But Africa is classified as a poor continent. How can it be? Everywhere you look, there are opportunities to make money that don’t even exist or are easily overlooked in other parts of the world. However, it’s still surprising how many people are blind to the goldmine of opportunities in Africa, including Africans themselves.
Fortunately, there is a growing number of entrepreneurs who are already exploiting the lucrative business opportunities on the continent. The key to their success is that they see things quite differently from the rest of us.
Where there are problems, these entrepreneurs see potential and opportunities. While we complain about the challenges we face everyday, these entrepreneurs are creating solutions that make money.
In this article, I’ll share with you a few success stories of entrepreneurs and businesses in Africa that started from scratch and have achieved remarkable success.
These inspiring success stories prove that there are many ways to make money in Africa, and if you’re determined enough, you too can write your own life-changing success story!
Let’s explore some of the interesting, tried and tested ways to make money in Africa.
1. SoleRebels (Ethiopia)
Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, 34, grew up in Zenabwork, a poor village in the suburbs of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
She came up with her business idea after she noticed most of the artisans in her community, who made beautiful footwear, remained jobless and poor.
Today, her company, SoleRebels, is one the most popular and fastest-growing African footwear brands in the world! It sells its ‘eco-friendly’ brand of footwear in more than 50 countries including the USA, Canada, Japan and Switzerland.
SoleRebels’ footwear is unique because it is 100 percent made by hand using locally-sourced and recycled materials like old car tyres and hand-loomed organic fabrics.
A few years ago, SoleRebels became the first footwear company in the world to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organisation.
By using local craftsmen, Bethlehem has built a global brand and a hugely successful business that has created jobs and improved livelihoods in her local community. (photo credit: solerebels.com)
Bethlehem started SoleRebels in 2004 with less than $10,000 in capital she raised from family members. Today, the company has more than 100 employees and nearly 200 local raw material suppliers, and has opened several standalone retail outlets in North America, Europe and Asia.
Despite its very humble beginnings, SoleRebels now makes up to $1 million in sales every year, and according to Bethlehem’s projections and expansion plans, the company could be making up to $10 million in sales by 2016.
Buoyed by her success with SoleRebels, Bethlehem recently launched Republic of Leather, a new business that trades in luxury leather products like bags, belts and other non-footwear leather accessories.
Bethlehem was selected as the Young Global Leader of the Year 2011 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and was a winner at the Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship in the same year. Bethlehem and her inspiring success story with SoleRebels have been featured severally on Forbes, the BBC and CNN.
2. Africa Felix Juice (Sierra Leone)
Africa is one of the largest producers of fruits in the world. However, due to poor processing and storage, a huge portion of the fruits harvested in Africa every year is wasted.
In some countries, this situation is so bad that fruits and concentrates are imported from overseas despite their local abundance.
For example, did you know that Nigeria, which produces oranges in large quantities, still spends over $140 million to import orange concentrates for its fruit juice industry?
In West Africa, a company in Sierra Leone is already exploiting the lucrative potentials of fruits.
Africa Felix Juice is a Sierra Leone-based company that produces juice concentrates from mangoes and pineapples that are harvested across the country.
The company buys mangoes from more than 4,000 small farmers in Sierra Leone. It collects the fruits and takes them to its processing facility where they are processed (sorted, washed and crushed) into juice concentrates, the main ingredient for making fruit juices. (photo credit: globalexpo.com)
By buying fruits from small farmers, the company is creating value from millions of mangoes that otherwise rot away and go to waste every year.
The company’s mango and pineapple juice concentrates are mainly exported to Europe where they are used to make fruit juices and flavorings for the food industry. These concentrates were the first major export from Sierra Leone since it came out from a devastating civil war nearly ten years ago.
3. Anna Phosa (South Africa)
Anna Phosa is one of Africa’s well-known celebrity pig farmers. Before hitting the limelight, Anna was an ordinary entrepreneur who made a livelihood from her small vegetable farming business in Soweto.
She was introduced to pig farming by a close friend and instantly developed a liking for the venture.
In 2004, Anna invested 1,000 Rand (about $100) to buy four pigs which she used to start up her own small pig farm. (photo credit: picknpay.co.za)
A little less than four years later (in 2008), Anna was contracted by Pick n’ Pay, the South African supermarket and retail giant, to supply its stores with 10 pigs per week.
This order quickly grew to 20 pigs per week shortly after. And in 2010, Anna signed a breath-taking contract with Pick ‘n Pay to supply 100 pigs per week over the next five years under a 25 million Rand deal (that’s nearly $2.5 million!)
With a contract in hand, Anna received funding from ABSA Bank and USAID to buy a 350-hectare farm property. From just four pigs, her new farm now holds nearly 4,000 pigs at a time and supplies roughly 100 to 120 pigs a week to retailers in South Africa.
Anna currently employs about 20 staff and has become something of a celebrity pig farmer on the continent!
Although pig farming hasn’t really picked up in Africa like in other parts of the world, a few entrepreneurs like Anna Phosa are already enjoying the lucrative benefits of the huge and rapidly growing demand for pork products.
Despite cultural and religious influences in parts of our continent that limit pork production and consumption, pig farming is still growing across West, East, Central and Southern Africa.
4. Takamoto Biogas (Kenya)
At the beginning of this article, I told you there’s an opportunity to make money with anything in Africa. That wasn’t a joke.
Founded in March 2011 by a team of Americans and Kenyans, Takomoto Biogas has created a system that allows rural dairy farmers to convert cow dung (animal waste) into a clean and cheap fuel (biogas)that is used for cooking, lighting and heating.
Takamoto Biogas provides Pay-As-You-Go biogas systems to its customers, mainly smallholder farmers, who pay a small fee to install the biogas system and then pay small monthly instalments for the biogasthey use.
Takamoto monitors the biogas system through a GSM-connected smart meter that sends information regarding the maintenance of the unit and customer payment status.
In addition to the biogas system, Takamoto provides biogas household appliances. As of January 2014, 100 farmers in Kenya were benefiting from Takamoto‟s biogas solutions.
It is estimated that there are about 2 million small scale dairy farmers in Kenya who cook with unhealthy and expensive wood fuels (like firewood and charcoal). Worse still, the high-carbon smoke produced by these wood fuels cause serious health problems and are harmful to the environment.
Takamoto’s business is creating a viable energy alternative for rural communities, saving forest resources and making money at the same time! It’s amazing!
5. SimplePay (Nigeria)
Compared to the rest of the world, payment systems in Africa are largely ‘old school’. Most transactions are still done in cash, which can be very inconvenient.
Simeon Ononobi noticed that it costs merchants in Nigeria almost $3,000 to be able to accept online payments. At that time, Paypal, the world’s biggest payment platform was still unavailable to users in Nigeria, and most of Africa.
So, in January 2013, Simeon launched SimplePay, a web and mobile wallet that allows users to easily pay for up to 150 different services like mobile phone recharges, PayTV, taxes, school fees, church donations etc.
The SimplePay platform costs $1 to sign up and significantly reduces the hefty costs of payment gateways and the unsafe exposure of personal debit card details on multiple websites. (photo credit: Google+)
Today, SimplePay is being dubbed the ‘PayPal of Nigeria’. It currently has more than 10,000 registered users (who are mostly merchants) and over 30,000 unregistered users.
In a country with the ninth largest population of internet users (over 60 million), the growth prospects for SimplePay are breathtaking. It’s no wonder that a string of local and international investors are outdoing themselves to have a stake in what is likely to become Africa’s biggest payment platform.
Shortly after the company was founded, it raised $300,000 from Seedstars World, a Swiss venture capital firm, to support its growth and expansion plans. SimplePay is on track to raise over $10 million in early 2015 and expects to grow its registered users to 16 million by 2016.
6. Omega Schools (Ghana) and Bridge International Schools (Kenya)
The standard and quality of education in many parts of Africa is in a bad shape. On a continent with over 50 percent of its people below the age of 25, and one in every three children out of school, it is estimated that more than 60 million African children may reach adolescence lacking even the most basic literacy and numeracy skills.
But is it possible to provide education to poor people and still make money?
Apparently, it’s possible!
Two for-profit businesses, Omega Schools (Ghana) and Bridge International Schools (Kenya) are changing the face of education in Africa through an innovative and highly effective low-cost primary education model. Both companies have become very successful social enterprises and have received various awards for outstanding social impact.
(photo credit: ianandsandie.wordpress.com)
Omega Schools, based in Ghana, is a chain of low-cost private schools that offers basic primary education to children of poor families for an incredibly low and affordable fee (less than $1 a day per student).
Bridge International Schools in Kenya uses a similar low-cost model to provide affordable education to thousands of children in East Africa for less than $5 per month per student.
Before these amazing businesses started, it was thought impossible to educate poor people at a profit. Today, both private school chains are educating over 200,000 children in East and West Africa.
7. Patrick Ngowi (Tanzania)
Ten years ago, aged 19, Patrick received a small loan from his mother to start a business.
He started off selling Chinese-made mobile phones, but then he discovered that only a tiny fraction of Tanzanians had access to electricity, so he had an idea for a business that could fill this gap.
In Tanzania, like in many parts of Africa, solar energy is abundant but largely unused. Patrick decided to start a business that would harness the power of the sun to produce electricity for millions of households, especially in rural areas.
He continued traveling to China, but instead of mobile phones, he bought solar supply and installation systems. Today, his company, Helvetic Solar Contractors, has installed more than 6,000 small rooftop solar systems in Tanzania and four other East African countries – Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Although renewable energy makes up about one percent of Tanzania’s electricity sources, Patrick’s company already boasts of high profile clients like the United Nations, the Tanzanian government, World Vision and the Tanzanian Army. To date, Helvetic Solar Contractors has installed several solar water heating systems in government institutions and several UN projects including schools, hospitals and hotels.
In 2013, his business made more than $5 million in revenues and the company was recently valued at $15 million! His astounding success story has attracted a lot of media attention.
In early 2013, he was featured by Forbes as one of the 10 Young African Millionaires to watch in 2013. His company was also ranked at the top of KPMG’s East Africa’s Survey of Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies in Tanzania in 2012.
8. AgriProtein (South Africa)
Anything can be turned into a profitable business in Africa, including maggots.
AgriProtein is a young business that is doing something very remarkable that could totally change theanimal feed industry.
The company is breeding billions of flies on a farm to lay eggs and produce maggots. These maggots are fed on organic waste material (such as human and animal waste, leftover food from restaurants and blood from local abattoirs).
(photo credit: ebaumsworld.com)
After the maggots feed on the waste, they are washed, dried and grounded to produce a product that is high in protein and used for feeding chickens, fish and pigs.
AgriProtein’s maggot-based animal feed is more than 15 percent cheaper than other alternatives and has been proven to be highly nutritious for livestock.
The company recently attracted more than $10 million in capital to build more fly farms in South Africa. In fact, the German government has offered AgriProtein one million Euros to set up a plant in Germany.