Zahra Baitie-Boateng : We Want to Build  Next Generation of African Business Leaders

Zahra Baitie-Boateng is the  Managing Director, Africa , Africa’s Business Heroes. In this interview, she speaks on the firm’s commitment to expand Africa’s wealth base by building and empowering innovative entrepreneurs who will in turn impact others and spread wealth across. 

Can you share with us your organisation aim to impact entrepreneurship and economic development in Africa?

Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) is the Jack Ma Foundation’s flagship philanthropic program in Africa, launched in 2019 to empower the continent’s entrepreneurs. Our mission is to identify, support and inspire the next generation of African business leaders. Our vision is to enable 100 Africa’s Business Heroes to inspire millions more.

We aim to foster a robust ecosystem that spotlights, enables and inspires innovative enterprises that address critical challenges, drive sustainable growth and foster inclusive economies. 

Each year, we host Africa’s largest pitch competition where 10 finalists embark on a transformative journey of mentorship, networking and exposure, supported by a $1.5 million grant fund and publicity to pave way for their long-term success and contribute to Africa’s prosperity. We champion diversity and inclusivity; we are inviting entrepreneurs with a proven three-year track record that are based and registered in any African country to apply for their chance to win an unrestricted grant ranging from $100,000 to $300,000.

Tell us how you have been able to harness partnerships play to support and empower African entrepreneurs?

Partnerships are integral to ABH in our mission to uplift and empower African entrepreneurs. Through collaborative efforts with partners such as African Management Institute, FutureList, SA Innovation Summit, RiseUp, VC4A, Ventures Africa and Ventureburn ABH provides a comprehensive ecosystem of training and talent development programs for applicants. 

Each partnership is strategically selected to amplify our impact across the continent. Our partners help to create awareness about ABH in their respective networks and we similarly share their opportunities with our community. In so doing, we are able to support and amplify each other’s efforts. Our partners also support our finalists and community members by providing training and other resources to help them scale.

In the words of Patricia Maina, Partnerships & Gender Lead at AMI, “Behind each thriving business is a hero and team of people growing Africa’s economy and prosperity, one success at a time.” This sentiment captures the essence of ABH’s partnership philosophy—to empower ambitious African entrepreneurs, turning them into true business superheroes.

ABH has been instrumental in recognizing and promoting visionary entrepreneurs. Could you highlight some success stories or impactful projects, ideally from past ABH finalists and winners from Nigeria?

Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) has been pivotal in recognizing and propelling visionary entrepreneurs, with Nigeria emerging as a powerhouse of exceptional talent within the initiative. Since the program’s inception in 2019, Nigerian entrepreneurs have consistently excelled with several finalists in the Top 10. 

Nigeria holds the distinction of having the highest number of beneficiaries in the ABH program, with 9 finalists ranking among the top 10 winners for the years 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2023. To date, these remarkable individuals have secured over US$1,345,000 (equivalent to over 2.1 billion Nigerian Naira) in grants through ABH, reflecting the innovation and drive of Nigeria’s business community.

Among these exceptional entrepreneurs are shining examples of success:

Dr. Ikpeme Neto, CEO and Founder of Wellahealth Technologies (ABH 2023 1st prize winner) received $300,000.

Ikenna Nzewi, Co-founder and CEO of Releaf Marketplace Nigeria (ABH 2021 2nd Prize Winner) received $250,000.

Chidi Nwaogu, Co-founder and CEO of Publiseer (ABH 2021 Top 10 finalist) received $100,000.

Oghenetega Iortim, Founder of Gricd (ABH 2021 Top 10 finalist) received $100,000.

Oluwasoga Oni, CEO & Co-Founder of Mdaas Global (ABH 2020 2nd Prize Winner) received $250,000.

Temie Giwa-Tubosun, Founder and CEO of LifeBank (ABH 2019 First Place Winner) received $250,000.

Ayodeji Arikawe, Co-founder of Thrive Agric (ABH 2019 Top 10 finalist) received $55,000.

Chibuzo Opara, Co-founder of DrugStoc (ABH 2019 Top 10 finalist) received $55,000.

Dr. Tosan Joseph M, Founder of Black Swan Tech Ltd (ABH 2019 Top 10 finalist) received $55,000.

These remarkable entrepreneurs have utilized the ABH funds to expand their teams, invest in cutting-edge technology and establish strategic partnerships, showcasing the tangible impact of the program.

For instance, Temie Giwa-Tubuson: our 2019 Grand Prize winner who is revolutionizing the healthcare supply chain through LifeBank used the grant funds to expand Lifebank across Nigeria and launch in Kenya. 

In addition, the exposure from ABH has enabled finalists to secure additional investments, attract top-tier talent and engage with their countries’ leadership.

How is ABH fostering a supportive ecosystem for entrepreneurs. More so, what resources and support programs are available to participants beyond the competition?

Our annual pitch competition, the largest and most inclusive in Africa, serves as a cornerstone for bolstering visionary entrepreneurs. Our mission is clear: to provide entrepreneurs with the resources, mentorship and support they need to thrive. In addition to the sizeable grants we provide the Top 10 finalists, we also provide additional support to entrepreneurs, namely:

The ABH application process is designed to enable introspection in applications and to prompt a deep assessment of their businesses. By completing the application, participants gain valuable insights into areas of strength and areas that could use improvement.

Finalists receive personalized feedback and guidance from our judges at every stage of the competition. We’ve witnessed how this feedback supports entrepreneurs to iterate on their business model and improve. In fact, some of our Top 10 have applied multiple times and climbed higher in the rankings each time partly due to the feedback they received and their ability to implement it. 

 ABH brings together entrepreneurs from all 54 African countries, creating a vibrant ecosystem of innovation and collaboration. Finalists have the opportunity to connect, learn and forge partnerships with like-minded visionaries and our esteemed network of judges.

Our finalists gain access to top-tier mentorship from accomplished business leaders. They also participate in tailored masterclasses led by industry experts, providing them with the tools and knowledge to scale their ventures.

Global Visibility: ABH shines a spotlight on our finalists, amplifying their stories and impact on a global stage. Through extensive PR campaigns across radio, TV, print and online platforms, we showcase their achievements and inspire others worldwide.

For aspiring entrepreneurs seeking to make a difference and scale their ventures in today’s competitive landscape, ABH offers a transformative platform of support and opportunity. I encourage you to join us on this journey of innovation and impact.

Given your extensive experience in business development, consulting and trade facilitation across Africa and China, how do you see the landscape of entrepreneurship evolve  in Africa, particularly in terms of international collaborations and market access?

Having worked extensively in business development, consulting and trade facilitation across Africa and China, I witness a vibrant evolution in African entrepreneurship. We are seeing a growing trend of international collaborations and enhanced market access. Entrepreneurs are increasingly leveraging partnerships to scale their businesses beyond borders and to access new markets. Initiatives like Africa’s Business Heroes play a pivotal role in fostering these collaborations, providing a platform for African entrepreneurs to connect globally, access mentorship and secure funding. This is not just about businesses growing. It’s about building a sustainable and inclusive economic landscape for Africa’s future.

Can you brief on some of your upcoming programs and initiatives. How can entrepreneurs tap into them? 

This year, we are embarking on a remarkable journey with our top 10 heroes from the previous editions (2019-2023). We are taking all ABH Top 10 heroes to China for an immersion program at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China. They will have the opportunity to engage with business leaders and fellow entrepreneurs, fostering knowledge and cultural exchange and collaboration.

In addition, we are launching ‘local hubs,’ offering our community members in different African countries a platform to connect with fellow entrepreneurs, share experiences and grow together. This initiative, along with our ongoing efforts to spotlight our heroes through massive publicity, serves as a springboard for aspiring entrepreneurs to engage with ABH and benefit from the vast resources and opportunities we offer.

We’re also organizing a roadshow in various African cities. We are hosting “meet & greets” and panel discussions on pertinent entrepreneurship topics. We’ve already been to 5 cities: Accra, Cape Town, Doula, Lusaka and Nairobi. We’ll be coming to Lagos soon. 

The best way to get involved is for eligible entrepreneurs to apply at For other stakeholders, we encourage you to sign up for our newsletter to stay tuned for various opportunities that may apply to you. 

What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa looking to make a positive impact and scale their businesses in today’s competitive landscape?

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa is straightforward: be bold, resilient and unwavering in your vision. In today’s fiercely competitive landscape, embracing innovation, adapting to change and seizing opportunities with determination are paramount.

Each obstacle presents a chance for growth and learning. Build a strong support network, seek guidance from experienced mentors and never underestimate the power of continuous learning. Stay focused on creating a positive impact in your community, letting your passion propel you forward.

Above all, have faith in yourself and your capacity to effect change. The journey to success may be fraught with challenges, but with steadfast commitment to your goals, you can achieve greatness and leave an enduring legacy of innovation and prosperity.

For those ready to make their mark, ABH is the platform for you. We’re seeking visionary entrepreneurs who are not only building businesses but also creating lasting impact. As an inclusive pan-African competition, ABH welcomes individuals from all sectors and regions of the continent.

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