Spotting opportunities in Ethiopia: The story of serial entrepreneur Addis Alemayehou

Addis Alemayehou

Partner, managing partner, board member, senior advisor … the list of positions Addis Alemayehou holds concurrently is impressive. Many of these roles are at his own companies, which include one of Ethiopia’s biggest advertising agencies, a popular television channel and a telecommunications start-up in South Africa. Yet Addis comes across as pretty calm and collected. He admits that on the inside, though, the pressure often gets to him.

“There are nights I don’t sleep and there have been times where the stress has threatened my health. Things don’t always work out the way you want them to, or the numbers don’t come in the way you expected, or clients have an issue with your service. It is a never-ending rollercoaster but it is part of being an entrepreneur,” says the 49-year-old Addis.

In 1980, when Addis was a young boy, his family relocated to Nairobi, Kenya, to escape Ethiopia’s then socialist government. At 16, his parents sent him to North Dakota in the United States where he completed his last year of schooling. After living in the States for a year and a half, Addis moved to Canada to join his family who had in the meantime emigrated there. He enrolled at the University of Toronto but ended up studying for only about a year, opting instead to work a variety of odd jobs and to pursue his business ambitions.

It was in Canada that Addis started his first entrepreneurial venture: buying and leasing properties. “I bought my first real estate when I was 18 and by the time I was 21, I owned three properties. When the Toronto real estate market crashed in 1989, guys like me could afford to buy property. There was a huge immigrant community coming into the city, particularly Somalis, and they needed a place to stay.”

Read more at: How we Made it in Africa