Meet Calvin Usiri, a Tanzanian tech expert on Forbes list

Calvin Usiri

What you need to know:

  • Being one of just two Tanzanians on this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Calvin shares that he is humbled to represent Tanzania.

For Calvin Usiri, the journey into the Tanzanian tech space has seen the company he helped co-found, Ramani, become one of the leading enterprises that bring visibility and structure to Africa’s supply chains by providing point-of-sale, inventory management, and procurement software for micro-distribution centres (MDCs).

The company was founded by Iain Usiri, who serves as the CEO, his brother Calvin, who is the company's CTO; and their friend Kibet Martin, who serves as the Chief Operations Officer (COO) and oversees the company's finances.

With a savings of $70,000, Calvin, together with his two co-founders, launched Ramani in 2019. Usiri has vast experience working in the US as a software engineer and Head of IT for companies such as Capgemini, Coldeclara, Scraffic, and Stratmedical.

"Inspired by the dedication of my parents—one a civil engineer and the other an epidemiologist working for the United Nations—I was ingrained with a deep-seated work ethic and vision to make meaningful impact," Calvin told Forbes Africa.

When he joined his brother in 2019, Calvin was just 22, but he already knew how the business landscape works from a global perspective.

With Africa's consumer-packaged goods supply chain worth $1 trillion, Ramani aims to address the challenges of data transparency as it tries to fix what it terms a "broken" system.

Ramani has invested over $150 million in capital in East Africa, and it continues to provide solutions to a growing business landscape in the region.

Being one of just two Tanzanians on this year's Forbes 30 Under 30 list, Calvin shares that he is humbled to represent Tanzania. “This recognition is not just about my achievements but reflects our nation's potential and ability to compete on a global stage. I am thrilled to see more Tanzanians on the list, especially with balanced gender representation. It shows significant progress towards equality and inclusivity,” Calvin shares with The Citizen.

As a representation of a new generation of Tanzanian entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology he shares his optimism for Tanzania’s tech ecosystem while recognising the very real challenges that young Techpreneurs face in this space.

“We're fortunate that the government is actively working with startups and the youth to foster a conducive environment for innovation. Personally, my company has benefited from engaging with progressive officials who are keen to support young enterprises - this is the future and they recognise it. This partnership is crucial as it lays the groundwork for a thriving entrepreneurial landscape,” he explains.

“However, we do face a talent gap that goes beyond just having the necessary skills; we need people with integrity, speed, and drive. It's essential that we not only cultivate this talent locally but also attract international expertise, similar to what has been done in places like the UAE and Qatar. Such a mix can propel our growth and innovation,” Calvin explains.

Another significant hurdle is access to affordable capital. Startups need funding to experiment and discover potentially ground-breaking ideas. “This financial support is a cornerstone of startup success, enabling us to explore and iterate rapidly. Without it, even the best ideas might never reach their full potential,” says Calvin.

“My experiences in the US were invaluable for learning about systems architecture and team management, especially in disruptive environments,” Calvin shares, adding that access to capital was critical, as it allowed for rapid experimentation and learning from failures—understanding that failure is part of the entrepreneurial journey.

Being given the capital and the space to build, innovate, and create new things is every engineer's dream. However, it comes with the significant responsibility of generating value in some way or another.

“This kind of trust and opportunity is incredibly empowering, but it also emphasises the duty we have to deliver outcomes that justify this trust. I am deeply grateful for the chance to operate in such an environment, and it has instilled in me a profound commitment to ensuring that our efforts lead to substantial, valuable results,” Calvin says.

“With that capital also came significant mentorship from some of the best global minds. Trying to solve a $360 billion financing gap or disrupt a $1 trillion retail market with just some seed money and a laptop is incredibly hard, but the opportunities are massive,” he narrates.

“This experience taught me the importance of seeking out advice and guidance early on. My advice to other young founders is to actively seek mentorship quickly. At the same time, I hope that experienced veterans in our country will offer constructive mentorship to support the young, budding entrepreneurs. This kind of guidance can be transformative, providing both the strategic insight and the encouragement necessary to navigate complex paths.”

Ramani is deeply invested in integrating AI (Artificial Intelligence) across all aspects of their operations—from collections and underwriting to customer engagement.

Over the past year and a half, the company has focused and invested heavily on developing a sophisticated AI strategy.

This strategy involves processing vast amounts of alternative data, ranging from text to images, in real time.

“This capability significantly enhances our partnerships with banks, micro distribution centres, and brands, allowing us to provide tailored solutions and insights,” he explains.

“Looking forward, I envision Ramani at the forefront of a dynamic ecosystem that enables commerce through AI, seamlessly connecting financial institutions and other key market players through one trusted platform. Our aim is to leverage AI not just to streamline existing processes but to create new pathways for growth and efficiency in the financial sector,” Calvin shares.