The second in a series, profiling successful and inspiring entrepreneurs from South Africa and elsewhere on the continent.
If you’re an entrepreneur or would like to start your own business, a lack of funds and climbing costs may have you down at heart.
However, it may help to consider how some of Africa’s biggest business successes got started. Capital may be necessary eventually, but it’s the combination of an idea and perseverance that really counts.
Isaac Oboth, Media 256
In his final year of high school, Ugandan Isaac Oboth had the brainwave of selling his fellow students a digital version of an alumni album, which would cost a fraction of the price of a printed album. To create the album, he contracted a local videographer.
The album sold out, but Isaac was shocked by the poor quality of the finished product. It’s this that gave him the idea of starting a film and video production business himself.
Isaac largely taught himself the skills he needed, studying online tutorials from a local internet café. He also learnt from a mentor, Simon Kaheru, through a programme run by the Mara Foundation. In 2010, he launched Media 256.
One of Media 256’s breakthroughs came when Isaac contacted Coca-Cola, pointing out the poor quality of some of its existing media content and offering to produce free work for the company, as a trial. Impressed by Media 256’s work, Coca-Cola then contracted the company for future work.
Today Media 256 has nearly a hundred corporate clients. As well as Coca-Cola, its clients have included the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, the African Leadership Academy, Marie Stopes International and the Mukwano Group.
Ludwick Marishane, Headboy Industries
South African Ludwick Marishane invented the world’s first waterless bath gel at the age of 17. Apparently, the idea for a waterless bath gel came from a friend who didn’t like bathing!
Ludwick had already attempted various small-time entrepreneurial ventures, including developing healthier cigarettes, when he hit on the idea of the bath gel. After researching and developing a formula, he patented the product while in his final year of high school – making him South Africa’s youngest patent holder. However, he didn’t have the resources to manufacture the product.
Then, while studying at the University of Cape Town, Ludwick’s business plan won third place in a competition. He used the prize money to develop a sample and, with the help of a chemical engineer, to refine the product. He then created his own company, launching a waterless bath gel called DryBath.
Ludwick has won numerous awards since then. In 2011, he was recognised as Global Student Entrepreneur of the Year at the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, beating 2000 entrants from 42 countries. He was featured in Forbes’ “Top 30 under 30 African Entrepreneurs” list in 2013 and, in the same year, was named one of Time magazine’s “Top 30 under 30 People Who Are Changing the World”.
Christian Ngan, Madlyn Cazalis
The son of a pharmacist, Christian Ngan of Cameroon was shocked by some of the dangerous skincare products that were being sold in his country. In 2012, he quit an investment banking job in France, returned to his native Cameroon and launched his own bio-cosmetic company, specialising in handmade organic cosmetics.
Today Christian’s brand, Madlyn Cazalis, produces and distributes a range of 20 different all-natural beauty products. These are sold in chemists and retail stores across Central Africa.
In 2015, the company was recognised by New York Forum Africa as one of the 50 most innovative companies in Africa.
Christian has also personally won a number of awards. He was featured in Forbes magazine’s 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa list in both 2014 and 2015. He was also named Africa Young Business Leader of The Year by African Leadership Magazine for 2014; Best SME CEO 2014 by CEO Magazine; and one of the Top 3 Most Influential Young Entrepreneurs in Cameroon by Espace PME.
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