With the growth of the Kenyan entrepreneurial ecosystem, so has been the rise of female-owned businesses and establishment. This has been driven more by the creation of women-centred policies and programmes for empowerment like the Women Enterprise Fund and women led accelerators and boot camps.
But even with these developments, there’s still some resistance and barriers women entrepreneurs are facing when setting up their business. Nevertheless, there’s a new breed of women who have embraced these challenges and propelled against the resistance to create vibrant and thriving businesses in the region.
Today, we look at 11 young and intelligent women entrepreneurs who are not just innovating their idea into success but contributing immensely to the growth of the ecosystem. From beauty, Fintech, social enterprises and even human resource, these women have defied the norm to become the ultimate inspiration for business in Kenya and Africa as a whole.
Catherine Mahugu – Founder, Soko
Catherine Mahugu is the founder of Soko; an innovative e-commerce fashion platform allows local artisans to sell handcrafted jewellery directly to the consumer and delivers products to offer 450 retailers worldwide including Nordstrom, Espirit, and Fossil. She is also the founder of Wazidata, an innovative company that advances human experience by creating innovative offerings using design thinking methods and counts UNHCR and Safaricom among their clients.
A software engineer by profession, Catherine Mahugu has been recognized locally and globally for her entrepreneurial work, including Forbes 30 Under 30 2016, BBC 100 Women, A Leader of Tomorrow at the St.Gallen’s 44th Symposium in Switzerland 2014 among others.
I think people get caught up in striving for success that they just forget to enjoy the simplicity of life. – Catherine Mahugu
Gloria Michelle Otieno – Founder, Recours Four Kenya
Gloria Michelle Otieno is the 31-year-old founder of Recours Four Kenya, a Human Resource Consultancy firm that has an annual turnover of over $400,000 (Kshs 40,000,000). The Pharmacy graduate has been driven the 5-year-old company to be the one stop shop for talent acquisition, human resource consultancy and customer service management among other services.
Gloria has been featured in both local and global media including Founder360°, and in 2017 she has featured in the Forbes Top 30 Under 30 2017 edition.
Reading books inspires me. My favorite book author at the moment is Robin Sharma and also, I like digging through the internet for valuable sources of information. – @Gloasookar
Wawira Njiru – Founder, Food For Education
Wawira Njiru is the Founder and Program Director of Food for Education, a not-for-profit organisation that works with vulnerable children in the public school system to improve their lives and school performance by providing lunch every school day, mentorship and tuition aimed at improving their health, school performance and increase their chances of getting into good high schools in Kenya. A graduate of Nutrition and Food Science from the University of South Australia,
Wawira Njiru is a recipient of the University of South Australia (UNISA), 2017 Alumni Award. An award that honours UNISA graduates who have shown an outstanding contribution to society. In 2016, she was also selected as one of 25 young Africans Leading in Public Life by the University of Capetown and in 2017 as one of 16 participants of the Global Social Benefit Insititute Accelerator Program run by the Miller Centre at Santa Clara University.
In late 2018, Wawira Njiru became the first-ever recipient of Global Citizen Prize for Youth Leadership, an award that is supported by American multinational technology company, Cisco in partnership with Global Citizen an organization focused on mobilizing 100 million socially-minded advocates who want to end extreme global poverty by 2030.
Success doesn’t come overnight. Just stick to what you are doing and work hard and smart as you wait. Success is a process. – @wawiranjiru
Hilda Moraa – Founder, Pezesha
Hilda Moraa is the founder of Pezesha, a peer micro-lending marketplace that connects lenders with high quality underserved low-income borrowers. Hilda is also the co-founder and former CEO of Weza Tele, a supply chain, distribution and financial mobile solution startup for the emerging markets that was acquired by Jumo (former AFB) for $1.7m. A Masters graduate of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Operations from JKUAT, she is a recipient of the Austrian Leadership Programme (ALP) by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.
She was featured in Forbes 30 Most Promising Young African Entrepreneurs of 2016 and one of the Top 40 under 40 Women 2015 in Kenya. Hilda has also been featured in the new book by Eunice Baguma Ball called “Founding Women: African women who are defying the odds to build successful businesses in tech.”
If you are sitting and thinking that you are a woman in business. Then you have to be at your best to compete. – @hildamoraa
Chebet Lesan – Founder, BrightGreen Renewable Energy
Chebet Lesan is the founder and CEO of Bright Green Renewable Energy, a company that designs, produces and distributes carbonized and non-carbonized heating briquettes using recycled organic waste collected from different areas in Kenya.
Chebet, an Industrial Design graduate from the University of Nairobi is a fellow at Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. In addition, her work has also been recognized by Queen Elizabeth II as she received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award 2017.
Ruth Mwanzia – Founder, Koola Water
Ruth Mwanzia is the founder and Director of Koola Water, a company that specializes in the manufacturing, distribution and packaging of pure drinking water. A Public relations specialist and a master’s graduate of Peace and Conflict Resolution from Africa Nazarene, Ruth also runs Afribiz Academy, a platform that offers mentorship, consulting and coaching to budding entrepreneurs. Through her company, she gives back to the community through setting up of boreholes and setting up affordable water kiosks.
Go for something you feel passionate about, that passion is what gives one the drive to keep going even during tough times. – @RuthMawia
June Syowia – Founder, Beiless Group
June Syowia is the founder and CEO of Beiless Group, an advertising and marketing agency that focusses on digital storytelling and experiential marketing. The 24-year-old Economics student at the University of Nairobi is a recipient of Business Daily Top 40 Under 40 2015 award. In 2017, she represented Kenya at the Global Student Entrepreneur Award in Frankfurt, Germany.
The Economics graduate from the University of Nairobi is not only the CEO and Founder of one of the fastest growing startups in Africa according to Global African Business Awards 2018, but she was also recently listed on Forbes 30 Under 30 2018 edition.
Something extraordinary happens when you dramatically increase the focus, drive and intention you bring in your life – @junesyowia
Mary Njoki – Founder, Glass House PR
Mary Njoki is the founder and CEO at Glass House PR, a company that specializes in brand management, PR and corporate communications, digital marketing, media management, publicity management and social Media communication and helps clients communicate, engage and builds relationships with their stakeholders.
She also runs a CSR Initiative of Glass House PR, dubbed “A Billion Startups,” that promotes the growth of the entrepreneurial ecosystems in the continent. The communication specialist from Daystar University has received numerous distinguished awards for her entrepreneurial venture including Amazon Watch Magazine’s Africa’s Top 40 Under 40 Women Leaders 2017.
Each woman has something to offer to the world, they just need to discover what they can do easily or what they are passionate about – @Njoki116
Kitawa Wemo – Founder, MAMA Ventures
Kitawa Wemo is the founder of MAMA Ventures, a women-led growth accelerator that works with business to actualize business ideas towards profitability and sustainability using an in-house custom designed entrepreneurship toolkit.
A research consultant and an environmental health graduate from the Kenyatta University, she runs a monthly dedicated B2B meet-up and platform for aspiring and upcoming entrepreneurs in Kenya called the Mingle.
Success is believing in something and sticking by it to the end, no matter the obstacles you encounter in your journey. – @kikiwemo
Michelle Ntalami – Founder, Marini Naturals
Michelle Ntalami is the founder and CEO of Marini Naturals, Africa’s first full range of organic, natural hair care line targeting the African woman. Michelle who holds a Masters degree in Communication and Design from the University of Nairobi and Masters of Arts in Interior and Brand Design is also the CEO of Brand Vine Group, a branding, and an interior design firm.
Through her entrepreneurial ventures, she has received several recognitions including Top 40 Under 40 Women 2016 in Kenya and CNBC World’s Top 10 Hottest Startups 2017. She is a speaker and trainer and she runs a monthly entrepreneurship masterclass.
Do not second guess your capabilities. Believe in yourself and do not listen to background noise. Fear of the unknown is never from you, but those around you. Filter the noise, brush the dirt off your shoulders, and move on. – @MichelleNtalami
Linet Kwamboka – Founder, Data Science Ltd
Linet Kwamboka is the founder and CEO of Data Science Ltd, research, and analytics company that builds information systems that help institutions gain insights from data for better strategic planning and resource allocation.
The computer science graduate from The University of Nairobi has previously been a software engineer at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the World Bank and received the World Bank Spot Award recipient. She has been recognized as a top 3 global open data champion by the ODI Bloomberg Awards.
Jessica ColaÇo – Co-founder, Brave Venture Labs
Jessica Francisca ColaÇo is the co-founder at Brave Ventures which is a network data science lab that uncovers the secrets of human performance to link people with the right job opportunities and building better teams for companies. She is a TED Global Fellow and was part of the co-founding team at iHub where she served as Director of Partnerships and Community, the Founding Manager and the Director of iHub Research in 2013.
She is also the co-founder of WMIAfrica, AkiraChix, and ISOC-Kenya chapter and also served as an advisor at Ma3route and DFID’s digital Advisory Panel.
A graduate of the School of Computing and Informatics at The University of Nairobi, Jessica describes herself as fun, passionate and energetic. She was on the Top 40 under 40 women in Kenya in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
Bootstrapping is the best way to go as it allows you to validate your product and if you can prolong it as much as you can then this will prove to be an asset when negotiating with investors. – @JessicaColaco