Two Egyptian entrepreneurs made it to the top 10 list of the fifth edition of Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition, held 23-24 November in the Rwandan capital Kigali. Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and co-founder of the Egypt-based e-learning and training solutions provider Sprints, landed among the top three.
Over the two days of the competition, the 10 entrepreneurs pitched their businesses’ core mission and demonstrated how they contributed to changing lives in the communities where they work.
The ABH competition is a philanthropic initiative sponsored by the Chinese Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy to support and inspire African entrepreneurs across all sectors and build a more sustainable and inclusive economy for the future of the continent.
The top 10 winners secured total prize money of $1.5 million in grant funding. The winner receives $300,000, the first runner-up $250,000 and the second runner-up $150,000. The remaining seven each receive $100,000, and the remaining $100,000 is split among all finalists for additional training programmes after the competition.
Sprints was Bazaraa’s innovative idea that was later translated into a real strategy that the Egyptian entrepreneur developed to create other models of e-learning that differ from the methods applied in the education systems in Egypt.
It offers guaranteed hiring programmes in which graduates pay only upon being hired, in zero per cent interest payments over three years. “Based on the programme’s objectives and duration, the company’s prices range from $50 up to $400,” Bazaraa told Al-Ahram Weekly. In four years, it delivered more than 50,000 learning experiences, had more than 15,000 learners graduate, and delivered over 1.3 million learning hours in the 13 most-in-demand technology fields.
Bazaraa has plans to extend his business to other African countries, with Nigeria being the first destination. He is also considering expanding to other African countries as well as achieving revenues in other currencies to overcome Egypt’s harsh currency shortage.
“The innovative ideas emerge from the challenges we face,” Bazaraa said. The US dollar crunch in Egypt is a challenge facing entrepreneurs, he said, adding “we can deal with it through tapping new markets and raising investment rounds.”
Mohamed Ali, CEO and founder of energy solutions provider I Lock, made it to the top 10 list. I Lock, known previously as Power Lock, works mainly in electrical safety with a range of products including electrical accessories, multi sockets and cables. Through licensing its patented electrical safety technology, the company is also expanding its global presence and seeking to revolutionise electrical safety.
Ali told the Weekly that he also has plans to expand its business into other African countries, with Rwanda as his next stop, to draw up an integrated plant to manufacture the units he produces that provide safety from electrical shocks.
“My little daughter suffered an electrical shock when she was a child, and that changed my life for good. I started to innovate out-of-box units that can protect individuals from such shocks. That was behind the creation of I Lock,” Ali said.
He, too, believes that expansion plans help business owners overcome the shortage of hard currency and to grow.
The competition saw a wide range of novel ideas that are meant to develop solutions to cope with the challenges the African continent is facing.
The top three list also included Nigerian and Kenyan innovative startups that could shape the health and agriculture scene in Africa.
The first winner was Ikpeme Neto, CEO and founder of health insurance service provider Wellahealth Technologies from Nigeria. The company created a technology-enabled network of over 2,000 health providers to solve the expensive problem of healthcare fragmentation and out-of-pocket payments. The network is digitally connected to 27 insurance companies, leading banks, telcos, and a network of sales agents to enable the efficient distribution of affordable healthcare services. For just $1 a month, patients can get high-quality care easily. Wellahealth has served over 130,000 patients and makes over $100,000 in monthly revenue from fees charged to companies and individuals.
Second place went to Thomas Njeru, CEO and co-founder of the agriculture insurance service provider Pula Advisors Limited from Kenya. Pula is an agricultural insure-tech company that offers comprehensive coverage based on yield performance. It protects smallholder farmers from drought, frost, floods, hurricanes, plant diseases and pests. Pula forms insurance consortiums for risk transfer to global markets and aims to enable all farmers in Africa to access insurance and achieve yields similar to those in developed economies, sustaining their livelihoods.
The seven remaining business heroes in the top 10 list include Ismael Belkhayat, CEO and founder of Chari from Morocco. Chari helps traditional local businesses cope with competition from large and medium-sized stores. It digitalises points of sale by allowing them to source online, benefit from payment terms and offer financial services to their end consumers.
Three women were among the ABH’s top 10 with innovative businesses that tackle energy and agriculture issues in the continent. Women made up 30 per cent of the ABH applicant pool, a number that rose with women accounting for 42 per cent of the 50 ABH finalists and 75 per cent of the grand prize winners in the past four years.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 30 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly