FORBES AFRICA spent months looking for the best entrepreneurs East Africa has to offer. Research coupled with nominations from our readers brought numerous potential under 30s. We worked for weeks, verifying and investigating, to whittle it down.
Check also: Top 10 Youngest Billionaires In Uganda
The list of young & promising entrepreneurs in East Africa
1-Joel Macharia, 29, Kenya
Macharia stares failure in the eye. At just 29, he has made money, lost it, fallen into debt and built a stronger business from ashes. He is a born entrepreneur who never quits. “My earliest memory is selling and trading my lunch for cash, sweets and WWF stickers when I was 8 years old.”
At the age of 12, Macharia, a passionate lad from Kerugoya, 128 kilometers from the capital Nairobi, paved his road to finance. He fell in love with banking, following the introduction to the phrase “Other People’s Money” by an uncle in the sector, at high school when he studied the stock market as part of his commerce studies.
He was managing people’s money at 19, running banking technology projects at 22 and teaching finance at 23. In 2008, his business collapsed following the uncertainty of Kenya’s violent 2007 general elections.  The stock market dropped and his clients pulled their money, leaving him in debt at a tender age of 22. He was forced to take a job as a product designer.
Macharia went back to investing and personal finance planning. He built PesaTalk but in 2012, following a disagreement with venture capitalists, he walked away from the largest consumer business news site in Kenya, East Africa. In 2014, he founded Abacus, a financial services company which has grown to over 3,000 investors.
2 – Isaac Oboth, 26, Uganda
Founder: Media 256
Oboth built a business out of disappointment. In 2007, he hired a videographer to film his high school prom with the intention to sell the DVDs. The video was terrible, he says. But in just a day, he sold all 250 copies.
He realized that people are willing to pay for what he considered a poor product, so it was clear they would pay more for a good product. “I immediately went online and began googling what it took to shoot and edit great quality videos. Before I knew it, I was spending 16 hours a day behind a computer watching tutorials on shooting and editing,” says Oboth. He founded Media 256, which shoots and edits commercials, documentaries and TV shows.
He employs seven people and makes over $100,000 a year. CNN, Coca-Cola , Nestle and African Leadership Academy are among his clients. One of Oboth’s biggest achievements is a 10-part TV series dubbed Discover Uganda which aired in Uganda and later sold to The Africa Channel, a cable channel in the US.
3 -Andrew Mupuya, 24, Uganda
Founder: YELI Paper Bags Limited
In 2008, 16-year-old Mupuya collected used plastic bottles, sold them to a recycling plant for 28,000 shillings ($8.50) and borrowed 8,000 shillings ($2.50) from his teacher to start YELI Paper Bags, a packaging and manufacturing company producing and marketing handmade eco-friendly paper bags from recycled paper.
4 -Edwin Bruno Shayo, 29, Tanzania
Founder: Smart Codes
Shayo first got his first taste of entrepreneurship at the age of 13, selling cassettes. At 17, he graduated to selling CDs. With a government allowance for university, he bought his first computer and a modem. With the only $10 left in his pocket, he printed business cards.
He built websites for companies to advertise their products. Clients trickled in. He named the business Smart Codes, a digital agency that focuses on advertising, research and marketing. One of its most successful products is M-Paper, a platform that distributes printed newspapers and books directly to readers’ phones.
M-Paper won the AppsAfrica award for the best innovation and educational application in Africa. Shayo also won a Hall Of Fame Tanzania leadership award and Young Achiever of the Year in the Tanzania Leadership Awards in 2015. Smart Codes turns over $350,000 a year and has 29 full-time employees and 15 contract workers.
5 – Barclay Okari, 24, Kenya
Founder: Impact Afr’ca Industries
Okari started thinking about being an entrepreneur at an unusual age in a dangerous time. He was six and in the middle of Kenya’s political violence. A few weeks before the elections, on his way home from school, he saw a so-called outsider beheaded on the street. At the age of 11 he helped in the family grain business.
At 15, he started SkypeScience, an IT company that he ran for a year but which failed. Two years later, he started yet another IT company, MarketPlace which also failed. “My third venture, Impact. A. Industries Ltd, which I started in 2010, has gone on to be a successful company, creating employment and changing lives.”
Impact Africa Industries produces low cost reusable sanitary pads. He now sells as far as Uganda and South Sudan. “We have more than 1,300 schools across East Africa on our sanitary pads program which means we, year on year, keep at least 125,000 young girls in school who would miss up to three months of school in year because they can’t afford sanitary pads,” says Okari. The company located in Kitile, a small town in western Kenya, employs 80 people and made $800,000 last year. It now manufactures baby diapers to increase revenue, he is therefore one of the youngest entrepreneurs in East Africa.
6 -Alex Muriu, 29, Kenya
Founder: Farm Capital Afr’ca
At university, Muriu ran a successful computer hardware shop and started researching other business ventures. “Upon a chance conversation in 2013 with a farmer, I got to know about the problem of access to finance by small-scale farmers in Kenya, East Africa.
My research revealed a $1 billion annual gap in the agricultural finance space. This is a big problem, and I saw an opportunity to create an innovation that would help fix this problem.” In 2014, he founded Farm Capital .A, an agri-investment company.
“We help small-scale farmers between 25 and 35 years old to access expansion capital to grow their businesses. We partner with small-scale farmers with great growth potential. Through our investor networks we help them to access funds they need to scale up their agricultural ventures.
This is all done through a profit and loss sharing arrangement between the agri-preneur, Farm Capital Africa, and the investor.” Muriu has helped farmers raise $100,000 to grow their businesses.
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