From America to Africa: Entrepreneurs who’ve built businesses back home
These seven African entrepreneurs all studied or worked in the United States but recognised the business opportunities back home.
1. Nigerian Uber-for-trucks company Kobo360 not such a crazy idea after all
Nigerian entrepreneur Obi Ozor relocated to the US during his high school years and obtained degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton Business School. He could have stayed in the US; “I would have been fine. But, working at JP Morgan at the age of 23, I was unfulfilled. I did not feel it was what a sharp young man from Nigeria should be doing.”
Ozor co-founded Kobo360 in 2016. The company provides an e-logistics platform that links truck owners with clients requiring cargo transportation – an Uber for trucks. Read Obi Ozor’s Business Growth Story.
2. Entrepreneur taps into international market for Ethiopian-made leather products
Ethiopia has the largest livestock population in Africa, measured at around 53 million cattle by the Ethiopian Investment Commission. However, only 50% of the hide and skin potential is currently being utilised.
Ethiopian-born entrepreneur Abai Schulze saw this gap in the market on a trip home from the US, where she grew up after being adopted at the age of 11. Following the conclusion of her studies in economics at George Washington University, Schulze realised her birth country was getting the short end of the stick. Ethiopia was exporting raw leather, only for it to be made into luxury leather items with an enormous mark-up in European countries.
Schulze crafted a plan to produce high-end leather goods – such as handbags, backpacks and clutch bags – under the brand name ZAAF Collection using local talent and resources in Ethiopia and to export it to the rest of the world. Read Abai Schulze’s Business Growth Story.
3. Ghanaian entrepreneur returns home from the US to commercialise the moringa tree
Born and raised in Accra, Kwami Williams emigrated to the US after his family won the diversity visa lottery. He spent his middle and high school years in Baltimore.
“I studied aerospace engineering at MIT and interned at two NASA space centres thinking that would be my future. Through two trips back to Ghana during university, I got to see rural poverty up close for the first time. These experiences gave me a complete change of heart, igniting a journey from aerospace engineering to agriculture. I packed my bags and moved back to Ghana in 2013 to start building what would become MoringaConnect.”
Today Williams is the CEO of MoringaConnect, a Ghanaian company which manufactures food and personal care products from the moringa tree. Its brands include Minga Foods and True Moringa. The business also supplies bulk moringa oil, tea and powder to brands across the world. Read Kwami Williams’ Business Growth Story.
4. Selling lemonade in Nigeria through an innovative distribution strategy
Seyi Abolaji moved back to Nigeria in 2007 after living and studying in the US. After obtaining his degree at Stanford University, playing professional football and settling into a new job at McMaster-Carr (a supplier of industrial materials and equipment), he announced he was returning to his home country. “It was a big surprise for everybody, it was never really the plan.”
Abolaji was eager to join a family member’s palm kernel oil venture but discovered the business was not what he thought it was. Starting from scratch, he ventured into selling hand-squeezed lemonade at a local university. Today, Wilson’s Lemonade is available in three different flavours and stocked in several supermarkets. Read Seyi Abolaji’s Business Growth Story.
5. Liberia: A brand of health and beauty products made from oil palm grown by small-scale farmers
J-Palm is an agribusiness company founded by Mahmud Johnson in Liberia in June 2013. Johnson, who grew up in Liberia, came up with the idea for J-Palm during a Christmas break when he was back home from studying in the US.
The business supports smallholder farmers who harvest the fruits from naturally growing oil palms in their communities for oil production, purchasing both the palm oil as well as the kernels left over as a by-product. It then processes the kernels into palm kernel oil for its range of consumer lifestyle products – soaps, moisturisers and hair conditioners – under the brand Kernel Fresh. It also aggregates the crude palm oil purchased from the smallholder farmers to sell on to retailers. Read Mahmud Johnson’s Business Growth Story.
6. Sailing uncharted waters in Nigeria
Esigie Aguele had a comfortable life working as a senior manager for a technology company in Washington, DC. After spending almost two decades in the US, Aguele was looking for an opportunity to return to his country of birth, Nigeria. “I was inspired to come back to Nigeria because I felt the expertise I gained in the States would have more impact at home. The society there was more developed, and whatever solution or idea you could come up with was probably already done. In Nigeria, I felt I could bring my experience and knowledge to provide a solution that would help build the economy.”
Aguele went on to co-found VerifyMe Nigeria, a digital identity and verification services company that offers services such as identity, address and employment verification. Read Esigie Aguele’s Business Growth Story.
7. Health-tech entrepreneur believes the sector’s untapped potential is ‘incredible’
Adegoke Olubusi is a co-founder of Nigerian-based health-tech company Helium Health, which gives healthcare providers a comprehensive suite of technology solutions dedicated to managing every aspect of healthcare delivery, from electronic medical records and telemedicine, to administration and financial management.
Olubusi moved to the US after completing high school, enrolling at Morgan State University in Maryland for computer science and electrical engineering. In 2014, after he finished his degree, he helped create the communication app KingsChat. Then it was on to Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering where he received his master’s degree in engineering management.
He still remembers the moment the problem statement in healthcare became a business idea. Whilst travelling in Nigeria to research telecommunications technology and connectivity as a possible future venture, Olubusi and one of the co-founders visited the office of the then Speaker of the House of Assembly in Lagos, a doctor by profession. “After listening to our pitch, he said: ‘That is nice and cool, but let me tell you about an even bigger problem that no one wants to take on.’ He then highlighted the pain point of an inefficient healthcare system where it was impossible to find and trace medical records for patients.” Read Adegoke Olubusi’s Business Growth Story.