The Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at MIT recently introduced the inaugural cohort of Legatum Foundry Fellows. Hailing from eight countries, these 13 entrepreneurs have grown ventures operating in nine different markets across Africa. Having pioneered innovations in health care, fintech, education, and more, the Foundry Fellows are dedicated to transforming systems and improving lives on the continent.
Launched earlier this year, the Foundry Fellowship is a first-of-its-kind fellowship focused on African entrepreneurs who have successfully grown ventures on the continent and have arrived at an inflection point in their entrepreneurial journeys. Building on the MIT ethos of "mens et manus" ("mind and hand"), the Legatum Center Foundry is a place where entrepreneurs come together to reflect on their achievements and shape their futures as leaders in business, investing, and governance. Collectively, the fellows will explore the future of innovation ecosystems in Africa and demonstrate how Africa can be a hub for innovation globally.
Multiple fellows have ties to MIT, including one MIT alumnus. Chinedu Azodoh MF ’15 co-founded MAX while studying at MIT. After six years of building and scaling the tech-enabled mobility company, Azodoh plans to use his experience in the Foundry Fellowship to explore his role as a thought leader and advocate for small business growth in Africa. In 2010, Clarisse Iribagiza was studying computer engineering at the University of Rwanda’s College of Science and Technology when she participated in a MIT Global Startup Labs (GSL) program learning the fundamentals of technological entrepreneurship. Inspired by this experience, Iribagiza went on to found one of the largest e-commerce companies in Rwanda. Iribagiza joins the Foundry Fellowship to highlight the venture funding gap for African startups and advocate for new innovative finance models. Dare Okoudjou, founder of MFS Africa, was a 2015 finalist in the Zambezi Prize, a $200,000 prize established by the Legatum Center at MIT in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation to unearth, inspire, and celebrate Africa’s most promising and innovative early-stage startups that help advance financial inclusion.
Reflecting on the incoming class of Foundry Fellows, Dina Sherif, executive director of the Legatum Center at MIT, says, “Their unique perspective on innovation, inclusion, and sustainability, combined with their limitless ambition and resilience, make this extraordinary group of entrepreneurs particularly exciting. We look forward to welcoming the Foundry Fellows to the Legatum Center community and sharing their stories and lessons in impact with MIT and the rest of the world.”
Professor Fiona Murray, faculty director of the Legatum Center at MIT, adds, “The Foundry Fellows exemplify how entrepreneurs contribute to growth and drive change in their regional innovation ecosystems. With the Foundry Fellowship, we aim to amplify the voices and influence of these leaders and draw lessons from their experience at the MIT Sloan School of Management.”
“Innovation and entrepreneurial solutions are critical to continued growth and creating shared prosperity across Africa. The Foundry Fellowship elevates the role of entrepreneurs and offers a platform for these accomplished leaders to advance and extend their impact in their local ecosystems and beyond,” says Kofi Appenteng, president and CEO of the Africa-America Institute and Legatum Center at MIT Advisory Board member.
The 2021 cohort of Legatum Foundry Fellows includes:
Adebayo Alonge of RxAll in Nigeria. After experiencing health problems from receiving counterfeit medications, Adebayo founded RxAll in Nigeria. RxAll provides a trusted marketplace where curated sellers use its RxScanner and Rx delivered hardtech and software to source and certify quality medicines for hospitals, pharmacies, and patients. Adebayo is currently expanding RxAll to new African markets.
Opeyemi Awoyemi of WhoGoHost, Jobberman, and Moneymie in Nigeria. Awoyemi founded WhoGoHost, Jobberman, and Moneymie in Nigeria, three pioneering technology-enabled companies solving for challenges he experienced as a young entrepreneur. Today Whogohost provides more than 50,000 small businesses with affordable website hosting, Jobberman is the largest job website in Sub-Saharan Africa with 5 million users, and Moneymie is building bespoke financial services for African migrants. As an experienced founder, Awoyemi is now accelerating the growth of entrepreneur-led ecosystems by building partnerships with development banks and multilateral organizations.
Chinedu Azodoh of MAX in Nigeria. A native Nigerian, Azodoh co-founded MAX.ng, a technology-enabled company that is transforming mobility across Africa by making it safe, affordable, accessible, and sustainable. As he continues to scale MAX.ng, Azodoh is focusing on the role of governance and policy in stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship in Nigeria and beyond.
Sylvia Banda of Sylva Food Solutions in Zambia. Banda founded Sylva Food Solutions in Zambia to provide an efficient and viable avenue for enhancing economic empowerment of rural smallholder farmers. Under Banda’s leadership, SFS is creating jobs and expanding markets for fresh, dried, and preserved local produce across Zambia. Banda is embarking on an expansion strategy to bring SFS to Kenya and Tanzania, among other African countries, to increase access to nutritious food and create jobs.
Ehi Binitie of Rancard and Clear Space Labs in Ghana and Nigeria. As one of the continent's pioneering tech entrepreneurs, Binitie has scaled multiple tech ventures across the world. He co-founded Rancard, a digital marketing company in Ghana, to solve relevant problems of scale for businesses across the continent by connecting companies with mobile audiences. Now, as founder of Clear Space Labs, Binitie is using his skills and experience to foster a new generation of innovators to build and launch technology innovations that improve the lives of millions of people around the world.
Audrey Cheng of Moringa School in Kenya and Rwanda. Cheng is the founder, past CEO, and current board member of Moringa School. During her seven years leading Moringa School, Cheng built and led a team of over 100 people to train over 4,000 students in Kenya and Rwanda with an average 85 percent job placement rate; launched three high-quality, proven courses; and engaged with over 100 employers. She recently stepped down as CEO of the Moringa School and is exploring the role of organizations in systems change and spending time with leaders in institutions across the continent.
Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu of ColdHubs in Nigeria. Ikegwuonu founded ColdHubs, a fruit and vegetable storage solution for smallholder women farmers across Nigeria, as a nonprofit, and upon realizing the potential for scale, converted it to a for-profit company. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Ikegwuonu is a thought leader and influencer, broadcasting a radio show for farmers and creating a market for farmers to share information. Currently, Ikegwuonu is expanding ColdHubs beyond Nigeria and finding ways to catalyze entrepreneurship in the agriculture sector.
Clarisse Iribagiza of Hehe Academy in Rwanda. Iribagiza is the founder of Hehe Academy in Rwanda, an award-winning research and innovation do-tank spurring aspiring innovators to create digital solutions for people living in Africa. Iribagiza is committed to creating vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems through her mentorship and capacity building for technology entrepreneurs, and an advocate for new funding models to address the funding gap for early-stage innovative startups.
Delila Khaled of Development Innovations Group and Global Bio Fund in Egypt. Khaled co-founded the Development Innovations Group (DIG), an international development company that designs and implements innovative, pro-poor financing solutions throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Building on her work with DIG, Khaled is pivoting into the investment space to tackle the alarming lack of venture funding for women entrepreneurs.
Dare Okoudjou of MFS Africa in South Africa. Okoudjou is the founder of MFS Africa, Africa’s largest payment gateway, which serves clients with mobile money transfers in more than 30 countries. Having spent the last 10 years building MFS Africa, Okoudjou is committed to supporting the next generation of African innovation-driven business founders. Okoudjou believes that for businesses to prosper in Africa, they need operate across borders and be Pan-African. He is championing this cross-pollination by finding, funding, and supporting such multinational teams to address continental problems, rather than local ones.
Obafemi Olayebi of Femi Handbags and Lagos Leather Fair in Nigeria. Olayebi founded Femi Handbags and has built it into a strong, accessible luxury line of leather handbags in Nigeria. At this stage in her career, Olayebi is passionate about building the capacity of local ecosystems to increase jobs and create more and better opportunities for Nigeria’s manufacturing industry.
Brukty Tadesse of Whiz Kids Workshop in Ethiopia. Tadesse founded Whiz Kids Workshop (WKW), an Ethiopian, woman-led, indigenous social enterprise with a mission to improve Ethiopian youth’s lives through cost-effective, age-appropriate, and culturally relevant educational media. Having scaled WKW to produce 32 innovative reading-focused TV episodes, radio episodes, storybooks, workbooks, and a program supplying schools with books, DVDs, and teacher training, Tadesse is now focused on changing the system for early childhood education in Africa and scaling WKW beyond Ethiopia.
Affiong Williams of ReelFruit in Nigeria. Williams founded ReelFruit, the largest dried fruit processing company in Nigeria, based on her quest to "solve for" youth unemployment in Nigeria. ReelFruit is a for-profit, shop-to-farm agribusiness enterprise creating jobs, building an industry, and catalyzing new suppliers and processors to add value to the supply chain. Williams is currently focused on scaling ReelFruit into new markets and exploring roles to support the next generation of founders in Nigeria.
Fellows will spend six months learning from MIT faculty, connecting with investors, and expanding their network of peer innovators through an interactive customized curriculum. The fellowship will culminate in a three-week immersive session in the United States, where fellows will explore the MIT innovation ecosystem and showcase their ventures and lessons in innovation with faculty, staff, and students. The Legatum Center looks forward to hosting the fellows on campus in April 2022 and creating platforms for fellows to exchange with the entire MIT innovation and entrepreneurship community.