Zoussi Ley (Entrepreneur & Marketer)
When I concluded my Masters from IE Business School in Spain, I flirted with the thought of moving back to Africa. I wanted to work in an impactful and growing sector. I was drawn to the Tech industry, mostly because its impact is felt across other sectors. I truly believed technology held the keys to the continent’s economic development. I truly believed technology held the keys to the continent’s economic development. Hence, when I was offered a position at an Ivorian AgTech company, WeFly Agri, I packed my bags and moved to Abidjan.
My time in Ivory Coast came to an end when I had gathered enough to begin the entrepreneurship journey. While researching the African AgTech ecosystem, I found out about Complete Farmer, a crowd-farming platform based in Ghana. I was mesmerized by the concept of involving everyday people in African agriculture.
Coincidentally, I met one of the co-founders at DEMO Africa in October last year, where I got to learn more about the company and the team. I wanted to be part of that journey and contribute to the vision. Joining this venture felt right so within a few days of meeting the co-founder, I moved to Accra, Ghana to assume the role of Chief Marketing Officer at Complete Farmer.
During my time in Ghana, I got to meet and build a strong network of players across the food industry/agricultural value chain — from commercial farmers to commodities traders, supermarkets and agro-processing firms. A major new player I got to deal with is the Ghana Commodities Exchange (GCX), the first ever regulated market linking buyers and sellers of agricultural products in West Africa.
After passing the certification, I was able to start trading at the GCX. This move allowed Complete Farmer to gain access to a wide range of market actors, thereby creating opportunities for the company to increase its revenue streams.
Ghana taught me that a conducive ecosystem can make the tough entrepreneurship journey an enjoyable one. In fact, Complete Farmer was incubated by Pan-African incubator MEST, meaning my team and I were working out of the incubator’s office space alongside other entrepreneurs. I loved the MEST environment. As entrepreneurs, we received practical advice, got introduced to ecosystem partners and most importantly, I truly valued the guidance I got from the fellows and entrepreneurs.
My time at Complete Farmer illustrated the not-so-obvious benefits to having competitors. Of course, every entrepreneur should pay some attention to their competitors, as they’re an important part of business. Understanding how our competitors operate allows us to avoid making their own mistakes while giving us ideas to expand our market.
Being an entrepreneur in Africa also means collaborating with other startups. With Complete Farmer, I got to partner with Jetstream for logistics services, Qualitrace for agro chemicals and Stanbest for irrigation systems and this was exciting working with other stakeholders in the agriculture sector.
On a personal note, I have also learned from many challenging and enlightening experiences through my journey. The first lesson has been to master my thoughts and emotions. Most lessons come from failures and setbacks. Although painful experiences, they develop the self-awareness to grow. They forced me to spend time on mastering my thoughts and emotions. As entrepreneurs, our cool is often tested.
Not being able to resist these frazzled emotions can lead an individual to react the wrong way, thereby causing setbacks and more failures. I learned that being clear-headed before making a decision gives me an edge when handling challenging situations.
My experience in Ghana showed the importance of building a network. As an entrepreneur, I quickly realized the importance of building relationships with other key players of the ecosystem — entrepreneurs, influencers, media platforms, investors and international organizations. You never know when an opportunity to collaborate may come!
Being an entrepreneur in Africa also taught me to stay curious and not stick to what I know. I had to learn to do my research on other industries, companies, and business models; to always be prepared to welcome new ideas and opportunities. All in all, I learned to embrace the challenges for personal growth and to find true joy in my entrepreneurship journey.
More so, I have come to appreciate researching about the vision and values of the organizations you work with. We get excited about new ventures, the prospects of building something new and having our names on a business card that I am a Co-Founder too. However, my experience over time, has taught me that doing your due diligence on the industry and your team while having a common goal and clear vision with your colleagues will get any start-up off the ground and running at a phenomenal pace.
So, in this light, I am stepping down from my role at Complete Farmer to pursue new and exciting opportunities in Lagos, Nigeria. I am grateful for my experience, the lows, the highs, the blessings and the lessons learned.
While I will remain in AgTech, I am exploring the personal care and beauty industry, a sector I believe technology can help redefine in Africa. I look forward to bringing my creativity and experience into this industry, from the economical heart of Africa — Lagos.
By Zoussi Ley (Entrepreneur & Marketer)
Gareth Grobler, Founder and CEO of iCE3X on the role of Digital Asset Exchanges in Africa
Gareth Grobler is a digital currency entrepreneur and founded the cryptocurrency exchange iCE3X in 2013. He is a founding member of the UK Digital Currency Association. Gareth has over 15 years of experience in IT infrastructure and architecture development. He started iCE3X as a proof of concept and has been involved with other ventures including Merkeleon, a software company that builds exchange and processing software based out of Austria, with offices in Minsk and London. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Grobler provides clarity on developments in the industry within Africa and shares his views on cryptocurrency adoption on the continent. Excerpts:
Heath: What impact do you think cryptocurrencies will have on how people trade especially in Africa considering that a huge number of people on the continent remain unbanked and excluded from the traditional financial system and cross-border trade is slow and inefficient?
Gareth: It is a double-edged sword. Crypto gives more people access to more options but also creates a void where unscrupulous entities fleece consumers who are not as financially savvy due to the fact that they have not had regular exposure to financial products and or have no experience with investments.
Heath: What government issued African fiat currencies does your platform currently support?
Gareth: The iCE3X platform currently supports two fiat currencies, the Nigerian Naira (NGN) and the South African Rand (ZAR) in addition to the more than 10 cryptocurrencies.
Heath: iCE3X has been operational since 2013. What prompted the early move in the space especially in African markets you operate in i.e. South Africa & Nigeria?
Gareth: iCE3X began as a proof of concept for the SaaS exchange product but now we have more functionality and features than any other exchange in Africa. Our focus is on being the best trading platform and not a cryptocurrency custodian since our vision is to give end-users more options especially when it comes to storing cryptos and do not advocate storage on our exchange, only responsible trading.
We have a loyal user base and are very proud to be one of the few exchanges with legitimate trades and volumes. We take a customer-centric approach to development and delivery of our offerings. Our primary focus is user education with regards to both cryptos and fiat money and blockchain technology adoption. An example is our free crypto trading platform feature which allows users to learn how to trade in real markets using demo tokens native to our exchange.
Heath: How is the cryptocurrency industry developing in South Africa?
Gareth: iCE3X is the abbreviation for “Internet Currency Evolution” so we understand that the industry still has a long way to go and we will see many transitions as the industry develops. We are constantly working on new ways to educate users about the underpinning technologies behind cryptocurrencies and are pleased with the trajectory.
Crypto markets are maturing and user security and knowledge is the main focal point for most honest operators. Part of the downside to the success of bitcoin has been the rise of scams being perpetrated under the bitcoin banner by opportunists looking to defraud unsuspecting ecosystem participants.
Heath: You’re part of the group helping to advise the South African Reserve Bank with respect to cryptocurrency regulations. How would you ideally like to see them approach regulating the industry particularly crypto exchanges?
Gareth: We see cryptos such as Bitcoin as complementary financial instruments rather than replacements for traditional fiat. The SARB have been doing a great job in taking great care to understand the industry and any new challenges it faces, both technically and socially. It is pretty clear to everyone that cryptocurrency such as bitcoin itself cannot be regulated or controlled, but rather that the interaction of fiat money and cryptocurrency should and can be regulated.
Ultimately citizens require consumer protection and the best way to provide this is by vetting and licensing the operators who facilitate the interaction of FIAT and Cryptocurrency. The wheels of government, unfortunately, do not turn as fast as we would like, but we are moving in the right direction and we look forward to being a licensed crypto-asset service provider (CASP).
Heath: How would you describe the progress in South Africa in terms of regulating the industry?
Gareth: South Africa is one of the leading countries worldwide in this respect. Our COO, Eugene Etsebeth was the inaugural Chairperson for the IFWG (Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group) back in 2016 during his tenure at the South African Reserve Bank. I’ve been consulting with the financial regulator since 2012 so overall as a whole RSA have been keeping on top of the curve, yet have been very careful not to tie the industry with unnecessary red-tape so I can honestly say that it is one of the best jurisdictions in which to operate.
Heath: What are some of the legal and regulatory guidelines you currently follow and how will the organisation monitor emerging regulatory considerations? For example Anti-money laundering (AML) laws; and know your customer (KYC) laws.
Gareth: We are proud to have been ahead of the game since inception. We have in fact set the standard in some respects. We follow Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF) recommendations and already comply with all the suggested government regulations in terms of KYC and AML, even though these requirements are not yet legal requirements. We are also fortunate as I am a FATF recognised private sector expert and as a result, get to not only influence regulatory thinking on an international level but also benefit from first-hand exposure to the direction regulators are taking.
Heath: What can you tell us about the product roadmap for the exchange? You continue to release new features and list new digital assets, what upcoming features are you most excited about rolling out?
Gareth: There are a host of new features, functionality and assets scheduled for release during 2020. This includes stable coins, auto trading, 5 new order types, completely revamped and unique rewards system, new mobile apps, gamification and more deposit and withdrawal options. We are most excited about Artificial Intelligence Coin, our native utility token which will take cryptocurrency adoption and use in South Africa to a whole new level. This is due for release towards the end of Q1 2020.
How Tech Is Enhancing Recruitment: An Interview With Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder Of Graft Africa
Sandy Simagwali, Co-Founder of Graft Africa
The Human Resource (HR) industry is undergoing major transformation, and African startups have been catching up by building platforms that reflect this evolving nature of the workplace and workforce. Graft Africa, a Zambian HR tech startup is well positioned in championing this process, currently working with Pepsi Zambia and Lamasat International Zambia. To learn more about the company, its disruptions in the HR space and future plans, Alaba Ayinuola did an interview with Sandy Simagwali a Co-Founder and CEO. Excerpt.
Alaba: Can you tell us about Graft Africa and the gap it’s filling in the current HR landscape in Zambia?
Sandy: Graft is a recruiting software company that helps people find jobs they love, and helps companies find great talent that helps drive to their success. We researched and found out that most recruiters still use manual processes during their hiring workflow which include key things like tracking candidates in their emails/inbox, manual posting of job openings to multiple platforms e.g company career page, social media, job boards, and manually scheduling interviews.
At Graft, we built a platform that would help hiring managers, manage candidates easily through the dashboard with functions like sorting and searching e.g by institutions, skills, qualifications, location, etc. Automate interview and interview reminder notifications, a click to post jobs to all major portals helping increase reach.
Alaba: How did it all start and what attracted you into staffing and recruitment?
Sandy: While I was head of Sales at Musanga Logistics, I was given a task to onboard someone within my department, and carrying out the most of the recruiting process which involved receiving applications, filtering out candidates, interviews and onboarding the talent in the organisation was pretty much of overwhelming task whilst trying to meet sales objectives. Cut the story short the hire we made was not what we were looking for. He did not meet expectations so resigned after 2 months. A huge blow to the company’s productivity and revenue.
The idea to build Graft was born after that incident. At that point I was running a business called WinningCV, a resume building platform that used to build high visual resumes for candidates, while working at Musanga I met my very good friend and Co Founder Mulenga Bowa, who was working as full stack developer at Musanga Logistics and was part time building a Job Board which was going to help candidates find their dream job. We had a discussion that led to multiple research and meetings with key recruiters.
Mulenga and I decided to become Co-Founders and started Graft after an amazing journey of growth at Musanga. July 2019 we decided to make the huge jump, we quit our jobs and went in full time with Graft.
Alaba: What does the process entail both for a talent and a hiring firm?
Sandy: Our process aims to benefit both the talent and the hiring firm in the sense that: For candidates, we believe that leaving candidates in the dark not only hurts the chances of building a relationship for the future, but has a probability of tarnishing the brand as well, and our goal at Graft is to ensure that candidates are highly engaged throughout the hiring journey.
Our process also entails that candidates are able to learn more on company culture and values throughout the hiring process, enabling candidate to measure if they fit and would want to be part of the organisation. For hiring firms, the process is mainly helping them reduce the time it takes for them to source, screen, onboard and hire talent.
Alaba: Why should a hiring company choose your company over other recruiting firms?
Sandy: As highlighted in the previous question, our platform helps hiring companies reduce the time it takes source, screen and onboard talent in this regard. With Graft, hiring managers are able to filter and screen candidates with ease and make much more data driven selection of candidates that will help meet their company goals and needs. Our platform allows hiring firms have enough time to focus on other important tasks (e.g evaluating employee relations, orientation and training program and implementing employee benefit programs e.t.c).
Alaba: What are the challenges Graft Africa is facing and you as an entrepreneur?
Sandy: Building a product that users will love has been one of the major challenges we have faced. Another challenge has been most recruiters do not want to make the huge jump to adapt new technology. Also, for a startup, there is a little receptiveness from organisations to entrust a key aspect as recruiting to a software created by young people. Other challenge has been raising capital.
As for me as an entrepreneur, the ability to balance on growing as a person and running a company and ensuring we have users who are using our product, has been a constant battle I have struggled with. This is due to the fact that am mostly all things, apart from product technology.
Alaba: How does your company measure its impact? What’s the future for your business?
Sandy: How we measure impact is by our ability to help create jobs in Zambia and across Africa. With the unemployment rate in Zambia slowly dropping from 7.21% in 2018 to a 7.15% in 2019. Our goal is to help create more jobs for young people and add up to national economy by ensuring everyone has a better standard of living. We also aim to measure impact through organisations that use our platform to carry out their recruiting needs, onboard great talent that meets company’s goals and needs. Seeing a company onboard great talent is our very mission that is at the heart of everything we do.
Our measurement is based on companies succeeding with great people (e.g reduced turnover, onboarding great talent that drives to their success). That for us is impact. Providing candidates with tools that enable them get Jobs they love and having an amazing experience per every application sent, to us is labelled as another form of impact. The future for Graft is to be a Leader in HR technology in Africa.
Alaba: The HR industry is moving from a human-driven to a more data-driven approach. How’s your startup enhancing this shift?
Sandy: With some key tools we have built, recruiting managers are able to make much more data driven decisions, e.g who to invite for an interview, have a talent pool that they can easily revert to, enabling them reduce the time and costs to fill out a new role. In regards to data, it is a tool and not a be all and end solution. To make an effective hire, a mixture of data and human judgement is key, no matter how technology makes the process much more efficient, we believe recruiters could become much more data driven whilst keeping the human aspect intact.
Alaba: What in your opinion is the best solution to the high unemployment rate in Africa?
Sandy: Well in my view there are a vast and a number of challenges across Africa, we just need more people that will stop complaining about the problems they see and aim to create solutions that will branch off into Global brands that will create more jobs. With a lot of problems that are surfacing Africa, lies a gem of bold Africans that will face the problems head on and create solutions that will enable job creation for many Africans.
Alaba: Can you share some insights into the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Zambia?
Sandy: Its quite exciting that we are in an era where a lot of Zambians are starting amazing companies that are truly solving peoples problem’s. From startups like Zazu that is helping people manage their finances, Emsika an agriculture online platform that is helping connect suppliers and buyers in agriculture related products, Musanga a transportation marketplace that connects shippers to drivers to improve delivery efficiency, cost and provide data visibility, Spotless Africa, whose aim is to rethink, reimagine, and reshape the way cleaning services and products are delivered in Africa. Just to mention but a few entrepreneurs and a whole lot more that are stepping up to help solve key problems is an amazing period that will help us change the whole dynamic of challenges we face as a nation.
Alaba: How is the Zambian government supporting entrepreneurs in your country?
Sandy: Well, *clearing throat*. I have not seen much support to be honest, maybe other entrepreneurs can correct me if am wrong. But based on the ecosystem of entrepreneurs that I network with, not much has been done from my view. Agriculture entrepreneurship at a minimal rate has received some form of support. The future is bright, I believe with more support from the government we could see a lot of growth in our country in regards jobs, etc.
Graft Africa powered projects:
Building Sustainable and Profitable Enterprises: An Interview with David Owumi, Founder of VisionCTRL Africa
David Owumi is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist at VisionCTRL Africa, a business analysis, design and consulting firm based in Nigeria. A social entrepreneur on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution(4IR). David in this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, talks about how his brand is developing its support for African entrepreneurs, the “Business Drive for Her Initiative”, why women talents should be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. Excerpt.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about VisionCTRL and the gap its filling?
David: VisionCTRL Nigeria, founded in 2018, consists of a team of seasoned Business Innovators, Business Designers and Business Analysts committed to providing professional business development services small and medium scaled organizations. We help our league of depending clients create innovative products, services and formidable business structures necessary to deliver on remarkable value propositions while scaling to generate more revenue and market share.
At VisionCTRL, we believe in the power of Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Technology as vital tools for the positive transformation of the African economy, creating solutions to social problems such as Poverty, Lack of Quality Education, Unemployment, and Infrastructural Deficit.
Alaba: What sparked your interest in starting this firm?
David: From the age of 10, when I started accompanying my mother to destitute and orphanage homes dispensing amenities such as food and medical kits, I have always wanted to solve social problems but ignorant as to which to focus on. My passion for social innovation, entrepreneurship and business matured as I followed religiously the popular TV series “Shark Tank”, unconsciously preparing myself for VisionCTRL.
Few months after we launched Salt Talks Africa in March of 2018 with a focus on fostering sustainable development in grassroots communities, we saw a need to help entrepreneurs start sustainable businesses that “solve real problems for real people”.
Alaba: How is VisionCTRL developing its support for African entrepreneurs?
David: We help startups and small scale businesses with their Market Research, Feasibility Study, Business Planning, Business Model Innovation, Product/Service Innovation and Business Development. We also provide Free Business Consultation, and organize business management workshops across the federation.
Alaba: Could you tell us about the “Business Drive for Her Initiative” and what it’s set out to achieve?
David: In Nigeria, and Africa as a whole, we’re coming to an understanding of the crucial roles women play in fostering socioeconomic growth in a community, through education and entrepreneurship. This has spurred government, as well as civil societies, to initiate programmes and opportunities to fast track gender inclusivity in education and entrepreneurship on the continent.
The Business Drive for Her Initiative is one of those projects we designed for the sole purpose of educating female entrepreneurs in Nigeria on the basics of business planning, management and innovation, to scale their businesses with a corresponding socio-economic growth in the country.
I believe it takes a collective effort, i.e. both the private and public sectors, to initiate projects that would lead to the long-term, growth of the African economy, and so, we have decided to contribute our quota.
We would be training 6,000 female entrepreneurs across 16 states in Nigeria in partnership with Tech Hubs in the country on Business Management and Innovation, as well as providing mentorship and funding opportunities in partnership with Access Bank.
Alaba: How do you intend to fund this project and measure its impact?
David: To be honest, this is a major challenge faced by social innovators in the private sector, designing financial sustainability for social projects, and as such we emphasize the importance of strategic partnerships. Asides funds set aside by the organization for the project, we consorted with tech hubs in Nigeria, and other organizations that share a common interest for women empowerment in the country, with Access Bank PLC, Salt Talks Africa and Adams Start being some of our major supporters.
Engaging Salt Talks Africa in the project development phase made our planning easier due to their experience in designing sustainable projects. So, instead of asking “Where can we get funds?” we rather sought organizations willing to provide some of the items and logistics we would be spending money on.
Its always better achieving success together.
Alaba: Why is it important for women to start their business?
David: Beyond business, it’s imperative that the talents and interests of women be developed and transformed into valuable tools for social and economic growth. It’s about empowering women with the freedom and opportunities to create and trade value with a sense of belonging, and responsibility for the development of their immediate communities, and the world at large. If women can, then why not?
Alaba: How can we increase capital, confidence and capability in women’s entrepreneurship?
David: It all begins in the home, educating parents on the importance and benefits of a gender inclusive society. Unfortunately, there are families that choose to invest their limited resources on the male over the female. This has to change, and we look up to civil societies and human right activists to champion this cause.
Though impressive measures have been taken to foster female participation in business, education and leadership in Nigeria and Africa, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need private and public agencies to deliberately allocate opportunities to women as a way of encouraging others at the bottom to strive for the same.
Alaba: What is your advice for any young woman who is thinking about starting a business?
David: If you can create value, and you are convinced you can execute well on your value propositions, why not? Being a woman is no excuse for mediocrity. Hone your craft, and be the best you can.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?
David: I feel honored contributing to the advancement of Africa’s sustainable development. There’s no better time to be African than now, and making a conscious and deliberate effort daily to push the continent forward is one decision I’m proud of, despite the intricacies associated with starting and growing an enterprise in Africa.
Alaba: What’s the future for your business and what steps are you taking towards achieving them?
David: At VisionCTRL, we are on a daily mission to be a part of the success stories of businesses driving social growth and economic development in Nigeria, and Africa. We want to understand the dynamics of entrepreneurship and innovation on Africa, and supporting African businesses to be well positioned for these trends for maximum social impact.
To achieve this, we invest a considerable amount of resources in organizing workshops for entrepreneurs, as well as improving our knowledge and operations.
Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?
David: I spend my leisure with family, and often researching. I’m a huge fan of Africa’s history, especially the colonial era. So, I’m often caught reading about the history of Africa on Wikipedia.
B I O G R A P H Y
Owumi David Voke, 27, is a Social Entrepreneur, Tech-Innovator, Community Research & Developer and Fashion Designer, who is on a mission to achieve a lifetime commitment, driving Africa’s sustainable development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. David is a graduate of University of Benin, Nigeria where he bagged a Second-Class degree in Mathematics and Education.
He is the Director of Salt Talks Africa, a para-governmental organization currently operating in 3 African countries, designing and executing community development projects geared towards fostering sustainable development in rural communities across Africa. Through grassroots initiatives such a RuraLearn, R.E.I.A., Project Upcycle and Salt Talks Conferences held across Nigeria, Salt Talks Africa is indeed fostering Africa’s sustainable development in one of the most strategic approaches.
David is the Founder and Lead Business Innovation Strategist of VisionCTRL Africa, a Business Analysis, Design and Consulting Firm in Nigeria, building disruptive business ideas and enterprises. He believes disruptive social entrepreneurship plays a vital role in driving socioeconomic growth and sustainable development in Africa.
Having worked on several high-end successful and failed projects such as Upnepa.ng, Agro-Ex, Haypko.com (Now FuelUp.ng), Sew It Stores (Now Gods Official Clothiers), Hi-traffic.tech etc., VisionCTRL is well positioned to change the narrative of Africa leveraging an entrepreneurship framework.
He is also an advisory member of African Bio hub, Invent Hope Initiative etc. and a member of the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA).