Young African Entrepreneurs Win in Austin
For the fourth consecutive year, the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders held a pitch competition in Austin. Twenty-five young entrepreneurs from African countries including Guinea, Nigeria and the Central African Republic presented their ideas for improving lives in their communities and beyond. They presented startups in fashion, finance, media, marketing and tech. Innovations ranged from an online store selling modest but modern apparel for Muslim women to a pan-African news website. Each of the young entrepreneurs presented their business case to a tough panel of inquisitive judges including: Sarah Evans, CEO of WellAware; Fred Schmidt, Serial Entrepreneur and Director of International Affairs at Capital Factory; Tania Rodriguez, CEO of Green Habitat; and Ben Ramirez, CEO of Cogitare Global and Director of WAC Austin’s Center for Global Trade.
The fellows convened at Impact Hub on North Lamar on Saturday, July 22, hosted by a partnership between the University of Texas’ International Office, the Mandela Fellowship, and the World Affairs Council of Austin. Ahmed Elshaikh of Sudan took the third place prize for his innovative tech start up incubator focused on teaching business skills to Sudanese youth.
Koketo Leshope of Botswana took second place with Xylo, an online retailer for hand-made leather bags. She also developed an online platform in Botswana that allows customers to rate their buying experience. The first place award went to Oluwaseyi Albert, founder and CEO of LyaliFresh, a grocery delivery app and food processing start up. The competition also gave an unexpected honorable mention to Simon Eroku, a Ugandan communications specialist and disability activist. Eroku, who is deaf, earned the honorable mention for his commitment to helping the disabled.
Ben Ramirez noted, “This was a difficult decision for me and my fellow judges. The 1st and 2nd place entrepreneurs were very strong in making their business case. Each of the competitors were very well prepared, and it is incredible when you realize that this was only a small sample of what is happening throughout the African continent. The World Affairs Council of Austin has proudly participated in the Mandela exchange every year since Austin was added to the rotation of cities.” The event concluded with lots of emotion and celebration, as the competitors will take their gains and their new insights back to their home countries.