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10 African Millionaires Under 40
Africa has a new class of millionaires. Many are not members of dynasties and few are into the traditional generators of African wealth – resource mining and exploration or brokering of lucrative government contracts. They have grabbed new tools and made new friends. With technology in one hand and foreign investment in the other, these millennials are building business that will diversify Africa’s economic landscape. They also aren’t doing too badly for themselves. Here are 10 “new millionaires” under 40 whose ideas are both transforming the continent and making them fabulously wealthy.
MARK SHUTTLEWORTH, 39, SOUTH AFRICA
Mark Shuttleworth, South Africa’s tech wunderkind, is the founder of Canonical Ltd, the developer of Ubuntu, the world’s largest, free, open-source operating system with over 20 million users. Shuttleworth shot to fame in 1999 when Thawte, an internet security company he founded four years earlier, at the age of 22, was acquired by VeriSign for $575 million.
Shuttleworth used funds from the buyout of his first company to start a Cape Town-based emerging markets investment fund, HBD Capital (now Knife Capital). The fund eventually sold several companies for nine-digit sums, including Fundamo, which Visa paid $110 million for in 2011. He also founded an eponymous foundation that financially supports innovative social entrepreneurs, and was South Africa’s first man to shuttle to space.
ASHISH THAKKAR, 31, UGANDA
Ashish Thakkar is a co-founder and CEO of the Mara Group. The Group, with interests in real estate, manufacturing, technology, renewable energy and financial services, has over 7,000 employees across 19 countries and an annual turnover in excess of $100 million. Entrepreneurship for him, like his billionaire mentor and friend Richard Branson, started at an early age. Thakkar was just 15 years old when he set up his first business: importing and selling computer hardware and software in Uganda. Thakkar says the loss of his parents’ wealth in the 1993 Rwandan genocide spurred him to start a business. Over the years, his personal worth has climbed over $290 million.
VINNY LINGHAM, 34, SOUTH AFRICA
Lingham, one of South Africa’s leading tech exports, is an internet entrepreneur and serial founder, with several companies under his belt. In 2003, he founded incuBeta – a global online marketing investment holding company – and Click2Customers – a successful search engine marketing company with offices in Cape Town, Los Angeles and London. Presently, Click2Customers generates an annual revenue of about $100 million. Lingham, who now lives in San Francisco, competes on the global scene and has, over the years, built quite an empire, with multi-million dollar companies including Lingham Capital, Yola Inc (formerly Synthasite), Gyft and more. Linghman sits on the boards of ChessCube, SkyRove, and Personera and previously served on marketing advisory boards for internet giant, Yahoo, and Nasdaq-listed, ValueClick.
ROLAND AGAMBIRI, 39, GHANA
A visionary and inspiring youth advocate, Roland Agambiri is the group chairman of AGAMS GROUP and the founder and CEO of the much-celebrated electronics manufacturer, rlg Communications. His ascent is a study in determination. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Agambiri established Roagam Links Ghana in March 2001 as a mobile phone repair outlet. It later became rlg, the pioneer indigenous computer and mobile phone plant and technology institute in Ghana and the West African sub-region. Agambiri has since expanded the company’s presence to China, Gambia and Nigeria – where it established a $20-million assembly plant – and Dubai, the location of its new global headquarters. The Ghana Investment Promotion Centre’s Ghana Club 100 previously christened rlg as the Fastest Growing Company in Ghana, the Leader in Ghana’s ICT Sector and the Best Entrant to the Club 100.
SIM SHAGAYA, 38, NIGERIA
From computer programming at the tender young age of 10 to leading Google Africa, over the years Sim Shagaya has established three multi-million-dollar Nigerian digital companies: eMotion, Nigeria’s first digital ad company which he now chairs; dealdey.com, the country’s largest deal site; and Konga.com, Nigeria’s second-largest ecommerce player and which has received over $15 million in funding from investors including Naspers and Kinnivik. While 10 percent of Konga’s shares are distributed among employees, Shagaya controls a majority stake of at least 51 percent. Prior to his successful string of entrepreneurial strides, Shagaya spent two years as the personal executive to the current chairman of Etisalat Nigeria, Hakeem Bello- Osagie. Shagaya plans to spend 20 years of his life revamping local retail and building a sustainable retail network in Nigeria, just as Jeff Bezos did with Amazon.
ABASIAMA IDARESIT, 34, NIGERIA
Abasiama Idaresit is a firm believer in the possibilities of the internet for Africa. He is the founder and CEO of Wild Fusion, a Nigeria-based digital marketing agency with a presence in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. It has a clientele of blue-chip companies including Pepsi, Unilever, Diamond Bank and Vodafone. Upon completion of his Information Systems and Management course at the London School of Economics in 2008, Idaresit returned to Nigeria to start Wild Fusion. This was before the rise of Twitter, when internet advertising was still a very unpopular idea in the country. After eight months with little to no revenue generated, Idaresit’s $250-money-back trial service increased a reluctant client’s earnings by 100 percent in three months. So stunning was the result that Google adopted it as an internet marketing case study. The company became Google Adwords’ first local certified partner and was named Nigeria’s best digital agency in 2011. In 2012, having received no external funding, it recorded an annual turnover of $6 million. Idaresit, who has been featured on CNN among other media outlets, says he has always loved the internet and wants to see it change Africa.
MIKE MACHARIA, 38, KENYA
Michael King’Ori Macharia is the Group CEO of Seven Seas Technologies (SST), one of East Africa’s leading technology solutions companies. As a qualified chartered accountant, Mike founded SST in Kenya in 1999 at the age of 25, having risen to the post of sales manager after three years working at a then-leading IT firm, Comtech Systems. From a team of just five at its inception in 1999, the SST Group currently has more than 100 permanent employees in East, West and Southern Africa, as well as Portugal, and generates annual revenues of around $50 million.
NIC HARALAMBOUS, 29, SOUTH AFRICA
Nic Haralambous is the founder of ForeFront Africa, a leading African mobile strategy firm. He moved from print media, through online and finally into mobile media production and management, also working as the head of the mobile division at the Mail & Guardian and product manager of The Grid, Vodacom SA’s location-based social network, before reaching where he is now. In August 2012, Haralambous sold Motribe, the mobile internet company which he had co-founded, to Mxit, Africa’s largest social network. In 2009, he featured on GQ’s list of the top 30 men in media, while in 2010 he was a finalist in the Men’s Health Best Men Awards. He was also selected by the Mail & Guardian as one of the 200 young South Africans to take to lunch.
PATRICK NGOWI, 28, TANZANIA
Tanzania’s business celebrity, Patrick Ngowi, is the founder and chairman of Helvetic Group of Companies, the fastest growing network and equity holders in renewable energy companies across East Africa. The Group’s flagship subsidiary, Helvetic Solar, which he founded at the age of 22, provides renewable energy solutions for clients ranging from the Tanzanian government to the United Nations, raking in $8 million in revenues. In 2013, the company was awarded the Fastest Growing and Number One in Tanzania’s Top 100 Mid-Sized Companies Survey. Ngowi also sits as a board member and advisor to several local and multi-national companies in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. His non-profit social initiative, Light For Life Foundation, provides free solar power to women in rural Tanzania.
JASON NJOKU, 32, NIGERIA
Jason Chukwuma Njoku is one of Nigeria’s leading voices on ecommerce. In 2010, with a $150,000-investment from his friend Bastian Gotter, Njoku co-founded iROKO Partners, currently the world’s largest distributor of African entertainment. In 2011, the Group received an $8-million investment from US-based hedge fund, Tiger Global. This same year it posted an annual revenue of $1.3 million from one of its subsidiaries, iROKO TV. Njoku says the unit’s current earnings have surpassed the 2011 figures. He plans to transform the distribution empire to a $100-million conglomerate over the next nine years.