DJ Cuppy, Mr Eazi, Swanky Jerry, Others Featured in this Year’s Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 List
Forbes Africa has announced it’s annual “30 Under 30” list, featuring 30 young entrepreneurs, leaders and changemakers across Africa. These amazing ladies and gentlemen are challenging conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation.
Amidst challenging times and global uncertainty, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Africa class of 2020 features bright and innovative leaders who are ready and equipped to adapt to whatever the future may hold, with 30 honorees selected from the style, entertainment, sports, finance, media, advert and marketing, healthcare, and science industry.
Among those featured on this year’s list are nine of our very own Nigerian trailblazers. They include DJ Cuppy, Eazi, Patoranking, Tracy Batta, Olajumoke Oduwole, Swanky Jerry, Davies Okeowo, Maryam Gwadabe, Asisat Oshoala.
DJ Cuppy: Founder and Director, Red Velvet Music Group
Many had high expectations for Florence Ifeoluwa Otedola to follow in her family’s oil business and become an oil trader. Her life was a set stage from the day she was born. Dancing to the tune, she pursued a degree in economics and management.
“I was convinced my plan was to make lots of money and be the next Femi Otedola!” she tells Forbes Africa. But the young Nigerian longed to pursue the arts.
As a teen, she performed at local parties, events and in front of crowds filled with youthful energy. It was one gig here and another there, honing her skills until she became the reputed DJ she is now.
In 2015, she had the opportunity to perform for her country and President Muhammadu Buhari at his inauguration. Since then, she had both her hands-on-deck performing all over the world from Senegal and Ghana to the UK, playing in front of more country presidents.
In 2015, she founded The Cuppy Foundation, an NGO aimed at uplifting women, children, and people living with disabilities and tackling issues such as education, malnourishment, and poverty. DJ Cuppy also holds a master’s degree in Music Business from New York University.
She has won a number of awards including Best Female DJ at the Beatz Awards in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. This year, she has been nominated for a Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Award.
Mr Eazi, 28, Nigeria
Musician and Founder, emPawa Africa Industry: Entertainment
Born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and raised in Lagos, Oluwatosin Ajibade would sit at the breakfast table with his dad, listening to old records his father used to play. This was the key moment that inspired Ajibade to become ‘Mr Eazi’, one of Africa’s notable music stars.
He began his music career while attending college in Ghana, where his side hustles included promoting concerts and running a concierge service shuttling wealthy kids to parties.
“I began my career with a small cash gift from friends, which enabled me to pay for my first professional-quality video for Skintight,” he tells Forbes Africa.
His success has also seen him performing on global stages in the UK and the US including being one of only two African artists to play the world’s most prestigious music festival, Coachella in 2019.
Mr Eazi’s ascent to global stardom has seen him clock over 280 million YouTube views and more than 4.1 million Spotify streams per month, making him one of the most streamed African artists worldwide. After founding emPawa in 2018, he has been on a global campaign to mentor and fund African artists.
emPawa also had a notable hand in Beyonce’s Grammy-nominated The Lion King: The Gift album, helping the pop megastar’s US-based team assemble leading African talent for this landmark project.
“It’s something I wish someone had created when I first started making music. Sometimes, all it takes is that one person to believe in you,” he says.
Patoranking, 29, Nigeria
A quick Google search for the best dancehall artists in Africa and Patoranking’s name is sure to pop up. His beats are a unique blend of dancehall, reggae and Afrobeats combined, recognizable both on the continent and the global music scene.
In 2016 and 2017, he was a judge on the internationally-acclaimed reality singing competition, The Voice Nigeria. He was also awarded MTV Africa’s Song of the Year for his hit song “My Woman, My Everything” in 2016.
Internationally, he was featured on Major Lazer’s Particula hit song alongside Nasty C, Jidenna and Ice Prince in 2018. In the same year, he traveled with American singer and songwriter Lauryn Hill for The Miseducation for Lauryn Hill album’s 20th-anniversary tour across North America as a special guest.
To date, Patoranking has been nominated for over 40 awards including Male Artist of the Year and Best Dancehall Artist, taking home more than 20 awards for these categories.
Tracy Batta, 29, Nigeria
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Smoothie Express
Industry: Food and Beverage
Tracy Batta was determined to live her life like a healthy fruit basket in 2014. She would blend fruits together into a smoothie detox and would package some to carry to work. However, the process was often tedious and time-consuming, let alone a bit messy.
So she decided to start a smoothie delivery company for professionals like herself. With her business partner Omowunmi Akande, she raised $10,000 from their savings, built a website, bought a motorcycle for deliveries and set out to start the Smoothie Express.
But it wasn’t a smooth start to the business. They rented out a spare room from a guest house which turned out to be a bad deal.
“We agreed to pay [the owner] 50% of our profit every month. This deal later became crippling for the business as we had to pay out almost a million naira in some months,” Batta tells Forbes Africa. This forced them to find other means.
In 2016, they moved into their own kitchen and the business began to grow as the two researched and carefully-curated their own recipes. The next year, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in the heart of Victoria Island and were now able to service walk-in clients.
“People usually do not trust that women are able to handle businesses for a long period as it is believed that we would get married someday, start having babies and ‘abandon’ the business. This however never stopped us as we worked hard to make our business cash-flow positive.”
The company now has grown to launch three modern stores with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria. They currently employ a team of 35 while the produce comes from over 15 farms across the country. Last year, they received a loan from a women empowerment program sponsored by Access Bank. She plans to grow Smoothie Express to become an international brand with locations across Africa by 2025.
Olajumoke Oduwole, 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO and Senior Web Developer, KJK Communication Limited
Industry: Tech/software development
Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Ginni Rometty, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, are but a few of the names Olajumoke Oduwole looks up to. Very soon, she plans to become a part of this coveted list of technopreneurs.
She founded KJK in 2014 as a one-woman business, able to write 16 programming languages.
The business was founded out of the realization that not many small businesses had access to skilled programmers and tech experts.
“This meant small businesses have a disadvantage from the start. This observation piqued my interest in serving this underserved population,” she says.
After quitting her previous job, she ventured into this unchartered territory in May 2014 from her bedroom with savings of $300. It was a small space but had lofty dreams. After a year, the business grew and she was able to open an office and employ two more people.
Today, the team includes 18 full-time employees and works with 37 contract programmers on a project basis. The business has since built apps such as the tru-DATA app owned by TrippleGee & Co. Plc. a security company which resulted in a contract worth $2 million.
The tru-DATA product is being used to combat counterfeiting and proliferation of fake products, impacting the community and people’s lives. This feat strengthened our belief in our purpose, instilled a sense of pride, and gave us the vision of being the IBM of Africa. In the next five to 10 years, I plan to build products that will provide a tangible solution to problems faced by growing businesses in Nigeria and Africa, she says.
Red carpets, glamor, lights, and cameras; this is the life of Jeremiah Ogbodo Ike, known as Swanky Jerry. Featuring gold shoes and a white and black agbada (a four-piece male attire) resembling the Versace print, Ogbodo’s dress code is as fitting as his nickname.
Swanky Jerry is a Nigerian celebrity fashion stylist who has dressed the likes of Pearl Thusi, Davido, Nyanda, Yemi Alade, Tiwa Savage, AKA, Sarkodie, and African presidents and first ladies. It was at the first-ever Global Citizen Festival in South Africa late 2018 when FORBES AFRICA first met with him accompanying D’Banj, who he styled, and who performed before the thousands present that day.
Swanky Jerry’s styling can be seen through the subtle blend of couture and African Ankara fabrics. His love for fashion started at a young age as he and his family traveled a lot from city to city.
We would usually have to wear the clothes of the locals of each city we visited, to blend in, and I absolutely loved it! Growing up within this lifestyle, I became more inspired by my surroundings and began to invest in Nigerian fashion magazines and people-watching at big events due to the elaborate fashion being paraded.
It was a bittersweet journey for me because although I had experienced one of the biggest losses in my life, the death of my father had practically pushed me into the amazing place I am today. I found happiness and peace in creating and was virtually driven to turn my passion into a career in order to make money and fend for myself. And this was during a very difficult time as fashion styling, especially for me, wasn’t very popular or respected in Nigeria. However, I took the risk and I’m very grateful for where it has led me to today, he tells Forbes Africa.
After the death of his father, Ogbode socialized a lot as a coping mechanism. It was not long before he became known as that stylish guy.
He then launched his fashion and lifestyle brand, Swanky Signatures Styling, in 2012, and it has since grown to become one of the most popular and influential brands in the industry. Creative director, celebrity stylist, wardrobe stylist, designer, social influencer and consultant are just a few titles under his stylish belt.
He is also passionate about giving back and lending his hand to different charities and drawing attention to movements such as ‘Break the Silence’ and #WalkForLove. He has also been featured internationally by CNN.
Co-founder and CEO, Enterprise Hill and Competence Africa
Industry: Business Development
While in his second year as an undergraduate studying accounting, Davies Okeowo watched an episode of the Donald Trump-produced business reality show, The Apprentice, and it was in that moment he decided that he wanted to become an entrepreneur.
He set to turn his dream into a reality; however, his first business after university failed dismally. “I made no sales in a full year and burned all my savings,” he says.
Luckily, Okeowo had a mentor who guided him and taught him to build a structure for a sustainable business to the point that he started helping other entrepreneurs and this birthed Enterprise Hill. With a computer and internet connection, he founded the business in 2015 as an accounting and business development firm in a bid to strengthen medium and small business enterprises across Nigeria.
I have come to the understanding that the depth of the business structure and human capital problem isn’t just a problem in my sphere of influence, it is a problem across the African continent; which my undertakings are devoted to solving. I strongly believe that Africa’s development is largely predicated on the quality of her people and as such, I set up Competence Africa to help ensure that Africa’s youth possess high-level commercial competencies, he tells Forbes Africa.
In 2017, he founded Competence Africa, a social enterprise now focused on the employability of young Nigerians. Since inception, over 148 students have graduated from their competence development program and impacted over 2,000 businesses. Returning full circle, the young man whose dream was inspired by a business reality show, became the winner of one, as he won the second season of The Next Titan, a Nigerian entrepreneurial reality show.
I have a long-term commitment to the African development cause and my theory of change is to invest in the development of young African talent, contribute to the development of strong entrepreneurial ecosystems across the continent, and advocate for developmental policies in a bid to make Africa a first world continent,” he says.
Davies is also a speaker, trainer and has facilitated training sessions for organizations such as The British Council and the Lagos State Ministry of Youth and Sports, to name a few.
Maryam Gwadabe, 29, Nigeria
Founder and CEO, Blue Sapphire Hub
Dressed in a veil and abaya, an attire known to the Hausa tribe of Nigeria, Maryam Gwadabe is not your typical Information Technology guru.
Gwadabe is a tech expert passionate about teaching and supporting young people, a gift she discovered when attending a program at a vocational center and she noticed that some of her classmates struggled with their programming skills. On graduating, she tutored and mentored some of her friends and close relatives.
With a capital investment of NGN150,000 ($405), she then bought some training material, developed a curriculum and started facilitating basic and advanced ICT skills from her living room. But many thought Gwadabe was crazy and what she was doing would fail.
After a year, in 2014, her students exceeded her expectations and her packed living room testified that she was doing something right. With support from her proud father who saw this growth, she set up a hub in 2015, known today as the Blue Sapphire Hub in the heart of Kano State in northern Nigeria.
The company provides ICT, entrepreneurship and incubation programs and consultancy and product development services to many young men and women, especially those like her. Gwadabe employs a staff of 15 and since inception, has trained over 5,000 youth and women, and supported over 20 tech-driven and non-tech driven startups with business development support.
What is more fulfilling than this; impacting the lives of women and seeing the returns? I have been advocating for bridging the digital gender divide for the past five years and now a lot of women are into tech in Nigeria, because of the impact of my work, she says.
Each year, she hosts different forums such as ‘Hour of Code’, an event for children to learn coding, ‘ICT solutions for her’ and the ‘System Trix seminar’ that teaches the latest tech tips, tricks and trends. Next year, she is opening another hub in the capital city and plans to reach other African countries such as Niger, Chad, the Gambia, and Cameroon.
ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – MARCH 10: Asisat Oshoala the new Arsenal Ladies signing at London Colney on March 10, 2016 in St Albans, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Asisat Oshoala, 25, Nigeria
In a 2017 photograph taken at the CAF Awards ceremony in Accra, Ghana, Asisat Oshoala, stands proudly as the only woman in the photo among some of the football greats: Mohammed Salah, Sadio Mane, and countrymate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
She may not be one of the boys but she is surely in their league. But growing football was the last thing for a young Nigerian woman to even think about pursuing. As a result, Oshoala’s parents were not happy when she dropped out of school to pursue a career in the game.
But years later, it paid off as she has built a successful career and become a titan of Nigerian football. On the pitch, with speed, technique, and balance, Oshoala is definitely a keeper. Recently, she won the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Women’s Player of the Year for the fourth time.
She plays for both the Nigerian national team and internationally, for the Spanish side FC Barcelona Femení in the Primera División as a forward. Barcelona was to face Spanish rivals Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Women’s Champions League, which has now been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus outbreak.