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By: Lionel Tarumbwa

In light of the pandemic, it has become apparent that the world needs businesses that are community-focused and agile. 

The makeup of the top 20 finalists this year is made up of young entrepreneurs who are not only addressing some of the most pressing needs in Africa today but are also creating businesses that can withstand the tests of uncertain times.

The selection is a reflection of how much the very young entrepreneurial ecosystem is becoming more inclusive as it reaches outliers in terms of geography as well as demographic factors.

Agriculture Matters

One of the key aspects that the selection analysts were focusing on this year was the need or challenge that very young entrepreneurs are addressing with their business. It comes as no surprise that almost a third of the businesses in the Top 20 are in the agriculture value chain. 

In his Time 100 Talk, Fred Swaniker, the Founder of the Africa Leadership Group, highlighted how there are no African chocolate brands despite Africa being the biggest exporter of cocoa used in the production of chocolate. He was reflecting on the pressing need for a generation of entrepreneurs tackling the challenges in the continent’s agriculture sector.

“It is amazing how these young entrepreneurs have navigated their businesses at a time when many businesses around the world are closing shop.”

Mhraf worku

The entrepreneurs in this year’s top 20 have enterprises working on value addition, access to market as well as training of small scale farmers who produce up to 80% of the food consumed in Africa [FAO].

Overlooked Regions

The top 20 is made up of entrepreneurs from 15 different countries across the continent. The list shows how often overlooked parts of the continent such as Francophone countries have a strong emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem. 

Entrepreneurship and investment has often been focused on countries such as Kenya, South Africa, Egypt and Nigeria. These attract the largest sums of venture capital that is coming into Africa. However, the businesses coming out of overlooked parts of the continents have demonstrated their ability to build products and services that rival those in developed ecosystems. 

For instance, Matina Razafimahefa, from Madagascar’s business, Sayna, sources, trains, and produces highly equipped young Africans in industry-specific digital skills. The transfer of such skills is important in ensuring that youths have a chance to challenge for job opportunities. The business’s impact on the job market has been profound. Sayna has been able to place 80 percent of its talents in the global IT market place.⠀

Gender Does Not Limit VYE’s

Analysts involved in the selection process highlighted the gender disparity in the applications that were received. However, a look at the finalists tells a story of Africa’s young female entrepreneurs challenging traditionally male-dominated sectors such as technology and engineering. This is an encouraging pattern as innovation.

Omonlola Loïs is the founder of Abiathar Services, a business that offers installation, monitoring and repair services for owners of electrical appliances. The venture largely caters to customers in remote locations of Benin and aims to improve access to electricity and reduce the cost of it through its power inverters. She proudly wears her hardhat like a crown as she goes about her day-to-day, taking her place in a world that has been traditionally dominated by men.

How to Reach the Outliers

Anzisha focuses on very young entrepreneurs between the ages of 15 and 22. In this year’s top 20, there is one young entrepreneur on the early age extreme of this bracket of very young entrepreneurs.

17-year-old Adjei Nyamekye from Ghana is the youngest of the top 20 cohort. Her age is no limiting factor to the responsive and impact-driven innovation she is working on. She is the founder of the Mosquito Trapping + Emergency LED Bulbs Initiative. The venture produces and sells a state-of-the-art bulb that provides 12 hours of emergency light during power outages and has a unique design that enables mosquito trapping.

Very young entrepreneurs like Adjei are not in short supply. However, stakeholders such as educators and parents can work together to equip the VYE’s with the necessary skills to make their businesses competitive and viable.

Resilience and Agility

The most unique aspect of this year’s young business owners is the flexibility and resilience of the businesses shortlisted. During the due diligence process, analysts were amazed by how the businesses have managed to adapt themselves as the pandemic unravelled.

“It is amazing how these young entrepreneurs have navigated their businesses at a time when many businesses around the world are closing shop. These young entrepreneurs have survived without stimulus checks or government loans,” said Mhraf Worku as she reflected on the resilience of young entrepreneurs and their response to the virus.

Entrepreneurship is full of uncertainty. The year 2020 has brought a whole new meaning to the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. It is amazing how these changemakers managed to keep the wheels of their businesses turning as many businesses across the globe wound down and had to close shop when the pandemic unravelled. 

You can access the full list of the top 20 entrepreneurs here.

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