Ashish Thakkar is a Ugandan national and world-famous African entrepreneur. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to start his own business and has not returned ever since.
"I had two month holiday and my parents said that after the holiday I would have to go back to school," he told Lynsey Chutel of ENCA, "When the holiday was over, I quietly carried on with the business. They found out pretty quickly and sat me down for a discussion where I told them this is that I want to do with my life. I thought it was pointless for me to go through the formalities of education just to tick a box before returning to business. We agreed I could carry on for a year but if it didn't work out I would need to go back to school a year behind my peers. It is still an option I have available 17 years later."
Thakkar said he was driven by passion for entrepreneurship and the fact that what he was doing was beneficial for his family which had been affected by the 1994 Rwandan Genocide.
"It was difficult in the beginning. People did not take me seriously because I was so young, I had to even shave a bit more and talk with a deep voice to look older. I used to fly to Dubai, fill up my suitcase and return to sell the items locally. When I was 16, I honoured a pretty big order but the cheque I received was from a company that didn't exist. It was a big loss and I considered going back to school but eventually decided to carry on; I was determined to make my business happen."
Thakkar also struggled to get finance locally, eventually raising credit in Dubai through his connections there. He realised that many other Africans were struggling to raise capital and went across the continent providing finance to small business owners which was the groundwork for his Pan African business. Dubai remains a critical base for his group of companies called Mara which operates in 19 countries across a range of industries.
"My family is African having been here since 1890; I am actually fourth generation African. We are passionate about the continent as this is truly our turn. The turn for the Chinese tiger has passed, the turn for the Japanese tiger has passed, it is the turn of the African lion which is the logo of the Mara Group."
The Group is diversified and according to Thakkar will venture into areas that meet four criteria: it must be pan African, it must impact society positively, it must be a game-changer and must be above board.
Thakkar is only the second African to go to space and is as a founder astronaut of Virgin Galactic. In spite of his company being wildly successful, he insisted that they are just "laying the foundation" for the future. A modest assessment for a man who has achieved a valuation of over a billion dollars at the youthful age of thirty-two.
"I think I am more of a high school drop-out than I am Africa's Youngest Billionaire. The title of wealth is just not the right title, I think success should never be measured by wealth, it should be measured by how much of an impact and a difference you are making."
He advised young African entrepreneurs to be passionate, focused and determined.
"Identify areas you are weak at and surround yourself with those who are strong enough to help you get there. Do things step by step, start small and then build from there. And above all, be different, be crazy and be yourself," said Thakkar.