Who inspires you?
The stories of Africa’s tech ecosystem are still being written. And when they are told, the talented operators writing the playbooks will stand right alongside the visionary founders that we all love and admire.
At FirstCheck Africa, we’re early believers in Africa’s women in tech. About one in five tech employees on the continent is female. Many are excellent operators and gifted community-builders. We see their impact in technical & non-technical fields, as they work with commitment and entrepreneurial zeal.
In the past year, our young fund has invested in eight startups in four African countries founded or co-founded by women. In parallel, we’ve enjoyed tracking the successes of impressive female talent across the continent that’s emerging in various leadership roles.
We’re thrilled about the future because we know we’re witnessing the unveiling of the diverse operator talent that the technology ecosystem needs. We also believe that we’re seeing future female founders expand their influence in real-time.
This week, we celebrate ten women who stand out as emerging Operator-Leaders. With our debut #FirstCheckRisingStars list, we’re excited to honour just a small number of Africa’s exceptional female talent. With the campaign, we’re also giving the nod to all ambitious women in tech across the continent who dream big, work hard and inspire us every day.
Our ten #FirstCheckRisingStars honourees come from varying backgrounds and career paths, with one thing in common: their achievements inspire us to leadership.
At our invitation, each woman has been profiled by someone she knows and respects. We share stories of their leadership and impact from the perspectives of their colleagues, bosses and mentors. We’re grateful to the contributors that worked with us to write beautiful profiles of their work.
We’re keeping our eye on them, and we think you should too!
Teju Adeyinka, by Ire Aderinokun
I first met Teju in 2019 when she joined Helicarrier in an Operations role. After about a year at our company, she became the first-ever product manager. She managed sprints and product releases for Buycoins and, eventually, other products we created, specifically Sendcash and Getcards. Teju set the bar for everyone else to come.
Before long, Teju took over as Head of Growth for Sendcash. Now, she’s leading the pan-Africa expansion of our cross-border payments product using blockchain technology. Having driven the Sendcash product from its inception, she understands the users and the problem we’re trying to solve like no one else.
Teju’s work in DeFi extends well beyond Helicarrier. She’s a pioneer and a leading voice for the Web3 movement in Africa. She writes and publishes educational articles about crypto and is a delegate for the ENS DAO, where she represents a broad community of crypto enthusiasts in governance.
In the time I’ve known her, Teju has accomplished so much. It’s been amazing to see what she’s been able to achieve in our relatively young field in such a short amount of time. I’m beyond excited to see the impact she’ll have across the continent.
Ire Aderinokun (Co-Founder, COO & VP of Engineering, Helicarrier)
Yewande Akomolafe-Kalu, by Damisi Busari
Yewande, or Wendy, as she’s often called, is Flutterwave’s first storyteller. She’s been instrumental in telling the story of Flutterwave, now one of Africa’s unicorns but previously a relatively unknown and often misunderstood company. Before Flutterwave, Wendy spent time in multiple industries, including a stint at Chocolate City. She worked with the fantastic team that introduced M.I. Abaga, the award-winning hip-hop artist, to a global audience.
Wendy brings simple, emotive storytelling to Flutterwave by creating opportunities for our audience to learn about the company through its users. She’s the brains behind Flutterwave Merchant Stories, a monthly video series about how we work with businesses to solve their unique payment needs.
As the world went into lockdown in March 2020 and all eyes turned online, Wendy launched a weekly webinar series for successful business leaders to share their expertise with anyone. It’s attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers from all over Africa. And when the world began opening back up, as businesses looked to reconnect with their customers in real life, Wendy created a travelling festival for merchants to do precisely that.
Wendy understands the internet. She brings a nuanced appreciation of her audience’s needs to a unique skill of organically communicating value without being product-forward. She is biased towards action, prioritises excellence and is a fantastic leader. Wendy inspires these values in her team; watching them execute big ideas is like seeing Wendy in action.
Wendy’s values are clear and known to all who work with her. She’s a feminist and a campaigner for women’s causes, and in a very personal, gentle-yet-firm way, she rallies people around the things she cares about. Wendy is a model for living life with joy and on your terms.
Damisi Busari (Head, Commercial Alliances & Strategy, Flutterwave)
Manji Cheto, by Tolu Owokade
Manji and I met at the African Leadership University School of Business. In and out of class, she balanced empathy, passion, and action gracefully. That’s her superpower and how she’s shattered glass ceiling after glass ceiling in her career so far.
Motivated to work on some of Africa’s most profound challenges, Manji is a former strategy & management consultant who’s been a trusted advisor to business leaders as they expanded their operations across the continent. Her experience extends from market entry & research to political risk advisory and stakeholder engagement across multiple sectors and industries. At the London Stock Exchange Group, she supported African companies raising billions of dollars on the London markets. Then in 2019, she moved to Nigeria as a founding team member at ulesson, where she managed the startup’s geographical expansion and supported its pre-seed and Series A fundraisings.
These days, Manji is busy with her portfolio of passions and skills, from consulting for a UK-based edtech company that’s bringing a new product to market, to a regional advisory role for a global consulting firm, and angel investing. All while building a startup of her own in stealth.
Manji’s optimism and vivaciousness ring through in all her work, but it’s her passion for technology as a tool to address gender inequity and other socio-economic challenges that I find most inspiring. I’m glad to have a front-row seat as Manji impacts a generation.
Tolu Owokade (Director of Operations, Shyft Power Solutions)
Mitchelle Chibundu, by Nadayar Enegesi
Mitchelle is a multifaceted professional. She began her career as a make-up artist and then pivoted to design. She is also an author and product creator.
Mitch started in design as an intern at Flutterwave, an African unicorn, and worked there for almost four years. She had no prior knowledge of design but worked her way up to become mobile design lead. Flutterwave’s consumer payments product, Barter, now used by over half a million people across Africa, was her baby.
Understanding the difficulties newbies face when switching to a design career, Mitch was inspired to start Designer Babe, her Instagram account. She uses her platform to teach thousands of aspiring designers to create lovable products and level up their careers. Mitch uses all of Instagram, from Reels to Lives, to develop straightforward, viral content that resonates with her target audience. It’s so impressive!
In 2020, she wrote her first book, Clueless to Designer, and gifted three up and coming product designers brand new laptops from the proceeds. The success of Clueless to Designer also inspired Mitch to create a design journal titled Dear Designer, Write.
It’s one thing to write a book. But it’s something entirely different to inspire ambition. With Dear Designer, Write, Mitch has conceptualised, designed, and self-published a tool that designers everywhere use to write, dream, set goals, sketch, and keep track of their achievements.
Last year, she joined Wise, one of the largest fintech companies globally. Now, she collaborates with other brilliant people from all over the world on a product that millions use daily.
Mitch is pure dynamite, and I’m so proud that her work is recognised.
Nadayar Enegesi (CEO & Co-Founder, Eden Life)
Peace Itimi, by Modupe Odele
When people discuss the tech industry in Africa, they usually speak about investments and the types of companies being birthed. These things are important, but one critical piece they tend not to talk about is the people that will build the envisaged future. To me, Peace represents everything exciting about the future of African tech. She’s ambitious, bold, and globally-minded. She fills me with hope and inspires me.
Because she’s building her career “in public”, Peace’s resume is easily discoverable online. What’s not discoverable on Google is her spirit: her tenacity and passion for growing people and businesses. Reading about Peace and her professional trajectory gives far from a complete picture. Peace is a pacesetter, and the tech ecosystem is better off because she’s in it.
Peace is committed to building empowered communities. When our paths first crossed a few years ago, she invited me to speak at a Women’s Will event. Women’s Will is a Grow With Google initiative, and Peace has co-led the Lekki, Lagos chapter for two years.
She also has an entrepreneurial spirit. Peace was co-founder of Rene Digital Hub, a digital marketing agency, and has led growth & performance marketing for Seedstars, Korapay and Stax. She runs a YouTube channel where she interviews tech startup founders and displays uncommon empathy.
I’m pleased that the world is noticing that Peace is one of Africa’s rising stars. She’s a recent recipient of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and a board member of Edo Innovates. I’m thrilled about what the future holds for Peace and honoured that I was nominated to write this.
Modupe Odele (Founder, Vazi Legal)
Hannah Kates, by Preston Timeyin Ideh
There’s a quote that I sometimes tell people who feel stuck in a rut: “God gave you eyes, plagiarise”. It’s a reminder that we don’t have to recreate things; we can stand on the shoulders of giants. But the problem for many of us is where to find the giants. In Hannah, I found a giant.
You might think I exaggerate, but that would be to mistake honesty for flattery. Some people walk in and out of a room but leave no lasting impact. And then there are people like Hannah, whose influence is measured, not by how much they do, but by how much they change what others do.
Her role as a team giant manifests in her ability to deliver value that inspires others to do more. More often than she probably realises, I’ve found myself imitating Hannah’s approach to building. And as they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.
Hannah moved to Lagos with little besides an open mind and eagerness to both learn and teach. In her time with Stears, she’s introduced our team to new frameworks, practices and data-driven tools that have shaped our culture. Hannah’s detailed-oriented approach to product development matches her ability to build teams and manage people. She has a knack for maximising the team’s output.
Hannah is the epitome of a rising star, the kind of team player who doesn’t just change a small part of the field but rewrites the entire playbook. But don’t take it from me; ask the teammates who voted her Most Valuable Person at our annual Christmas awards.
We’ve just started the journey at Stears, and it’s only been a year, but I know Hannah is a big part of where we are going. It’s this reality that makes me know that she is indeed a giant. And as I have recently learnt, “if each of us hires people who are bigger than us, we shall become a company of giants’’.
Preston Timeyin Ideh (CEO, Stears)
Adora Nwodo, by Samson Goddy
Adora is a software engineer with a passion for mixed-reality on the Cloud; she’s excited about the metaverse and everything that comes with it. As Vice-President of the Nigerian chapter for the VR/AR Association, she gets people excited about building mixed reality technologies in Africa. She’s a community advocate, tech content creator, and published author.
Adora works tirelessly to bring people together around technology. She’s been a Women Techmakers lead with Google Developer Groups. And as a co-founder of unStack, an open-source tech conference, she delivers hands-on workshops and world-class talks that help people learn.
Her talent for community-building and technical expertise led Adora to release her first book. Cloud Engineering for Beginners introduces cloud computing, presents viable career paths in cloud engineering and helps newcomers navigate their engineering careers. It was the #1 New Release on Amazon Kindle’s 90-minute Education & Reference Short Reads in the week it came out.
And that’s just in her spare time. In her day job, Adora is a software & infrastructure engineer on Microsoft Mesh, a mixed reality collaboration and communications platform. She also worked with the Microsoft team building Azure Object Anchors, a mixed-reality service that helps create immersive experiences by automatically aligning 3D content with physical objects.
Adora is a great teacher. Three years ago, she launched adorahack.com, where she writes about software engineering, productivity and career growth. And just a year later, she started AdoraHack, a Youtube channel where she shares her experience as a software engineer.
Samson Goddy (Director of Community Relations, Sourcegraph)
Hillary Omitogun, by Helya Zand
Hillary is a rising star because she cares. She doesn’t see hardships as a blocker; instead, she works endlessly to make her goals come true.
We met over a year ago when Hillary reached out for advice on how to break into UX research and to learn best practices. Like many entering UXR, I also came from a diverse background and knew the pains associated with getting started. We connected quickly. I understand the challenges of being a woman of colour and how that can affect your career advancement. I saw Hillary’s commitment and motivation. In the past year, Hillary has grown her portfolio and gained significant experience in UXR.
Her hard work is paying off. She’s now a UX researcher at Meta, and I’m confident this is just the beginning. Before long, Hillary will be mentoring the next generation of UX researchers in Africa.
I am proud and honoured to know her and look forward to tracking her progress in this field and beyond.
Helya Zand (UX Researcher, Noom)
Tosin Oyetade, by Nosakhare Oyegun
Tosin was instrumental to the success of Kuda’s partnership with Big Brother Nigeria in the thick of the pandemic in 2020. With that partnership, Kuda stopped being a niche brand and became a significant player in the banking industry. It took our customer base from around 200,000 to 500,000 within three months.
Tosin made sure to keep the brand top of mind on digital, T.V. and radio, and as soon as the reality show was over, we signed the most talked about housemate, Erica. At the time, our marketing team was in the middle of a transition — a few people had left the company, and Tosin had to cover their responsibilities. Not long after, in early 2021, Kuda hit one million customers.
Tosin is what I would describe as a “method marketer”. She embodies the brand’s voice to do what’s best for it while responding to her target audience. She understands who she’s selling to and who she’s winning over, and creates campaigns and concepts they’d want to be a part of.
Tosin’s best is yet to come. As she grows in the field, any brands or teams privileged to work with Tosin are in for a treat. She’s on her way to conquering tech marketing & growth on a continental scale.
Nosakhare Oyegun (Head of Product, Kuda)
Ada Nduka Oyom, by Ruth Ikegah
Hearing Ada share her story at my first tech conference inspired me to want the best for my career. She spoke quite a bit about “learning in public”. That stood out because I was struggling at the time with promoting myself. I’ve since built a professional network that includes many others, and some of the credit goes to Ada. She’s taught me to advocate for myself.
Ada is a waymaker for African women in technology. Through She Code Africa, a 10,000-member community, she equips women and girls with technical skills, helps them pursue technology careers, and ultimately, thrive.
She Code Africa has trained thousands of women across 17 countries. Ada also runs the Open Source Community in Africa, an organisation dedicated to providing pathways for more people to participate in tech.
Ada’s passion for helping people succeed is a recurring theme in everything she does. As Ecosystem Community Manager with Google’s Developer’s Relations team, where she helps build a developer community across Sub-Saharan Africa. Ada is a star, and I’m so happy to see her on this list.
Ruth Ikegah (Technical Content Manager, Animalz)
FirstCheck Africa’s Rising Stars campaign will run from Monday, February 14, to Friday, February 18, 2022.
Beginning in 2022 with this debut list, we want to provide a more powerful representation of Africa’s women in tech. We hope these ten Rising Stars will inspire even more people, particularly women, to become world-class tech operators and founders. There’s certainly enough space.
We’re proud to use FirstCheck Africa’s platform to amplify the talent, achievements, and professional reputations of these ten Rising Stars.
Follow the campaign using the #FirstCheckRisingStars hashtag on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn (@FirstCheckHQ).
About FirstCheck Africa
FirstCheck Africa is an early-stage fund for tech startups in Africa founded or co-founded by women. We are building the preferred early-stage investor for high-growth startups in Africa.
Launched by Eloho Omame and Odunayo Eweniyi in January 2021, FirstCheck Africa has invested in eight pre-seed and seed-stage tech startups across five sectors in four African countries. Our portfolio includes 17 founders, of which 9 are women.
Visit our website at www.firstcheck.africa or check out our social media pages (@FirstCheckHQ) to find out how we invest and how to pitch us.