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Africa - Page 3

5 mins read

54gene is developing the World’s First and Largest Pan-African DNA Biobank

African genetic data may hold the key to unlock untold medical discoveries and 54gene is on a mission to improve our understanding of the human genome.

The Lagos, Nigeria based genomics company offers genetic testing for Africans providing reports on nutrition, health, fitness, and weight loss, personal traits, and Ancestry.

We spoke to the founder, Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong to learn more about his business.

54gene
Dr. Abasi Ene-Obong

What inspired you to create 54Gene?

Whilst I was working as a consultant in the pharmaceuticals market, I noticed there was a huge gap in the type of genetic material used in research. Only 2% of genetic material used is African whereas nearly 90% is Caucasian, despite the fact people of African origin are more genetically diverse than all other populations combined.

With 54gene, our aim is to not only address this gap so we can equilibrate medical care for Africans but also develop treatments from our research that will benefit all populations. 

Why does your work focus solely on people of African descent?

There is a limited amount of recorded genetic material from people of African descent. As well as this, the African continent hasn’t built up this genomic capability, so genetic data is not being produced within the continent itself.

Instead, we’ve typically relied on research programs to come into the continent but usually, they’ll go into one country out of fifty four, sample one hundred people from one city, and assume they’ve collected samples from all of Africa.

That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of genetic diversity – it’s coming from one sub-group, whereas there are thousands that exist.

54 gene
Team 54 Gene 

What is your competitive advantage in this industry?

We’re actually developing the world’s first and largest pan-African DNA biobank and we’re planning for this to include 40,000 data samples, by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious project, but one now that we are well placed to achieve.

We’ll be working with health & research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare regulators to achieve this.

As well as this, we’ve also successfully piloted in three of Nigeria’s largest academic tertiary hospitals and we’ll be expanding our biobanking activities to a total of 10 hospitals soon. The model works, now we have to scale in order to capture the data required to effect change in the global pharmaceutical market. 

How can your work improve the global healthcare industry?

A big part of our work is exploring the healthcare benefits of the African genome for all populations, so we’re excited to see where our research takes us.

It’s worth noting that there have been a number of drugs developed from research from African genetic mutations such as Romosozumab (Evenity), an osteoporosis drug and Alirocumab (Praluent), a cholesterol drug.

With this in mind, we’re looking to leverage our data in a number of areas including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and metabolic diseases like diabetes. Drugs are being personalized for populations; but how can they be personalized for Africa if we don’t have the right data sets in the first place?

Where do you see 54gene in 5 years?

Over the next couple of years, 54 gene will be investing heavily in building data science capabilities to both partner with pharmaceutical companies and find our own targets. My vision is for us is to not only develop new treatments and diagnostics for people of African descent, but for all populations and become a force within the global healthcare space.

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Be observant. It’s critical you’re aware of the world around you so you know what problems need to be addressed. Entrepreneurs are people who look at life from a different perspective, so where some people see a problem, they see an opportunity.

More importantly, they also possess the creative thinking to take advantage of it and I think this is the foundation for developing a really strong idea that can make a difference.

 

Tony O. Lawson


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6 mins read

This Black Owned Educational Game Celebrates African History and Culture

As a parent it can be quite challenging to find items such as books and toys that are representative of your child’s heritage. If you are looking for a Black owned educational game, your choices are even more limited.

That’s why we’re pleased to introduce Very Puzzled, a 100 piece  jigsaw puzzle that includes a wide variety of African landmarks, monuments and attractions.

We spoke with Patrick Adom, the founder of Very Puzzled to find out more about him and his company.

Patrick Adom

What inspired you to start Very Puzzled?

My main inspiration has been my daughter who is now 7 years old.  I have always tried to provide her with toys, books, clothing, music and films etc that are representative of her culture.
I named her after a John Coltrane song, I want her to appreciate the richness of Ghanaian, African and African Caribbean and African American culture and all African cultures through out the diaspora.

What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding thing about owning your own business? 

So far I haven’t had any major challenges. Having an actual physical product available in shops based on an idea that I had is really rewarding.
The biggest reward is having the sense that I am doing something that can be life changing for myself and my family and that there is the potential to build something significant and leave a legacy for them.
It is also rewarding to know that I’m giving my daughter the confidence and proof that she can also take her own ideas and achieve the things that she wants to.

What event occurred or action taken has had the biggest impact on your business? 

Making the commitment to start and sticking to it. The moment that I decided that I can do this and that I am actually going to do this that was really important.

How did you fund the business to get started?

I boot strapped the business with my own money. Start-up costs were quite minimal to start and I had some savings.  I have loans and credit cards that I could have used but I didn’t want to get into too much debt.
The idea was to start small test my idea and see if there was a market for what I had and then to continue to grow and develop additional products.
I have looked at business incubators and accelerators and things like crowd funding and kick-starter etc, however, where I am at the moment these initiatives take a lot of time and effort which I feel distracts me from focusing on other core business tasks that I need to do such as producing new products and getting stocked in more shops especially the big multi chain retailers in Africa.

What business skill are you good at and which would you like to develop more?

I don’t believe that what I am doing requires any specific business skills, I think common sense and a belief in yourself and the ability to keep going even when things are tough are some of the most import skills to have.

Having said that, I think that the ability to negotiate is very useful being always prepared to ask for discounts to try and get the best deal. I like to haggle and bargain with suppliers. I think am quite good at this.

What am not so good at is keeping receipts and filing records.  I also need to continue to push myself and make more of an effort to go out of my comfort zone and actually attend more events to speak to people. 

Where do you see the business in 5 years? 

The idea is to have a factory in Ghana that will produce the puzzles and provide employment.  The aim is to have a wide selection of complimentary products and a brand that people really like.
I would also like to get more involved from a manufacturing side and even start to make items for other businesses.
I would also like to support other start-up businesses and help reduce some of the barriers to start-up and help to develop the market in Africa by making things more affordable and easier to access.
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)
5 mins read

Meet The Founder of the Company that is Changing the African Travel Narrative

Cheraé Robinson is the founder of Tastemakers Africa, a travel company that curates and arranges local experiences in cities across the continent.

Due to a reignited interest in traveling to African countries, we caught up with her to find out what her thoughts are and how this affects her business.

Tastemakers Africa
Cheraé Robinson, Founder of Tastemakers Africa

What is the biggest misconception people have about Africa. 

I think we have sort of the stereotypes that have been well documented (poverty, war, conflict, corruption) but I honestly think the bigger issue once we get past that is that people haven’t thought about it at all. We’ve been fed that Paris is paradise or that the Caribbean is the only affordable destination for us. So ignorance is at this point the biggest issue.

You sold out your Ghana 2019 trip in 48hrs. Would you say this year will be a game changer for travel to Africa? 

I wouldn’t say the year is a game changer in and of itself but this year is a harvest so to speak. Over the last five years there has been a concerted effort by creatives, companies like my own, entrepreneurs, and others to really show people a more dynamic view of the continent.

I think we saw this hit fever pitch, particularly in Ghana with Bozoma Saint John’s Full Circle Festival bringing nearly 100 people from the entertainment world to Ghana. I think this says a lot about the impact that illustrating the ties that bind via shared culture can have on transforming perception.

Quick story, I landed back in NYC on Jan 1st this year from Ghana and had to run to T-Mobile the next day. Somehow I mentioned that I was just back from Ghana and the T mobile employees were HYPE! Meanwhile this is in EAST NEW YORK.

So these weren’t necessarily your intellectual pan africans so to speak, these were young kids from Brooklyn who wanted to go to Ghana because it looked poppin on the gram. That to me is how we can see the transformation, like this is true change.

In the past 5 years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

Two things: the concept of “run your own race” and really understanding that most people are literally trying to win themselves, hanging on to slights, real or perceived doesn’t benefit you so it’s best to accept people as other humans trying to do the best they can with our time here. Those two things have been incredibly freeing.

How do you feel tourism is linked to Black economic empowerment on the continent and in the  Diaspora?

Tourism is a significant percentage of GDP in many countries and it’s often undercounted due to the blurry lines between tourism related dining, retail, and transport.

When you think about tourism and black people, it serves the BEE agenda on a few fronts:

  1. Intercultural monetary exchange (black travelers with USD supporting black businesses on the continent)
  2. Longer term economic plays, tourism is an entry point to understanding investment and business opportunities in new markets, this is even more true for the African market. A trip is often the best way to spot opportunities and make valuable connections which are required to do business in a country. If we can leap forward from this point and marry capital, skills, knowledge and access in a two way mechanism, that is transformational at a generational level.

Where do you see the company 5 years from now?

I see Tastemakers as sort of an AirBnB x Vice Magazine hybrid providing end to end inspiration and connection points to millions of people across Africa and its diaspora around the world.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

8 mins read

W. E. B. Du Bois and The Year of Return for African Diaspora

In the heart of Accra, Ghana’s capital, just a few meters from the United States embassy, lie the tombs of W. E. B. Du Bois, a great African-American civil rights leader, and his wife, Shirley.

The founder of the US-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People moved to Accra in 1961, settling in the city’s serene residential area of Labone and living there until his death in August 1963.

President Kwame Nkrumah along with WEB Dubois and Shirley Graham Dubois in Ghana, 1960.

Du Bois’s journey to Ghana may have signaled the emergence of a profound desire among Africans in the diaspora to retrace their roots and return to the continent. Ghana was a major hub for the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

The W.E.B Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture

In Washington, D.C., in September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formally launched the “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora, giving fresh impetus to the quest to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora.

At that event, President Akufo-Addo said, “We know of the extraordinary achievements and contributions they [Africans in the diaspora] made to the lives of the Americans, and it is important that this symbolic year—400 years later—we commemorate their existence and their sacrifices.”

W. E. B. Du Bois during the ceremony in which he received an honorary degree from the University of Ghana on his 95th birthday, February 23, 1963. Credit: Digital Commonwealth


200 years since the abolition of slavery

US Congress members Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, diplomats and leading figures from the African-American community, attended the event.

Representative Jackson Lee linked the Ghanaian government’s initiative with the passage in Congress in 2017 of the 400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.

Provisions in the act include the setting up of a history commission to carry out and provide funding for activities marking the 400th anniversary of the “arrival of Africans in the English colonies at Point Comfort, Virginia, in 1619.”

Since independence in 1957, successive Ghanaian leaders have initiated policies to attract Africans abroad back to Ghana.

In his maiden independence address, then–Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah sought to frame Africa’s liberation around the concept of Africans all over the world coming back to Africa.

“Nkrumah saw the American Negro as the vanguard of the African people,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard, who first traveled to Ghana when he was 20 and fresh out of Harvard, afire with Nkrumah’s spirit.

“He wanted to be able to utilize the services and skills of African-Americans as Ghana made the transition from colonialism to independence.”

Ghana’s parliament passed a Citizenship Act in 2000 to make provision for dual citizenship, meaning that people of Ghanaian origin who have acquired citizenships abroad can take up Ghanaian citizenship if they so desire.

That same year the country enacted the Immigration Act, which provides for a “Right of Abode” for any “Person of African descent in the Diaspora” to travel to and from the country “without hindrance.”

Du Bois (center) at his 95th birthday party in 1963 in Ghana, with President of the Republic of Ghana Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (right) and First Lady Fathia Nkrumah.

The Joseph Project

In 2007, in its 50th year of independence, the government initiated the Joseph Project to commemorate 200 years since the abolition of slavery and to encourage Africans abroad to return.

Similar to Israel’s policy of reaching out to Jews across Europe and beyond following the Holocaust, the Joseph Project is named for the Biblical Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt but would later reunite with his family and rule Egypt.

The African-American community is excited about President Akufo-Addo’s latest initiative. In social media posts, many expressed interest in visiting Africa for the first time.

Among them is Amber Walker, a media practitioner who says that 2019 is the time to visit her ancestral home.

“The paradox of being an African-American is that we occupy spaces where we are not being considered as citizens. So I love the idea of Ghana taking the lead to kind of help African-Americans claim their ancestral space,” she told Africa Renewal. “It is a step in the right direction.

“It is definitely comforting because that kind of red carpet has not been rolled out by our oppressors in the Western world,” she added.

The W.E.B Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture

In making the announcement, President Akufo-Addo said: “Together on both sides of the Atlantic, we’ll work to make sure that never again will we allow a handful of people with superior technology to walk into Africa, seize their people and sell them into slavery. That must be our resolution, that never again, never again!”

But Walker took issue with Akufo-Addo for appearing to downplay the actions of some Africans in the slave trade.

“In the president’s [Akufo-Addo’s] statement, he sounds like the entire blame is placed on white people coming in with weapons and taking black people away, but that’s not necessarily the history. So I think that needs to be acknowledged,” she said.

She suggested a form of reconciliation such as took place in post-apartheid South Africa—a truth and reconciliation process that will satisfy the millions of Africans whose forefathers were sold into slavery.

 

In 2013 the United Nations declared 2015–2024 the International Decade for People of African Descent to “promote respect, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of people of African descent.”

The theme for the ten-year celebration is “People of African descent: recognition, justice and development.”

The “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” will coincide with the biennial Pan African Historical Theatre Festival (Panafest), which is held in Cape Coast, home of Cape Coast Castle and neighbouring Elmina Castle—two notable edifices recognized by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as World Heritage Sites of the slave era.

 

Source: IPS News

Cover image: by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast
4 mins read

World’s Largest Museum dedicated to Black Civilizations opens in Senegal

After 52 years of waiting, Senegal is finally opening what has been described as the largest museum of Black civilization in the capital, Dakar.

With close to 14,000 square metres of floor space and capacity for 18,000 exhibits, the new Museums of Black Civilizations is already capable of competing with the National Museum of African American History in Washington.

The exhibition halls include Africa Now, showcasing contemporary African art and The Caravan and the Caravel, which tells the story of the trade in human beings – across the Atlantic and through the Sahara – that gave rise to new communities of Africans in the Americas.

“Kachireme” by Cuban artist Leandro Soto finds parallels between Nigerian ancestral spirits and Native American beliefs

These diaspora communities – such as in Brazil, the United States and the Caribbean – are recognized as African civilizations in their own right.

Since the museum could contain works owned by France since colonization, Senegal’s culture minister has called for the restitution by France of all Senegalese artwork on the back of a French report urging the return of African art treasures.

senegal
Visitors look at exhibits at the newly inaugurated Museum of Black Civilizations in Dakar, Senegal REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Apart from suffering from the negative consequences of colonialism, Africans have had to negotiate for the return of valuable historical cultural artifacts that were smuggled out of their countries.

These priceless monuments, which symbolize African identity are currently scattered across the world, with an impressive number in British and French Museums.

This striated kifwebe mask hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Many African countries have called for the return of these treasures but are yet to receive any positive response from these western countries, which are making huge sums of money from these objects, with some even insisting that they were obtained legally.

The museum has a pan-African focus with pieces from across Africa and the Caribbean

French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced that his country will return 26 artifacts taken from Benin in 1892. The thrones and statues, currently on display at the Quai Branly museum in Paris, were taken during a colonial war against the then Kingdom of Dahomey.

Senegal’s late president Leopold Sedar Senghor was the first to propose the idea of a museum about the civilizations of black Africa during a world festival of black artists in Dakar in 1966.

In December 2011, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade laid the foundation stone in the capital Dakar but works were suspended during a political change until the subsequent leader, Macky Sall set the project rolling between December 2013 and December 2015.

The museum was built in part to a $34.6 million donation from China.

 

Source: BBC


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10 mins read

Howard University Swimmer and Siblings Going to 2020 Olympics

Howard University swimmer Latroya Pina of Seekonk, Massachusetts will swim for Cape Verde at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan alongside her siblings, Troy and Jayla,.

The siblings were selected to represent the Cape Verde National Swim Team in the Confederation Africaine de Natation Championship Meet, scheduled for Sept. 10-16 in Algeria.

Howard University Swimmer 
The Pina siblings – Troy, Latroya and Jayla

They learned recently they were selected to represent the Cape Verde National Team at the Confederation Africaine de Natation Amateur Swimming and Open Water Championship Meet, scheduled for Sept. 10-16 in Algiers, Algeria. They’re the first team the island African nation has fielded at the competition, a precursor to World Championships in South Korea in 2019 and the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, to which the team is granted an automatic berth.

latroya pina

“It’s not far-fetched, three members of one family all going to the World Championships and the Olympic Games,” said Latroya, a senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “We’re not just swimming for our colleges or schools, but for a nation so we want to do our best.”

The Pinas swimming talent caught the attention of Cape Verdean athletic officials from an unlikely source – Facebook.

“Latroya received a message via Facebook about it, that somebody wanted to meet her,” said Maria Alfama, the siblings’ mother. “We thought that it was a scam!”

After initial contact with Latroya, the country’s swimming federation – which started in November 2017 — discovered Troy’s times.

“Our mom put up our performances on Facebook and somebody from the Cape Verdean government saw them,” said Troy, a sophomore at St. Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J. “They have people trying to find athletes for sports.”

troy pina

The Pinas were informed of their possible selection to the team in February, with their times tracked through an online database. Their mother Maria Alfama orchestrated the siblings’ paperwork to become dual citizens with the Cape Verde embassy in Quincy.

“It was a lot who was who,” Alfama said of coordinating the process with the embassy and the Cape Verdean Sports Ministry. “Once they found out that Latroya had a brother and sister who swam too, everything fell into place.”

The fledgling team — there’s one other member besides the Pinas — might be small, but the responsibility that comes with being on a national team isn’t lost on them.

“Cape Verde is trying to make swimming a big sport now, so it’s our responsibility to represent our country,” Latroya said. “People in Cape Verde and all the Cape Verdeans in the U.S. will be looking up to us.”

Consisting of 10 islands off Africa’s west coast, Cape Verde has a population of a half-million people. Despite being surrounded by water, it doesn’t have any swimming pools. In the past, any individual swimmers participated in open water competitions — which the Pinas plan on doing as well — but the country has initiated plans to build an indoor swimming pool ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

Most of the athletes that compete for the country in any sport are from the U.S.

The Pinas — including Jayla, a rising freshman at Seekonk High — have been swimming as members of the Seekonk High-based Seacoast Swimming Association under former Warrior coach and current Brown University aquatics director Ray Grant and Brian Cameron, the current Warrior coach.

“We’ve worked with Latroya and Troy for the past eight years and with Jayla for the past six years,” Cameron said. “They are all such great kids with great work ethics and this is a great opportunity for them all.”

The siblings have been early risers all summer, heading to morning workouts (7-8 a.m.) at Seekonk High, then afternoon workouts at Brown’s Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center, being in the water 2 1/2-3 hours daily, six days a week.

The Pina siblings do their “short course” (25 yards) work at Seekonk High and their “long course” (50 meters) work at Brown. The Pinas will train locally for the international competition in Algeria. When school begins, Latroya will likely depart from Washington, while Troy will return from New Jersey to make the trip with Jayla and Cameron from Boston to Algeria.

Alfama remembers the Latroya’s start in swimming at age five when she was more interested in gymnastics. One day at the East Providence Boys and Girls Club, a swim team coach suggested she take lessons and swim for the girls’ club team. Five years later, as a 10-year old, Latroya was swimming at national meets.

Today, Latroya, at 5-foot-6, has already placed her name in the Howard University record books at the Burr Pool. She is a member of the career-best 200 (1:47.77) and 400 (3:58.22) medley relay teams(3:58.22), ranking No. 2 in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.07) and 100 individual medley (1:03.04), No. 3 in the 200 breaststroke (2:26.14) and No. 5 in the 200 IM (2:14.18).

She was so focused on her academics at Howard University and ambitions to attend medical school that she never thought of extending her swimming career.

“Academics has always been my main focus because once my last collegiate meet was done with, after college it’s the real world,” she said.

Now with the World Games and Olympic Games in the future, she will likely take a “gap year” before continuing post-graduate studies.

The 5-foot-8 Troy had season best swims for St. Peter’s at the Eugene and Teresa Imperatore Swimming Center during MAAC meets in the 200 individual medley (2:05.14) and 200 butterfly (2:04.61).

“He has emerged as an active leader for our team,” said Mark Kretzer, St. Peter’s head swimming and diving coach. “When he told me about the opportunity to represent his mother’s country of Cape Verde, I knew this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for him.”

At the African championship meet, Troy will likely be competing in the 50 butterfly, 50 and 100 freestyle events. Latroya will likely take on the 50 and 100 breaststroke events and the 50 freestyle, while Jayla will likely swim the 50, 100 and 200 breaststroke events.

For the siblings, swimming is has been a constant, even while away from home.

“For me, my brother and my sister, swimming never stops,” Latroya said. “Swimming is something we love to do — it’s fun, it’s never been a burden.”

And all of them are proud to represent Cape Verde, an experience made even better with their siblings alongside.

“I am proud to represent the country of Cabo Verde and ecstatic to compete in my first international meet,” Troy said. “It’s a great feeling to also have two siblings competing along with me for Cabo Verde.”

Even more proud is their mom.

“I don’t even know how to swim!” Alfama said. “I was happy just watching. I’ve spent a lot of miles on the road, a lot of hours at pools with them. My life began when they got involved with sports and swimming. I was a super sports mom.”

And while they used to joke about being in the Olympics some day, Latroya said how they came upon the experience was “random” and none of them ever dreamed they’d be this close.

“You always trained harder for the bigger meets when you were in high school and now in college,” Troy said. “Now that we’re going to the African games, then the World Championships and Olympic Games, this is something that we never dreamed.”

1 min read

Billionaire Patrice Motsepe to form South Africa’s first Black Owned Bank

Billionaire Patrice Motsepe is one of South Africa’s richest men. He’s also the first Black African on the Forbes list. In 2016, he launched a private equity firm, African Rainbow Capital (ARC), focused on investing in Africa. Last week, it was announced that ARC is set to acquire TymeDigital, a South African bank with a strong Fintech focus.

Patrice Motsepe
Patrice Motsepe and wife, Precious Moloi-Motsepe

The acquisition would make him the owner of the first Black owned Bank in South Africa.

TymeDigital‚ which allows customers to access funds via their mobile phones. The bank aims to roll out transactional banking in the fourth quarter of 2018, intending to become a fully fledged digital bank for those who cannot easily access formal banking services.

Targeted client segments include unbanked and underserved clients as well as small and medium enterprises. Competitive technology allows the bank to on-board clients with greater ease relative to its competitors and keep bank charges more affordable than what SA banking clients pay in general.

The sale of TymeDigital is still subject to regulatory approval and potential sale price adjustments – and as a result, the financial effect of the sale currently cannot be reliably estimated – however it is not expected to have a material impact on the group’s results, it said.

10 mins read

Nichole Yembra: Managing Partner of One of The Largest FinTech VC Firms in Africa

One of my goals is to invest in many startups here and on the continent. The African Fintech (Financial technology) sector is one that’s always been interesting to me because of its potential to solve many social and economic issues.

According to a recent report from Disrupt Africa, the overall startup funding from venture capitalists jumped by 51 percent to $195 million from 2016 to 2017, with fintech funding accounting for one-third of the funds.

One company that specializes in financial technology is GreenHouse Capital. This Lagos based VC firm is assembling the largest portfolio of FinTech companies in Africa.

fintech
Nichole Yembra, MP – GreenHouse Capital

We spoke with Nichole Yembra, Managing Partner at GreenHouse Capital for more insight. Nichole is the local partner for foreign investors eager to transform African technology startups.

How would you describe the startup scene in Nigeria?

Over 40% of Nigerians identify as entrepreneurs; whether that is a one-woman store selling sweets and household items to series B tech companies getting international buzz. This spirit of hustle and solving every day Nigerian problems runs at the core of who we are.

While there are plenty stories of those who have started, we don’t yet have enough tales of exits which holds the Nigerian startup scene back compared to Kenya and South Africa. For the first time in 2017, Nigeria raised the most money on the continent and H1 2018 is already ahead of that trend.

Both domestic and international investors are backing really brilliant ideas, and this is setting up the ecosystem for much needed success stories.

What do you look for when deciding to invest in a company?

At GHC, we actually have a 10 item criteria, but the most important is the team. We need to know that they are resilient, flexible enough to pivot, technologically sound, and have the right set of morals.

Nichole Yembra

A great team will weather all the challenges thrown at them from both the macro and micro level and we honestly want to invest in people that we simply enjoy being around! We only invest in post revenue companies, so someone out there has to be willing to pay for your product.

Other areas including having at least one technical co-founder, assessing whether the timing is right for this product to enter the market, and modeling scalability.

Currently, your portfolio consists of mostly Fintech startups. What makes this such an attractive sector?

Fintech as we define it is the solution for so many issues on our continent. The most important thing we are looking for is data and a whole lot of it! Data allows everyone to make better decisions and innovate much faster.

For all the hundreds of payment companies, we still simply find it hard to move money across Africa and targeting the large percentage of the unbanked. Let me take one small aspect of fintech—inbound international remittances. In 2017, Nigerians (or others) in the diaspora sent $22 Billion dollars to friends and family in Nigeria. Nigeria’s entire 2017 oil revenues were $20 Billion.

fintech
Bunmi Akinyemiju, MP/CEO of Green House Capital

That’s right; inbound remittances were larger than all of Nigeria’s oil revenue. Furthermore, the average fee on those transactions is 10% meaning $2.2B for fintech companies moving foreign currency into the country.

Fintech’s are prominent throughout every fiber of society; from getting accurate patient records to track illnesses and medications to understanding why African aviation runs at a loss compared to its global counterparts.

Fintechs provide increased transparency and improve predictability. Any business that wants to make money needs to be plugged into a payment system, therefore permanently increasing the need for innovative fintechs.

Kunmi Demuren – Founding Partner, Greenhouse Capital

Congratulations on the launch of Vibranium Valley. What is the mission and vision behind it?

We’ve actually only completed phase 1 of Vibranium Valley now which houses Venture Garden Group’s 7 companies and the HQ for our investment arm GreenHouse Capital’s 14 companies.

Vibranium Valley launch day with Nigerian Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo (center)

We will also hold the 8-12 companies we are choosing for GreenHouse Lab, our all female tech accelerator. Once the full project is completed, we will have space for not just long term resident companies, but also those with budding ideas.

The mission is to enhance the tech ecosystem by fostering collaboration. Let’s say one company is trying to provide banking solutions to a state government and their primary system requires microfinance or commercial bank accounts, but the state wants to also incorporate the unbanked.

Vibranium Valley

That company can reach out to other fintechs that help cooperatives or have agency networks to partner with eachother rather than building that aspect of the solution from scratch. Vibranium Valley also serves as a central point for international investors and companies looking to better/more quickly understand the Nigerian investment landscape.

Vibranium Valley

If you have a question about a tech company in Nigeria, someone on our team most likely knows the answer or can easily direct you to someone who does. Being this ecosystem connector and helping shine the light on tech successes in Nigeria are the reasons why Vibranium Valley had to exist.

In your opinion, why is it important to support Nigerian and African startups in general?

Because nobody else can solve our problems for us. Developed countries like Japan, the US, and Germany have median ages between 46.9 and 37.9 years old; whereas the median age for the African continent is 19.5 years old with Nigeria averaging 18.3! Africans are not just the future, we are the now!

Garden Women’s Network

These young minds are growing up intrinsically connected with technology and innovation around the world and still hungry and imaginative enough to create both enabling and disruptive solutions to our nations’ problems.

We have already begun outsourcing our brain power to Silicon Valley companies with entities like Andela and countries looking to increase their global foothold can only come here for expansion. Given the large number of infrastructure and systemic issues around power, education, etc., there is not a shortage of problems to solve and the impact can be more immediate and widespread.

What is your advice for a foreigner investors that are interested in investing in Nigerian startups?

Come on over, we’re waiting for you. The beauty of investing here is that it naturally has a societal impact and given the perceived high risk, much higher returns.

I’d advise that you do your homework by engaging someone like us at VGG and always have a local investor in your round that can keep an eye on things on ground.

The biggest point of advice though is don’t come here trying to structure a silicon valley type deal; bring in global best practices, but be willing to localize and always search for context.

GHC CEO, Bunmi Akinyemiju, Managing Partner, Nichole Yembra, and Executive Director, Kunmi Demuren

Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

Hopefully as a billion dollar company! For the new age unicorn definition, no African company has yet reached this milestone and we hope to be amongst the first.

We have deployed our fintech solutions across aviation, power, education, banking, and social investment while investing in companies addressing financial inclusion, renewable energy, healthcare, and so on.

With this connected ecosystem, we hope to increase not just our net worth but create a new class of tech millionaires and billionaires who are impacting millions of lives across the continent.

 

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)

7 mins read

ZAAF CEO on Creating a Luxury Brand and Changing the Perception of Africa

ZAAF is a luxury leather goods brand that manufactures its products in Ethiopia. As an African, I love seeing us take our natural resources and create world class brands that can compete with the usual household names that we’ve been trained to desire.

I wanted to know more about this brand and the brain behind it, so I had a chat with ZAAF founder and CEO, Abai Schulze.

SB: What inspired you to start ZAAF?

AS: It all came down to a convergence of both opportunity and passion. My passion derives from the reality that design and creative expressions of “physical creation” had always been a driver for me, even as I spent my university years focused on an economics major at George Washington University.

SB: We are all familiar with the stereotypes that exist about African countries. How important is it to you to change these perceptions with your work?

AS: We promote Ethiopia’s, as well as the entire continent’s rich heritage and cultures through exacting top quality products made with indigenous natural resources by our gifted artisans.

Each piece draws its inspiration from a particular region, and is crafted with the finest materials.

Color, texture, and ageless patterns made on a traditional loom, are merged with carefully selected leather to create a discrete statement of elegance and practicality.

I believe our effort at ZAAF accentuates an angle that speaks to the legitimacy of art, the taste of truthful luxury and the beauty of an earnest human endeavor all built around the hope of a nation.

Positioning a luxury brand synonymous with Ethiopia in the global marketplace is an effective way of displacing negative stereotypes about the country.

SB: Ethiopia has one of the leading manufacturing industries in Africa. What do you feel needs to be done in order for the country to capitalize on this?

AS: Yes – Ethiopia is on track to become Africa’s industrial powerhouse, but there are some challenges that need to be addressed in order for the country to really capitalize on its resources.

One issue in particular I want to highlight is that we must develop our labor force’s skills so individuals can become more productive and truly understand quality control.

It is equally vital that companies pay a sustainable wag as the high turnover indicates this has yet to be achieved.

SB: What is the most fulfilling and most challenging aspect of the work you do?

AS: My driving passion and vision for many years were centered around using my education and experiences to create economic opportunities in my country of birth.

We are trying to be a part of the solution by making skills and capacity building integral to our operating model. I believe we are having an incremental but certainly positive impact on the job sector.

I also hope we are having a “knock on” effect and inspiring other young entrepreneurs and designers to enter the space and invest in people.

Of course there are difficulties around infrastructure, red tape and elements like logistics – those go without saying. These challenges should be “priced into” any decision to open and operate in any frontier market.

I think a particular challenge, which is also a wonderful opportunity, for my sector is the need to invest continually in human capital.

I’m highly reliant on qualified and specifically skilled labor who can build unique hard and soft skills. Filtering through, selecting and further investing into this human capital is probably my most unique challenge.

SB: How important is it to you to invest in your community and in what ways are you doing that or planning to do that in the future?

AS: I strongly believe that education and job creation play the critical role to provide economic opportunities in any emerging economies.

So at ZAAF, we support educational programs by inviting students to our workshop, inspiring them with our work, or sponsoring programs that support out vision in these issues.

We believe that financial success and mission impact go hand in hand. We must succeed as a business and achieve financial success in order to create a deeper development impact, build local capacity, and generate sustainable markets.

The success of our company rests upon our ability to create new linkages between emerging market producers and discerning developed market customers, and to generate profit, growth, and revenue in the markets for our artisans.

SB: Where you see yourself and your business in 5 years

AS: We will continue to expand our production in line with our growth goals, while also expanding the range of products we offer. We also aim to grow partnerships and distribution channels.

We will be a globally recognized high-end brand that gives discerning consumers new and exciting choices, and in many cases a whole new perception of Ethiopia and the African continent.

SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

AS: Quantify your risks. Build up an appropriate tolerance for risk and surround yourself with people who inspire you and hold you accountable for your actions and progress on your goals.

I would also advise entrepreneurs to double-down on execution. I’ve always said –  execution is the stuff of success – passion is just one of the ingredients.

 

-Tony O. Lawson


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2 mins read

Top 12 African Restaurants in The UK

Whether you’re looking for savory dishes that originate from the East, West or South of the Continent, this list of African Restaurants in the United Kingdom has some great choices to explore.

African Restaurants in the UK

Couscous Darna deals in the fragrant and warming dishes of Marrakesh. They serve a unique list of Moroccan beers, wines and cocktails to explore.

Ikoyi is a Chic space with decor that reflects the cuisine: a modern twist on authentic West African flavours.

Squires African Restaurant has over ten years experience of delivering authentic West African cuisine.

Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen brings Ghanaian flavours to @Popbrixton and beyond.

Momo serves Couscous, tagines and lamb dishes in colourful setting filled with furnishings from a Moroccan souk.

Mosob is a family-run restaurant serving authentic, vibrant Eritrean cuisine in a setting that reflects the country’s culture, with original art and artifacts.

Sweet Handz blends a relaxed atmosphere with delicious authentic Ghanaian food.

Enish Restaurant is an upscale Nigerian restaurant in London serving the best Nigerian Food.

Hammer & Tongs entire menu is braai-cooked over Sickle Bush & Blackthorne wood imported directly from South Africa.

805 is a stylish, contemporary restaurant,in light and airy setting for Modern Nigerian and West African dishes.

Adulis serves Eritrean food, based on stews and unleavened bread, served for sharing, in modern-rustic setting.

Spinach and Agushi are famous for their home cooked Ghanaian street food sold at Exmouth, Broadway and Portobello Market in London.

Tony O. Lawson


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