Kenya’s Chebet Lesan among 20 finalists in Jack Ma’s Africa business heroes contest

The Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative (ANPI) has announced the top 20 finalists for its Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) contest. The list represents entries from a wide spectrum of business sectors which have come forward to compete and showcase the best of their entrepreneurial spirit and drive.

The 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) prize competition is a program of ANPI. The 20 entrepreneurs are now one step closer to the finishing line as they and now stand a chance to become one of the ten entrepreneurs entering the grand finale to compete for their share of the $1.5 million prize pool.

The top 20 entrepreneurs have come a long way from the pool of over 22,000 applications that ABH garnered from all 54 African nations earlier this year. The level of female representation is significant (55%) and the average age of the group is 34. They represent 11 key sectors and industries of the African economy, such as agriculture, fashion, education, healthcare, manufacturing, e-commerce, renewable energy, financial services, food & beverage services, retail, transportation, and span 14 countries (Algeria, Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zimbabwe).

(TOP: Chebet Lesan, the founder of BrightGreen Renewable Energy).

Among the 20 finalists is Chebet Lesan from Kenya and the founder of BrightGreen Renewable Energy. BrightGreen Renewable produces biofuel cooking blocks which are an alternative to the traditional charcoal thereby enabling households to have better cooking fuels that in turn help to save lives, protect forests and save family income. The company is equipped with a solar-driven facility with a monthly capacity of 30,000 kilos and employs 20 people, 50% of whom are women.

Jason Pau, Senior Advisor for International Programs with the Jack Ma Foundation, said: “As we approach the final phases of the 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes competition, I am incredibly impressed by the talent and energy of the entrepreneurs we have met during the selection process. This is no surprise though, as we are aware of the strength of the entrepreneurial spirit of Africa and the unique drive of businesswomen and businessmen in the continent. This strengthens even more the commitment of the Jack Ma Foundation to spotlight today and tomorrow’s African entrepreneurs, supporting them while they build successful businesses and positively impact their local communities”.

On August 18, the top twenty Africa’s Business Heroes finalists had the opportunity to participate in a second virtual bootcamp, a unique event to exchange and learn from inspiring personalities from the African entertainment, sports and entrepreneurship scene – including Anita Erskine, UN SDG Advocate and ANPI’s Brand Ambassador and Official Host of “Africa’s Business Heroes” program; NBA Hall of Fame inductee and philanthropist Dikembe Mutombo; Sean Tong, Partner at Boyu Capital Advisory and Jack Ma Foundation’s Board Member; and the top three finalists from last year’s debut edition of ABH, Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Omar Sakr and Christelle Kwizera.

The virtual gathering was an extraordinary sharing and networking moment for the participants, who will now have the chance to connect with each other and leverage the synergies while preparing for the semi-finale. Speakers at the bootcamp webinar reminded candidates that despite the current unprecedented circumstances, entrepreneurs who can adapt, be flexible and react quickly will also be able to unlock opportunities. Discipline, passion and dedication are also essential elements to accomplish any dream and goal. Moving forward in the competition, solid communications and storytelling will also be crucial for the finalists to illustrate their business in a compelling and clear way, bringing to life the values that set their business apart and create positive impact on their communities and across Africa.

Highlighting the investor point of view, Sean Tong emphasized that a great vision should always come with a relentless pursuit of excellence and execution. The digital, connected world we live in makes it an exceptional time for entrepreneurs to launch their ventures, but business leaders are increasingly challenged to learn and adapt fast. He also added: “I am very excited to see the excellent quality of the business projects at Africa’s Business Heroes this year, and the remarkable dedication and passion these entrepreneurs have put into turning them into successful and investable enterprises. While progressing through the competition, it will be very important for the candidates to demonstrate even more clearly the viability of their ventures and how they are able to match their vision with sustainability and profitability. I wish them all the best of luck on this journey and beyond – they are already Africa’s Business Heroes”.

Candidates will now progress to the semi-final stage of the competition, and will face even more intense scrutiny from a 7-judge panel, which will test the solidity of their business plans, their motivation and vision, and ability to clearly articulate why the ground-breaking nature of their ideas can solve pressing problems and catalyze change for society, inspiring others to do the same.

The semi-final judges, selected from amongst entrepreneurs, VCs and start-up accelerators, and other public figures in Africa, are: Fatoumata Ba, the founder of Janngo; Marième Diop, the Investment Manager at Orange Digital Ventures; Hasan Haider, the Managing Partner of 500 StartUps, MENA Region; Rene Parker, Director at R Labs; Nicolas Pompigne-Mognard, the founder and chairman of APO Group; Fred Swaniker, the founder of ALU; and Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the founder of Sole Rebels & Garden of Coffee.

The selection process to spotlight the 2020 Africa’s Business Heroes finalists will continue over the next few weeks. Following the semi-final pitch, the top 10 finalist roster will be revealed this Fall. ABH will culminate in a grand finale show later this year, where the ten finalists will take the stage to pitch to business mavens, including Jack Ma, Joe Tsai, and Strive Masiyiwa.

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