How These Poor African Entrepreneurs Started Extremely Successful Businesses

Today I want to tell you more about African entrepreneurs who have started with nothing in hand.

You see, there are two myths: One is that you need considerate starting capital for a successful African business, the other is that it will take you many years beating the odds to make it when you start with nothing much in hand.

Sometimes we get paralyzed by such an outlook and as a result, too many never start.

If you are one of them, let me today introduce you to four entrepreneurs who made it BIG in Africa with about $100 or less in hand and who now earn a considerable amount after just having started a few years ago. I am telling their stories here so you start believing it’s possible!

1) From school drop out to insurance seller (Kenya)

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Heshan de Silva dropped out of school and as things got worse for him in the US, he joined his parents back in Kenya in 2007 to get his life back together. Aged only 18 at the time, his parents gave him Ksh.10,000 (US$116), which he used to start a new business. He targeted the bus travel sector in the country selling insurance bundled with the bus ticket purchase. And it is widely reported in the media that by the end of the year, the business had made KSh. 90m (US$1.05m). Isn’t that amazing!? Heshan has since invested that money in his new business, De Silva Group, a ventures capital firm.

No education, no capital, not even a great deal of life experience and yet Heshan made it in a short period of time. He was featured in CNN and Forbes Magazine as one of Africa’s most successful young entrepreneurs.

2) From a broken Ipod to a chain of mobile phone repair shops (South Africa)

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Take Axel Fourie from South Africa. By the time he was 27 he had tried several start ups with little success. When his iPod was faulty and he was told by specialists nothing could be done about it, he searched for a You Tube video online and fixed it himself. He then put an advert into a local newspaper and offered that same service- he was flooded with calls and requests and knew he was onto something. He opened his company iFix and started fixing iPods from his university dorm. This was in 2007. Today Alex runs a chain of 8 stores and employs 85 people. He has since expanded his business manufacturing mobile phone accessories which he exports into 12 countries across Africa. Oh, we forgot to mention the amount of his starting capital. Here it is: Zero (unless he paid a little for that newspaper ad).

3) From graduate to high-profile online marketing company (Nigeria)


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Abasiama Idaresit graduated with an MBA at Manchester Business School and moved back to Nigeria in 2010 to start his own business. Today, he is the Founder and CEO of Wild Fusion, a digital marketing company . Guess what, he started his company in 2010 with a gift of $250 from his mother and it took him 8 months to make the first deal. Just 3 years later Visa, Vodafone, Samsung and Unilever as well as several large Pan-African corporations are his clients and his company was valued at 6 Million Dollar in revenue. Yes, you heard that indeed right. 6 Million Dollar. And yes, he started in 2010. Wild Fusion has now become Google’s certified partner.

4) From African backyard tree nursery to biggest garden centers (South Africa)

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And one of my favorite, because it is really such a hands-on job anyone could start next weeks is the story of De Fynne Nursery. It’s not a children’s nursery, but a tree nursery! You have to be aware of this amazing story! The venture started in 2001 by South African entrepreneurs Jacky Goliath and Elton Jefthas in a backyard of Jeftah’s house. I don’t know exactly how much they invested, but it must have been peanuts, because tree seedlings to get you started in Africa cost usually a few pennies. And then you just need a backyard and some plastic containers. That’s it for a start. Back to De Fynne Nursery: Market demand grew fast and steadily which meant that they moved, the nursery moved to a 0.5 hectare land in 2005, and in 2008 had to move again to a 1.5 hectare area outside Cape Town where they hosted 600,000 plants! Today the De Fynne nursery supplies its products to retailers such as Woolworths, Massmart and Spar in South Africa and it was reported that they since moved to a whopping commercial 22 hectare area. This is a simple start up idea on a shoe string budget anywhere in Africa where you have a booming housing & hotel sector and expanding city areas!

And here a bonus :

(Note: After having posted this article two days ago, I came across another great story on, which I simply had to add here for you! )

5) From 4 pigs to a commercial farm with 4,000

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Anna Phosa started her pig farm venture in 2004 in Soweto with about $100 in hand. She bought four pigs from that money after having been introduced to pig farming by a close friend. 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 was a first breakthrough and the request by the retailer grew quickly to 20 pigs per week. But the really amazing bit happened in 2010: Anna signed a breathtaking contract with Pick ‘n Pay to supply 100 pigs over the next five years under a 25 million Rand deal – that’s nearly 2.5 million US Dollars! She did not even have so much land or enough pigs! With a contract in hand, Anna received funding from ABSA Bank and USAID to buy a 350-hectare farm property.

Anna started with 4 pigs in 2004, today her farm employs about 20 staff rearing 4,000 pigs at a time. Her perseverance has made her a millionaire!

I hope the stories of starting an African business on a shoe string budget inspired you.

If you want to learn more about certain strategies that may help you understand it all a little better, you can read my post No Financial Capital? Know These 4 Strategic Steps How To Start And Grow Your African Business Anyway

I could have shared stories of others who started in the 80ies and 90ies with nothing – like Aliko Dangote, who is now the richest man in Africa. They, too, are the stories of success in Africa, but when we feel stuck, we usually need an incentive of something looking achievable and profitable in the short to medium-term. So look how far – and how fast! – these four Africans I introduced above have risen with their pretty straight simple start-up concepts. They are now leading business men and women and truth is there are so many more out there just like them. And some have risen up from within communities that live in real poverty. Now, frankly (and sometimes we need to hear the truth), there is nothing that should stop you from getting started with your start up next week. Even if you have to run another job at the side for the time being. Start believing ‘it’s possible’ and bring the excitement of a new and better future outlook for yourself and Africa into your life. I promise, it will charge you up!

As always, we’d love to hear from you! Is lack of starting capital holding you back, or do you have other suggestions to share how one can start an Africa business on a shoestring budget?


Written by PH

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