In the slums of Lagos, Nigeria, a little child named Fortune battled the grips of Malaria, trapped in the clutches of poverty that denied him access to crucial healthcare. His mother kept him at home hoping that he would get better. Days have gone by but Fortune's condition became worse; it was too late by the time he went to the hospital.

This anecdote was shared by Ikpeme Neto (MD) during the grand finale of African Business Heroes (ABH) 2023—a competition that has become a platform not only for recognition and financial support but also for cultivating an ecosystem that brings out sustainable impact and positive change.

In a poignant moment, Ikpeme shared his realisation that people were not avoiding doctors due to needle phobias but rather out of financial constraints. Many, like Fortune's family, opted to wait it out, relying on home remedies and prayers. It casts a spotlight on the formidable challenges faced by countless individuals across the African continent when it comes to securing adequate medical attention.

The compassionate internal medicine specialist with a fervent desire for positive change returned to Nigeria with a mission, after witnessing the dire struggles of his people. Despite a successful career in New Zealand, he bought a one-way ticket, determined to address the systemic issues that denied people the right to quality healthcare. He recounted the harrowing experience of his mother unable to afford healthcare which has become the driving force behind his commitment to making a difference through innovation.

His company, WellaHealth Technologies, took centre stage with a revolutionary approach. For less than one dollar a month, WellaHealth aims to provide microinsurance, particularly targeting those on the lower economic curve. The company strategically reduces the role of physicians for selected diseases, partnering with local pharmacies to ensure people receive timely and affordable treatment. Partnering with over 2,000 pharmacies and 25 insurance companies, revenues are generated from subscriptions and premium fees.

WellaHealth's potential impact on a broader segment of the population earned Ikpeme the grand prize of 300,000 dollars. His journey illuminated the entrepreneurial path, emphasising the importance of making difficult decisions promptly and being proactive. Committing to his vision goes beyond rhetoric; he lives it every day, embodying the change he wishes to see.

The company has eight angel investors behind it and plans to expand across Africa with East Africa's Kenya and Tanzania on their immediate radar. For new applicants, Ikpeme advises to focus on the impact they are making while confidently conveying the message to the judges.

"The credibility that comes with a win is worth giving it a shot," he told Fortune.

In a country where physicians often sought better opportunities abroad, Ikpeme became the exception—a beacon of hope returning to make a difference. His connection to the struggles of his community resonated with the audience during the two-day finale in Kigali, Rwanda.

The entrepreneurial stage was set, and visions of change pulsated through the summit. Entrepreneurs pitched their innovative solutions to a distinguished panel of judges Diane Karusisi (PhD), president of Bank of Kigali; Ibukun Awosika, founder and CEO of The Chair Centre Group and Joe Tsai, chairman of Alibaba Group.

The top three entrepreneurs engaged in a round table discussion with the judges, delving into the challenges of entrepreneurship, lessons learned, competitive edges, and long-term visions. Ikpeme emphasised the importance of making the most critical stakeholder in healthcare, his patients. This prompted a shift in perspective, with the judges advocating for the incorporation of family insights and priorities into entrepreneurial decisions, emphasising the lasting impact it can have on business.

Joe Tsai, chairman of Alibaba Group, shared his thoughts on work-life balance, stressing the integration of work and life into a seamless continuum.

"Work is part of life, and life is part of work," he asserted.

This holistic approach resonates with his colleagues at Alibaba, bringing the significance of finding joy in one's work and approaching life with seriousness to light.

The second spot in the competition was claimed by Thomas Njeru from Kenya, who tackled the challenges in the highly underserved agricultural sector. His company, Pula Advisors Limited, is an agricultural insurance and technology firm reaching 11 million smallholder farmers across the continent. Born and raised on a farm, Thomas's entrepreneurial journey reflected the transformative power of innovative solutions in agriculture.

Pula designs and delivers agricultural insurance and digital products, helping farmers mitigate yield risks, improve farming practices, and enhance their incomes. The company registered over 31 million dollars in payouts over five years, demonstrating the tangible impact of addressing crucial issues of agriculture.

Thomas's experience as an actuary and his meticulous predictions impressed the judges.

His seven years of data on operating sites provided an advantage in addressing economic challenges, contributing to the resilience and success of Pula.

"He knows his numbers," said Dian, one of the judges.

His decision to venture into entrepreneurship, leaving behind a stable corporate job at Deloitte, showcased the courage needed to initiate change. Pula started as a side hustle, evolving into a force for positive transformation in a sector where many countries had faltered.

"It was something that made me happy," Thomas expressed the intrinsic satisfaction derived from pursuing a meaningful venture.

As the African Business Heroes competition celebrated its fifth anniversary, atwo-day summit themed "AI: African Insight, Innovation, Impact" brought together over 1,750 entrepreneurial minds from across Africa, marking the largest physical event in ABH's history.

The summit featured live pitching sessions, workshops, and a showcase of past heroes, creating an immersive experience for participants. The stories of these brilliant minds extended beyond the competition stage, representing the passion and innovative spirit that is the future of African business.

In the realm of AI, Aymen Bazarra stood out, determined to ensure Africa's active participation. Coming from an educational background where both his parents were teachers in Egypt, Aymen refused to conform to a system that did not accommodate all. His education technology business model, aiming to teach non-techies with AI based model, garnered praise from the judges as an innovation with global potential.

Aymen's journey spanned three competitions on the ABH platform, each round refining his approach until he secured the third spot and 150,000 dollars for his role as the CEO and co-founder of His resilience and dedication to change were acknowledged, with the judges commending his persistence as a quality that can overcome any competition.

As Aymen humorously declared, "Don't worry, I won't come back next year," the audience appreciated the levity in his acknowledgement of personal growth and achievement.

Beyond the top three, achievements of the top 10 contestants was recognised, each receiving 100,000 dollars in prize funding. An additional 10,000 dollars was allocated to each finalist for post-competition training programs, reinforcing the commitment to nurturing and empowering emerging African business leaders.

The spotlight on these entrepreneurs extends beyond the competition representing the future of African businesses prioritising health, agriculture and education. Their stories inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs across the continent.

PUBLISHED ON Jan 07,2024 [ VOL 24 , NO 1236]

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