Njeri Rionge: Billionaire Founder Of Wananchi Group Which Owns Zuku

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Njeri Rionge: Meet The Billionaire Founder Of Wananchi Group Which Owns Zuku
Njeri Rionge Photocredit/www.lionessesofafrica.com

Njeri Rionge has been described as a techpreneur, serial entrepreneur behind some of the most successful companies in East Africa. She co-founded Wananchi, a leading internet service provide (ISP), cable, broadband and internet based phone company in the region. 

“I create companies serially because I believe that Africa is the next economic frontier and we must build indigenous organisations that will support this growth,” she told lionessesofafrica.com.

Here is the story of billionaire Njeri Rionge as told by WoK.

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Njeri Rionge Background

Njeri Rionge was born and raised in Nairobi in what she calls a normal upbringing. She is the first born child in a family of five. Her father was the City Council of Nairobi head architect and her mother was a local farmer. She attended United States International University (USIU) from 1999 to 2000 where she did Business Administration and Management.

She holds different licenses and certifications including the Corporate Governance Certificate issued in March 2000 by the Center for Corporate Governance and Private Sector Corporate Governance Trust, the Internal Audit certificate issued on June 2003 by the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD), the Artificial Intelligence: Implications for Business Strategy from MIT Sloan School of Management and Valuation and Financial Modelling Certificate issued on May 2018 by the Investment Banking Institute.

The making of an entrepreneur

Since she was young, Njeri always had a keen interest in entrepreneurship. Immediately after completing her O-levels, she set up a shop in the back of a friend’s car from where she sold yogurt to students of Loreto Convent Msongari High School and International School of Kenya during break time.

She also worked at a salon as a hairdresser just to secure that extra coin. Her wealthy clients wanted luxury goods and the entrepreneur in her kicked in. She would take economy courier trips to London to buy fashion clothes from big brands and sell to her Kenyan clients at a profit. Through the business, she completed several vocational certificate courses that she says have been instrumental in her success journey.

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Also Read: Esther Muchemi: The First MPesa Agent In Kenya Journey To Becoming A Billionaire

Entrepreneurial Journey

In the late nineties, there was a boom in personal computers in Kenya but the internet connectivity in the country was slow and restricted to the wealthy individuals. This is what prompted Njeri to establish Wananchi Online in December 1999 with the aim of providing reliable and fast internet connections to Kenyans.

At first, starting the business was hard because there was a general assumption at the time that internet service was only for the rich, a mentality that she had to challenge in order to break through. She also faced strong resistance from external factors such as the government, existing competitors and industry regulators. Despite all these challenges she managed to grow the business from a typical start-up to become the largest ISP in East Africa with a network of five regional offices.

Establishing Wananchi Group Holdings

After being at the helm of Wananchi Online for seven years, she successfully developed and oversaw a strategic plan leading to a merger that involved the consolidation of Kenya’s second largest ISP and a cable television service, enabling the introduction of triple-play services now known as Wananchi Group Holdings. The company has now attracted over USD300 million of investments from both local and international investors. One of the company’s most popular brands is Zuku which provides Wi-Fi connections and television channels services. 

Apart from being at the helm of Wananchi Group Holdings as the Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Chairperson Board of Directors, she is the Founder of Ignite Consulting – a thriving business consultancy, Ignite Lifestyle – a health care consultancy, Africa Expert Forum – a conference that now owns database of African Experts, Business Lounge – Kenya’s leading Start-up incubator and Insite – one of the most successful digital marketing outfits in Kenya.

Other Activities

Apart from running her own businesses, Njeri has worked with other companies both locally and internationally. In April 1996 to August 1997, she served as Manager of Corporate Sales and Marketing at Form Net Africa. In 1999 to 2009 she served as Chairperson and Member of the Urukundo Investments. In July 2005 to November 2009 she served as a Member in the Board of Directors at Institute of Directors (Kenya).

In June 2003 to November 2008 she served in the Board of Directors of the Internet Community in Africa and beyond (ICANN). In 2008, she was headhunted to become the Chief Commercial Officer in Charge of Marketing and Customer Services at Telkom Kenya where she spearheaded the restructuring of the company.

In 2009 to 2010 she became a member of CIO East Africa and later a Member in the Board of Directors of the East African Tea Trade Association until May 2013. In 2011 to 2018 she served as the Director, President and CEO of Network, Research and Business Capital Inc (NRBC).

In the same year she became a Member of the Board of Directors of Wananchi Nominees, a position she held until October 2020. In 2017 to 2021 she became an Investment Officer at UpCountry Africa Fund Asset (Canada) Corp. In October 2018 to January 2019, she served as the Co Secretary of the Student Council of Northern Secondary School. In the same year she served as the Co Chair of Elevate and then in the Board of Directors at Corktown Resident and Business Association.

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