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'Entrepreneurship is in our blood'

IN THE BLOOD: Akosua Annobil with her grand aunt, Akosua Dekyiwaa, in Ghana

LAST YEAR, we noticed one interesting fact. The majority of fresh-faced 16-year-olds boasting A*s and top-tier results had something in common: they were from African backgrounds.

These descendants from the world’s second-largest continent had completely eclipsed their peers on results day. And if we look at young British Africans in business, there’s a similar pattern emerging.

In the last four years, they have been excelling in the world of business and, more specifically, entrepreneurship.

In June, Forbes magazine compiled a list of Africa’s ‘most promising’ young entrepreneurs - an indication that the world has taken notice of the contribution young people have made to the continent’s overall economic power.

Its economic success (nine out of the top 20 fastest growing economies are in Africa) has made way for the ‘Africa rising’ narrative, which has positively shifted perspectives about the continent.

Innovation and advanced technology will no doubt play a key role in Africa’s future. The continent is home to a youth population of 200 million (aged between 15 and 24) – a number set to double by 2045, creating the world’s biggest workforce. But 27-year-old Londoner Alieu Fofanah, founder of Go Getters, believes entrepreneurship is also imperative to this demographic.

“By 2030, one in every four young people will be African,” Alieu says. “I see it as vital that Africa focuses on cultivating a thriving entrepreneurial system for its youth and addresses burgeoning levels of unemployment amongst the growing young population.”

From British Nigerian Ola Orekunrin launching Nigeria’s first-ever air ambulance at 30, to Edwin Broni-Mensah, who, at the age of 24, founded Give MeTap, an organisation that raises money for countries in Africa with no access to clean drinkingwater through the sale of a reusable aluminium bottle, the continent has a lot to be proud of.

“Entrepreneurship is in the African blood,” says Akosua Annobil, founder of Africa Business 2020 (AB2020), a website that charts business and economic development in the continent.

“My passion for the continent stems way back before the ‘Africa rising’ narrative,” the 34-year-old says.

Born and raised in the UK to Ghanaian parents, the award-winning journalist and PR professional began her career in the late Nineties at British national newspapers including the Financial Times. She then spent seven years as news and entertainment editor at African Caribbean publication New Nation and topped off an impressive roll call by launching successful PR company Fire Media, aged just 24.


She juggled her business while presenting on London radio station Choice FM (now Capital Xtra) before launching AB2020.

“The rise of British Africans excelling in business is becoming more obvious in the UK because first generation Africans are now at an age where their years of working on and developing ideas is paying off and entrepreneurship can truly blossom,” says Annobil, whose grandfather was general manager of the Ghana News Agency and chief public relations officer of the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board between the 1950s and 1970s.

Entrepreneur Arnold Sarfo-Kantanka, 28, is from the same school of thought, crediting his business success
to his “Ghanaian roots”.

Sarfo-Kantanka launched award-winning company Me Firi Ghana, which translates to ‘I am from Ghana’ in Twi – one of the country’s main languages, in his late teens.

“Connecting with my Ghanaian roots formed the basis of the business,” he says. “Seeing where my parents grew up in Kumasi, listening to their journey from there to London, appreciating their journey and recognising that they were the original entrepreneurs who made a sacrifice for my siblings and I is all motivation.”

The company, which initially printed T-shirts and sweatshirts, has now evolved into a multifunctional organisation with different branches that address the challenges of the Ghanaian diaspora globally and, more importantly, challenge those in the diaspora to become instrumental in reshaping the future of Ghana.

PROUD GHANAIAN: Me Firi Ghana founder Arnold Sarfo-Kantanka

It’s a feat he says he owes to his parents and believes he has the “responsibility to do my part to help others”.

Disturbing London founder Dumi Oburota adds: “My dad always advocates that what you sow in life, is what you reap and you reap more than what you sow, especially if you are passionate.”

An undeniable powerhouse within the music game and the driving force behind multi-award-winning UK rapper Tinie Tempah _ Oburota has a fast-growing international reputation.

The managing director of independent label Disturbing London, where he manages and nurtures several artists on the rise, is also rapidly becoming a well-known fashionista, frequently perched front row at major international fashion weeks. Drawing on his organic love of fashion, he has expanded his empire to include his Disturbing London fashion collection, which is exclusively sold in Selfridges.

“I am London-bred through and through fused with our Nigerian culture and tradition, but we are still very much Londoners and we wanted to celebrate our dual heritage,” Oburota says.

“I have always applied myself in a professional manner and strongly believe in quality control, ensuring everything
we produce comes from a high standard. Just because you are brought up on a council estate or from the streets, you don’t have to talk or dress in a certain way _ you can still be a successful businessperson. I want people to read my forename and surname and realise you don’t have to have an English name to be successful, or have white skin to move
forward in life.”

MANAGING HIS TEMPAH: Disturbing London founder Dumi Oburota with Tinie Tempah

Oburota, who diligently saved and faithfully invested £10,000 to back his business dream and Tinie’s music career, hopes his journey to the top will inspire every young black person to believe they can achieve whatever they put their minds to.
Alae Ismail, who has east African heritage, and Kiran Yoliswa, who has a “tablespoon of Zimbabwe and South Africa” in her blood, are the founders of Styled By Africa (SBA), an “online destination for people interested in exploring the best contemporary African fashion.”

Through its online boutique, which was given a cash injection from Richard Branson, SBA uses fashion as a tool for sustainable trade, selling products from all over the continent including Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana to customers around the world.

Two years after launching their online store, SBA now stocks over 20 brands from 10 different countries and has a pop-up shop in Brixton, south London.

“Setting up the business was the best and most practical way we could think of contributing to economic change in African countries because of its opportunity for scale,” they said.

PASSION FOR FASHION: The Styled By Africa ladies Alae Ismail and Kiran Yoliswa

“Entrepreneurship is at the heart of so many African communities. Everyone is hustling because the private sectors in the majority of countries are very small and most people are hustling for survival.”

And there’s one other vital ingredient for business success according to the pair.

“African parents are also notorious for instilling a strong work ethic and an expectation of hard work, discipline and delayed gratifi cation, which is necessary for excelling in business,” they laugh.

Sebastian Thiel, the Zambian-born, UK-raised founder of award-winning multimedia company Its Upshot says his upbringing also “laid the foundation of culture, appreciation and discipline”.

“All the above when mixed with this London ‘hustler’ mentality creates a good mix for a well-rounded entrepreneur,”
he says. “There’s probably other factors that play a part in why British Africans are excelling, but for me personally, the African household is what gives me a different perspective in business and life.”

Thiel, 23, founded Its Upshot in his late teens to tackle the deteriorating state of youth culture in the UK by using popular channels of fashion and entertainment to reach out and communicate with his young peers.

MOVIE MAKER: Entrepreneur Sebastian Thiel

The company has since gone on to provide award-winning entertainment production, expertly mixing Thiel’s directing, writing and production skills with his innovative ideas, earning the young media mogul a place on the Evening Standard’s list of Most Influential People Under 25 in 2012.

Some of the social entrepreneur’s personal highlights range from being made a Virgin Pioneer by the company’s founder Richard Branson in 2012 and visiting the business mogul’s home to more recently winning a Screen Nation Digital-iS Media Award for his first short fi lm, Illegal Activity.

“My parents were strict, but they also gave me so much space and freedom to find myself. As a Zambian, I have been surrounded by so much beautiful culture in my family and going back home gives me a lot of appreciation for where I am now and how much work my parents put in to make me and my sister’s lives better.”

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