The Africa Netpreneur Prize Unveils 7 Illustrious Semi-Final Judges

The Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative named its judging panel for the semi-final round of the $10 million contest launched by Alibaba Group Executive Chairman Jack Ma to inspire an entire continent of entrepreneurs.

The seven entrepreneurs, investors and venture capitalists that make up the panel have been tasked with choosing 10 finalists from a pool of 20 semi-finalists – down from nearly 10,000 applications from 50 African countries. The finalists will compete in November for a share of US$1 million in total grand prize money.

“We are thrilled with the response and the quality of the applications we have received. We look forward to the next phase where this panel of illustrious judges will help decide on our finalists,” said Jason Pau, senior advisor for international programs at the Jack Ma Foundation.

Jack Ma first announced the prize during a trip to Africa last year. His foundation will work with partners in Africa to host an annual pitch competition for 10 years, with 10 finalists receiving a portion of $1 million each year to fund their businesses as well as access to the Netpreneur community of African business leaders for mentorship and other resources. The goal is to identify 100 African “business heroes” who are building a more-sustainable and inclusive future to help lead Africa to the next stage of development. The competition is open to entrepreneurs who are nationals from any of the 54 African countries, all industry sectors are eligible, and small enterprises, female entrepreneurs and those doing work to improve local communities are especially encouraged to apply.

The seven semi-finalist judges, with their position in the above photo, are:

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (center): Founder and CEO of soleRebels, the world’s fastest-growing African footwear brand, Bethlehem also the founder of premium coffee brand Garden of Coffee, which is now in the process of opening 100 Garden of Coffee roastery cafes across China. Most recently, she launched GIZA digital, a payment and ecommerce platform, and NoodFoods, a franchise business that uses locally sourced fruits and vegetables to create snacks. Bethlehem is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, a Forbes World’s 100 Most Powerful Women and one of CNN’s Top 12 Women Entrepreneurs of The Last Century.

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Fatoumata Ba (back row, far right): Ba is a tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist who founded and serves as executive chair of Janngo, builds, grows and invests in pan-African “tech for good” enterprises. She has previously been named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, appeared on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list and won the Aenne Burda Award for visionary leadership alongside Marissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington and Viviane Reding

Marième Diop (back row, second from left): Diop is an investment manager at Orange Digital Ventures Africa, the $55.4 million venture capital fund launched by French telecom Orange Group to support African startups. In 2018, she founded an angel network for francophone startups called the Dakar Network Angels. Diop is also a fellow of President Obama’s flagship program “Young African Leaders Initiative” and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

Hasan Haider (back row, far left): Haider is a partner at Silicon Valley venture-capital firm 500 Startups, leading its practice in the Middle East and North Africa region and focusing on Arabic-speaking markets. being a core area of focus. He was the co-founder and CEO of Tenmou, the first business-angel’s organization in Bahrain and one of the first in the MENA region.

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Peter Orth (back row, second from right): Orth is a founder and managing partner of 4DX Ventures, an Africa-focused venture capital fund. Prior to that, he held investment roles at Bridgewater Associates, family fund Adakin Capital and J.P. Morgan. In addition, he ran strategy and business development at Mirror Labs, a venture-backed business in the Blockchain space.

René Parker (front row left): As managing director and CEO of RLabs, Parker leads a social enterprise that helps to rebuild in-need communities through innovation, technology and education. Starting in Cape Town, South Africa, the company is now working elsewhere in Africa, in the United Kingdom, continental Europe, Asia and the Americas. She also co-founded RLabs Women, which works to build technology and innovation capacity among women in marginalized communities.

Fred Swaniker (front row, right): Swaniker founded the African Leadership Group, an ecosystem of organizations that is working to develop 3 million entrepreneurial leaders for Africa by 2035. In 2019, he was recognized by Time magazine on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world. He has also been named a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, an Echoing Green Fellow, a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s Global Leadership Network and a TED Fellow.

“Our goal when selecting the roster of judges for the ANPI was to find true representatives of the diverse entrepreneurial and business landscape in Africa,” Pau said. “The judges we have selected are true leaders in their industries, and bring vastly different backgrounds, accomplishments, and skillsets to the table. Their feedback will be invaluable and will set the tone for the competition.”

The Jack Ma Foundation is hosting the prize with local partners throughout Africa, including Kenyan entrepreneur accelerator Nailab, NINE from Nigeria, Egypt’s RiseUp and 22 OnSloane in South Africa. Nailab founder and CEO Sam Gichuru, who met Ma in Kenya during his first trip to Africa in 2017, said the partnerships helped to support the prize at the grassroots level and led to the high volume of applications that were submitted.

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“To mobilize the program, we identified mission-aligned partners across Africa to ensure that we were truly inclusive and tapped into channel partners, accelerators and incubators to discover a new generation of entrepreneurs,” Gichuru said.

The 10 finalists will be announced in October. They will then compete for a portion of the $1 million prize in November during a televised pitch finale called “Africa’s Business Heroes,” judged by Jack Ma, Zimbabwean billionaire entrepreneur Strive Masiyiwa and a yet-to-be-named judge. The winner will receive a grant of $250,000, with the second and third-place finalists receiving $150,000 and $100,000, respectively. The remaining money will be allocated among the other seven finalists.

“I am looking forward to seeing the finalists for the first year,” Gichuru said. “To the entrepreneurs who missed the application deadline, be ready to apply in the coming year.”

The Netpreneur Prize is the latest initiative by Ma to foster and develop entrepreneurial talent in Africa. He launched the eFounders Fellowship after his first visit to the continent in 2017, with the goal of empowering 1,000 entrepreneurs from developing countries, 200 of whom would hail from Africa. To date, 89 African entrepreneurs have participated in the two-week fellowship at Alibaba’s headquarters in Hangzhou, during which participants make a two-year commitment to improve society through their businesses.


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