates students to assist them with finding a job.
Herman Heunis (MXit)
CEO and founder of South African social networking site MXit, Heunis sold the company to World of Avatar for around R500 million ($61 million) last year. The site was a phenomenon in South Africa, and now has close to 40 million users in more than 120 countries, and 40,000 new subscribers each day, emerging as the biggest instant messaging service in South Africa and Indonesia.
Heunis started his own ICT consultancy in 1990, and created Swist Group Technologies in 1998, a software development company that would ultimately spawn MXit Lifestyle.
Ken Njoroge (Cellulant)
Also a co-founder of 3Mice, Njoroge set up Cellulant in 2004 in conjunction with Bolaji Akinboro, looking to take advantage of the booming mobile phone market in Kenya. The company currently serves more than 3.5 million clients, including giants such as Safaricom, Zain and Orange. Founded with just $3,000 and a credit card, the company has now spread to 8 countries, serving 12 banks and 34 merchants.
Njoroge manages a team of 80 people across the countries that Cellulant operates in. The company has received various recognitions, including being judged one of the Top 11 SMEs in East Africa in 2007 and being judged the top SME in Kenya in 2008 by the KPMG/Business Daily Top 100.
Robert Gumede (Gijima)
The founder of Gijima AST Group Ltd, an IT firm based in South Africa, Gumede now operates as chairman of the firm, having increased revenue by 100 per cent since 2005 and improved profit margins from around 3 percent to close to 10 per cent. The business has grown from focusing just on the southern African region to having offices in Australia and Canada.
Gumede initially raised eyebrows in 2005 when he decided to merge his successful business, Gijima Info Technologies Afrika, with a struggling listed entity called AST, though this later proved to be a match made in heaven, with Gijima progressively improving its financial performance.
Austin Okere (Computer Warehouse Group)
Austin Okere is the Managing Director and CEO of Computer Warehouse Group, one of the fastest growing information and communication technology companies in Africa today. He founded the company in 2002. Okere has worked in the industry for 24 years, covering roles in systems analysis, sales & marketing, and corporate management, along with 18 years in his current roles.
Computer Warehouse Group has grown over the years from being simply a computer hardware supply company to a pan-African and multinational systems integration corporation, with direct operations in Nigeria, Ghana and Uganda, and serving customers in 17 other African countries. It has an annual turnover of about $120 million and a staff of 550. In 2010 Austin was named the “Most Outstanding ICT Personality of the Decade” by ICT Watch Africa.
Leo Stan Ekeh (Zinox Computers)
Ekeh, an Indian trained economist and risk manager, pioneered the first Nigerian internationally-certified computer brand, Zinox Computers, and was honoured as an Icon of Hope by then-president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2002 for his sustained pioneering effort in the area of information technology. He has a record of incisive entrepreneurship and a vision to computerise Nigeria.
Previously Ekeh, through his company Task Systems Limited, pioneered Desktop Publishing and Computer Graphics in Nigeria. He computerised 95 percent of the Print Media, Publishing Houses and Advertising Agencies in Nigeria. In 2001 when he set up Zinox Technologies Limited to manufacture Zinox Computers.