20 Influential African Women Entrepreneurs in America to Watch in 2015
by Elfonnie Inokon Anusionwu
History will remember the 21st century as the century of the rise of women all around the world. African women have not been left out of this on-going wave of women empowerment. As African women back home are redefining their roles in the continent, their counterparts in the diaspora are also making their marks as they contribute to the economic growth of their foreign bases. African women entrepreneurs in the diaspora are also igniting change back home through mentorship, support of startups and philanthropic causes as seen in the profiles below. This list presents the most influential and inspiring African women entrepreneurs and executives who are based in the United States which you may or may not have heard of prior to now.
As a noun, Influential has been defined to mean: “the capacity or power of persons or things to be a compelling force on or produce effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of others.”
These are the game-changers and trailblazers, women who are overcoming all kinds of barriers to build successful businesses in industries ranging from e-commerce to fashion and technology. In no particular order, these are the ones to watch for in 2015.
CEO & Publisher, Inno8vtiv Magazine
Annie Akpe is a New York-based entrepreneur and a business professional of Nigerian heritage. After years in the banking and business industries, Akpe decided to find an avenue to give back her acquired talents to help with the economic development of Africa. As a result, she founded IBOM LLC, a business development company which offers consulting services to African entrepreneurs in the diaspora with a focus on small and medium-sized business. Akpe is also the CEO and Publisher of Innov8tiv Magazine, a dynamic tech hub for innovative resources and technology news focusing on the entrepreneurial endeavors of Africans in the continent and diaspora. Prior to launching her businesses, Akpe worked as a customer service manager before transitioning into the mortgage industry where she currently manages a $575 million mortgage portfolio as Vice President of one of New York’s top banks. She is a member of the Board of Directors for The New York Mortgage Coalition (NYMC).
Actress and Film Director
Lupita Nyong’o needs no introduction but here’s one for the sake of formality and familiarity. Born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, Nyong’o is a Hollywood Actress who stole the film industry’s spotlight in 2014 following a captivating performance in her first feature film role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave. Her role as Patsey earned her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress among many other awards. Although a natural-born actress, in order to hone her skills, Nyong’o obtained a Bachelor’s degree in film and theater studies. In 2012, she earned a Master’s degree in acting from the Yale School of Drama and landed her breakthrough role in 12 Years a Slave the following year. As a Film Director, Nyong’o directed, edited and produced the 2009 documentary In My Genes, about the maltreatment of Kenya’s albino population. In 2014, Nyong’o was named “The Most Beautiful Woman” by People Magazine and “Woman of the Year” by Glamour Magazine. Also in 2014, she was announced as the new face of Lancôme and selected as one of the faces for fashion house Miu Miu’s spring campaign. In 2014, Nyong’o announced plans to produce and star in a film adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, Americanah.
Founder and Executive Director of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN)
Eritrean-American Semhar Araia is a social activist, international lawyer, professor and consultant specializing in U.S. – Africa affairs. Armed with over a decade of experience in public and foreign policies, conflict resolution and international law, Araia founded the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN) as an avenue to develop and support the next generation of African diaspora women leaders. DAWN organizes networking events, mentorship opportunities and career development workshops among other empowerment programs for its 240+ members. Her outstanding contribution to the African diaspora community has earned her both White House Champion of Change and African Union Diaspora Awards. An avid traveler, Araia has been to over 31 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South Asia. Her work has been featured in various publications including Al Jazeera, Huffington Post and Voice of America. Having previously served as a foreign policy analyst with the United States Congress, Araia continues to wield her influence as an authority on Africa-related matters in the United States.
Owner, IHOP Franchise
New Jersey-based Adenah Bayoh is an IHOP Franchisee. As a young teenager, Adenah Bayoh migrated with her parents from war-torn Liberia with hopes for a better life in the US. In 2001, she graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University (FDU) with a Bachelor’s degree in business. Having worked as a teller while in college, Bayoh rose through the ranks to become a Bank of America executive before leaving to PNC Bank. With personal money she saved up, she acquired several properties in New Jersey and South Carolina building an enviable income-generating multi-million dollar real estate portfolio. In submission to her entrepreneurial instincts, Bayoh acquired the rights to open an IHOP franchise in Irvington, NJ. Today, her thriving IHOP restaurant is one of the fastest growing locations in Northeastern United States and reportedly the second largest employer in the city of Irvington. In 2009, Bayoh was named the recipient of FDU’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award. An award presented to an alum who has graduated in the past 15 years and has achieved exceptional success in his/her career. Bayoh has recently (Janaury 2015) been named by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to its Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council.
Owner & Editor, Style Pantry
Californian-based Folake Huntoon is the Owner and Editor of Style Pantry, a fashion and lifestyle website catering to men and women. However, Style Pantry’s staple feature is Huntoon’s personal style as she regularly updates the site with her looks while sharing shopping and bargain tips and resources. Huntoon has grown to become the quintessential street-style icon with a fan base spanning across America, Europe and Africa. Prior to founding Style Pantry, she worked for such companies such as W Magazine, Urban Ouffitters and as a freelance fashion/wardrobe stylist and fashion consultant. She is also the Co-founder and Creative Director of Shoxie.com, an online fashion boutique.
Founder, Ladybrille and AfricaMusicLaw.com (Law, Fashion & Entertainment)
Co-founder, Ebitu Law Group, P.C.
Attorney, Entrepreneur, Journalist and Publisher are some of the titles linked to Uduak Oduok. With a resume that spans across multiple industries, Oduok is the true definition of a trailblazer. Seven years ago, she founded Ladybrille out of a desire to reverse the de-marginalization of the African woman and girl child. Ladybrille remains a pioneer website which celebrates brilliant women and provides news and resources on African fashion, entertainment, business and law. In addition, Ladybrille also provides a platform for celebrating African women entrepreneurs including visibility and resources to existing businesses and mentorship opportunities for start-ups. A self-proclaimed “Certified Game Changer,” she is also the owner of Africa Music Law, a website founded to provide African music professionals with legal, financial and business relationship resources. Oduok is also the Co-founder of Ebitu Law Group based in in California which provides legal services including fashion and entertainment law.
Oduok has received several recognitions for her contribution to the advancement of Africa’s creative industries. She was named as one of AWP Network’s 2013 African Power Women and Applause Africa’s 40 under 40 leaders of African Heritage in the Diaspora. In 2014, she was nominated for the Archbishop Tutu Fellowship Programme. She was a 2012 NEA nominee for “Media Personality of the Year” and a 2010 nominee of South Africa’s AFI Fashion Awards for her “Outstanding Contribution to Fashion Communications.” A well-known legal commentator and speaker, she recently authored a soon-to-be published book for Nigerian entertainment professionals titled “Nigerian Music Industry & the Law, a Nigerian Artist’s Guide to Success in the Music Business.”
Founder and Chief Cosmetic Chemist, Nuekie
Eunice Cofie is the President and Chief Cosmetic Chemist at Nuekie. Cofie is a graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry/molecular biology. She founded Nuekie to specifically cater to the dermatological needs of ethnic people. She completed the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Global Leadership and Public Policy Executive Education program in order to hone her leadership skills. Cofie is passionate about several global social causes. As an undergraduate student, Cofie spent her summers working in a rural community in her native country of Ghana, helping implement the Save a Million Lives HIV/AIDS Education and Prevention Program. Cofie has received several awards including the 2012 Golden A.C.E. Award in Science and Technology and the 2011 Florida Achievement Award for her commitment to improving the lives of women and families in her community. In 2011, Forbes named Eunice as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. The former Miss Black Florida USA was selected by the World Economic Forum as a Global Young Leader in 2012.
A first generation Nigerian-American, Koko Ntuen is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Ladygunn Magazine. Growing up, Ntuen was obsessed with magazines, all things fashion and the inner workings of the media industry. Upon graduating from college, she relocated to New York and worked with several top media and fashion companies like Elle, Avon and New York Magazine. Ntuen has acquired over 10 years of experience in fashion and music production, design, styling, photo coordination, video editing and marketing. Armed with her years of experience in the media, music and fashion industries, in October 2010 she founded Ladygunn as an online alternative magazine focused on music, art and independent fashion. Ladygunn has grown into a quarterly digital and print publication available online, at newsstands, and at Barnes & Noble locations nationwide.
Saran Kaba Jones
Founder & Executive Director, FACE Africa
Saran Kaba Jones is a clean water advocate and social entrepreneur. In 2009, she founded FACE Africa, a non-profit organization that provides marginalized communities in Liberia with access to clean and safe drinking water. With the support of companies like Chevron, JP Morgan Chase and P&G’s Covergirl, FACE Africa has provided access to drinking water for thousands of Liberians. Jones has received numerous awards and recognitions for her contribution to Liberia through FACE Africa. In 2013, she was named by the Guardian UK as one of Africa’s 25 Top Women Achievers with the likes of Malawaian President Joyce Banda and Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. She was also named a 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. In 2012, Jones received the Longines/Town&Country “Women Who Make a Difference” award. Also in 2012, she was listed by the Daily Muse as one of 12 Women to Watch and as one of 10 International Women of Power to Watch by Black Enterprise. In 2011, she was the Voss Foundation’s Women Helping Women Honoree, she received the Applause Africa “Person of the Year” award and was listed as one of Forbes Magazine’s 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa. Jones recently cofounded Empire Group, a Monrovian-based company which aims to create businesses in the areas of small-scale manufacturing, agriculture and hospitality.
Founder and Executive Director, Q-Care Incorporated
Chinny Williams is the founder and Executive Director of Q-Care Inc., a health agency licensed in the state of Maryland to provide residential and direct support services to adults with developmental and intellectual disability. Williams holds a Master’s degree in Public Administration and Health Management from Kean University in New Jersey. After working as a consultant and project manager for several top organizations including Oracle, KPMG Consulting and Grant Thornton LLP, in 2006, Williams founded Q-Care Inc. out of a passion for serving disabled individuals. Q-Care has witnessed outstanding success in the last 8 years and presently employs 20 staff. Williams is currently pursuing a Doctoral degree in Management.
Technology Entrepreneur and Founder, AppsTech
Cameroonian-born Rebecca Enonchong is the Founder and CEO of AppsTech, a Maryland-based technology company and a top global provider of enterprise application solutions. Upon obtaining a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Economics, Enonchong went on to work for several organizations including Inter-American Development Bank and Oracle Corporation and ultimately founded AppsTech in 1999. AppsTech now has offices in three continents is an Oracle Platinum Partner with clients in over 50 countries. Enonchong is the world’s first Oracle Financials Certified Professional with over 30 Oracle certifications.
In 2012, Enonchong was named a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum along with the likes of Google Co-founder Larry Page and Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff. In 2014, she was named a Top Woman in Tech by Black Enterprise magazine. Recently, Forbes listed her as one of the 10 Female Tech Founders to Watch In Africa during 2014. Enonchong currently serves as a mentor/advisor to several Africa-based technology start-ups. She also sits on the board of a number of organizations including the African Center for Technology Innovation and Ventures (ActivSpaces), Venture Capital for Africa (VC4Africa), and serves on the UK Department for International Development’s Digital Advisory Panel.
Fashion Designer, Korto Momolu
Korto Momolu is a Liberian-born fashion designer and stylist. A graduate of the L’Academies des Couturiers Design Institute, Ontario and Parsons School of Design, Momolu came to the limelight as a contestant on the 5th season of Bravo TV’s hit show, Project Runway in which she finished as 1st runner up. Following her notable success on Project Runway, Momulo expanded her independent fashion business into a global fashion brand dedicated to fashion forward women’s wear and accessories. As a respected designer, she has designed for such personalities as the former Miss Universe, Leila Lopes and Liberian President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Owing to the success of her accessories line, Momolu has created an accessory line for Dillard’s Incorporated department stores. In addition, she produced an eco-friendly jewelry line for the Smithsonian museum stores and was contracted to design the uniforms for the Walton Family Museum – Crystal Bridges. She was named by New York Magazine as one of the top five designers to watch for Fall 2010 collections during the Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week. As one committed to charitable and philanthropic causes, Momolu has served as the Cheerios’ ambassador for the Shoprite Partners in Caring “Knock Out Hunger” campaign and contributes her time and talents to several other charitable endeavors.
Founder, Adirée and Africa Fashion Week New York
Adiat Disu is the Founder of Adirée, a New York-based communication and brand strategy company. After noticing the absence of African designers at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York, Disu decided to do something major about it. In 2009, she launched Africa Fashion Week New York (AFWNY) as a platform to showcase Africa’s booming fashion industry to the world. Today, AFWNY is one of the biggest fashion events focusing on African fashion outside of Africa. As a brand strategist, Disu’s biggest aim is to rebrand Africa by promoting Africa’s luxury goods and services. She is working on taking Africa Fashion Week to other major fashion cities including Paris, London, Milan and Tokyo.
Managing Director, Black Rhino Group
Executive Advisor & Chair of Blackstone Africa Infrastructure LP
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Kenya and the United States, Mimi Alemayehou is a development and finance professional who previously served as Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) for four years. Alemayehou is currently the Managing Director of Black Rhino Group, an investment consulting firm focused on promoting greater efficiencies in African infrastructure development. She is also the Executive Advisor and Chair of Blackstone, one of the world’s leading investment and advisory firms. In 2010, Alemayehou was nominated Executive Vice President of OPIC by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by a full US Senate. As Vice President of OPIC, Alemayehou managed a portfolio of approximately $16 billion invested in over 100 countries. During her tenure, OPIC partnered with President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative. Prior to OPIC, Alemayehou was Executive Director of the African Development Bank (AfDB). She is a global leader in the field of investment and finance and one of the most powerful female executives in America.
Founder and Editor-in-Chief, African Vibes Magazine
Los Angeles-based Amabel Niba is a social media strategist, operations manager and media entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of African Vibes Magazine which was launched in 2005. Niba holds Bachelor’s degree in Business Information Systems from Devry College and an MBA from Keller Graduate School. She was a Fellow of Stanford University’s Diversity Program for Magazine Publishers. In addition to her role as Editor-in-Chief, Niba has worked as a systems and business analyst manager for several leading banks in the United States.
Farai Gundan is a Zimbabwean-born Media Entrepreneur and Radio Personality. An MBA graduate of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University – School of Business & Industry, Gundan is the CEO and Co-founder of FaraiMedia.com. FaraiMedia.com is an online and mobile advertising platform which caters primarily to African businesses and targets African audiences at home and in the diaspora. In addition, she is also the CEO and Co-founder of AfricaTripDeals, an online reservation website specifically designed to serve the African hotel, travel and tourism industries. Gundan who guest-writes for Forbes.com is also a highly sought-after speaker. She has given speeches on the role of women in Africa at prestigious institutions such as Princeton University, Wharton Business School and was once featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show. In 2014, Gundan was a recipient of the “Emerging African Leader Award” by Temple University.
African-Spaniard Bisila Bokoko is a global business leader and philanthropist with an impressive resume that boasts of rich experiences in transcontinental brand promotion, building high performance businesses and international trade relations. She is the CEO and Founder of BBES International, a business and market development consulting firm which offers boutique services to companies in several industries including gastronomy, fashion, arts and culture. Bokoko serves as a spokesperson and ambassador to several global organizations including the world renowned, Liceu Barcelona Opera House. She previously worked as the Executive Director for the US-Spain Chamber of Commerce (USCC). Bokoko is also the Founder of BBALP, a non-profit organization, whose mission is to promote literacy in Africa through the establishment of modern and sustainable libraries.
As a child, South African-born Yolanda Sangweni fled her home country to the United States with her mother to escape the apartheid. Sangweni then spent her formative years in culturally rich Harlem, New York. She would end up working for several top magazines including Oprah (South Africa), Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Arise Magazine, and Time Out New York. Currently, Sangweni is a Senior Editor at Essence.com, a widely-read magazine for Black women in America. In addition, she is the Co-founder of AfriPOP! an “Afropolitan” e-magazine which focuses on culture, fashion, music and film.
Lady Kate Njeuma
CEO & Founder, Miss Africa USA Pageant
Cameroonian-born Lady Kate Njeuma is the CEO and Founder of the Miss Africa USA Pageant. The pageant, established in 2005, celebrates and empowers young African women in the US and shines the spotlight on Africa. According to Njeuma, she established the pageant to provide a platform for young African women to “showcase their beauty, embrace their cultural identity and develop leadership skills through community service.” The Miss Africa USA pageant has grown to become one of the most anticipated annual African events in the US. A professional nurse by day and community activist at heart, Njeuma is also Founder and President of the African Women’s Development Foundation – USA (AWDF USA), a charitable organization which organizes medical missions to Africa. In 2013, Njeuma was appointed as the first ever ambassador for women empowerment group International Women Think Tank (IWTT).
Fashion Designer, Modahnik
In 2013, American fashion faithfuls were introduced to Congolese-born fashion designer Kahindo Mateene as she competed to become the next major fashion designer on Season 12 of Bravo TV’s Project Runway. Mateene moved to the US in 1995 to study International Business and Economics and upon graduating, she worked in corporate America for several years before bowing out. Her passion for fashion would lead her to obtain a fashion degree from the Illinois Institute of Art and eventually launch her label, Modahnik in 2009. In 2011, she completed Chicago’s Fashion Incubator at Macy’s 2011 Residence Program. Mateene’s designs are particularly inspired by Congolese art and culture as well as her travels across Europe, The Americas and Africa. As her brand continues to grow in popularity, she remains committed to delivering visually striking collections that incorporate both traditional and trendy designs to deliver unique couture collections for the sophisticated modern woman. In 2014, in collaboration with MamAfrica, a non-profit organization, Mateene developed a Clutch Handbag Initiative aimed at creating sustainable employment opportunities for Congolese women. She is an active supporter of the Hubbard Street Artistic Community and the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago.
Disclaimer: As a Ladybrille contributor, this Writer has a professional relationship with Uduak Oduok, Founder of Ladybrille. This writer also has a personal relationship with Anie Akpe.