Caroline Sack Kendem, the founder of EZ Park SA, a smart parking company, wants to transform parking in Africa. The seasoned businesswoman from Cameroon has been working for a while on digitizing car park across the continent.
Entrepreneurship is first and foremost a passion and a family tradition for Caroline Sack Kendem. You can sense enthusiasm on this daughter of industrialists’ face as she recounts her career. As she confides, business has always been part of her life. While serving as Chief Financial Officer in a television company in her country, she owned at the same time a fast food business. As a serial entrepreneur, she has undertaken in several domains, including textiles, parking lots, marketing consulting, fintech, real estate… and has succeeded, both in her home country as well as in Europe and America. “With my hands and feet, someone can tell me to fly a plane and I will go and figure out how to achieve it », she confides ironically.
The Cameroonian, who is barely fifty, has set up a number of businesses during her career, including an investment firm, a textile production factory employing over 230 people. She also founded two businesses in France, a textile consultancy, a fintech company in Dubai, a digital parking company, and a number of NGOs and associations. “I have never limited myself to one activity. I’ve always multiplied 3, 4, or even 5 different hats », she explains.
Textile at the fingertips
Caroline Sack Kendem has become one of Africa’s textile sector’s references through her entrepreneurial expertise. As such, she has advised several African governments, investors, international organizations, etc. on this field.
She began her career in textiles a few years after returning from the United States, where she earned an MBA in management sciences with a major in finance and marketing, following a master’s degree in management at Dauphine in Paris. After working as the Chief Financial Officer for a television company in Cameroon, she launched a textile manufacturing plant. From the start, the young ambitious entrepreneur chose to focus on exports particularly to the French market.
She began by producing swimsuits for the French company “Captain Tortue,” and then launched her own brand of tights with African designs, “Rouge Papaye,” as well as her own brand of swimwear, “Quasi Mango,” which she also marketed in France. She also designed lingerie collections with African themes, conducted trade exhibits, and fashion presentations… Soon, the Americans noticed her and approached her for business. She then left the French/European market in favor of the American market, which was more demanding. In one year, her company’s capital increased from 20 million FCFA to nearly one billion FCFA. In order to fulfill the demands of this new market, she increased her production capacity. An enriching experience that exhanced her knowledge of textiles, but which she was forced to abandon. “At one point, we had too many orders. The customers were in the United States; the supplier was in Pakistan. It took a month to produce the fabric, 45 days for it to arrive by boat, 30 days for production and 45 days for export to the United States. The operating cycle was almost 6 months. No bank wanted to finance it”, she explains. In addition to that, there were disagreements with the company’s directors, which caused her to resign from her own company.
But the businesswoman built on this experience to move forward. She went on to work at the International Trade Center (ITC), where for 3 years, as the focal point for the Central Africa sub-region, she proposed textile projects that responded to the problems encountered in Africa. She also founded “Ligne Rouge”, a company specialising in consultancy in the textile sector, through which she advised several African governments.
Becoming “Africa’s Parking Queen”
While visiting African towns, the businesswoman realized the difficulty of parking. That’s when she came up with the idea for EZ Park, a company that will facilitate parking in Africa and through which she will become “Africa’s Parking queen”, as she puts it. To achieve her dream, she created a mobile application that allows motorists to identify a parking spot and pay for it with a single click. The goal is to stop the never-ending parking problem, as well as the corruption that plagues the management of this sector in Africa, raise parking revenue, and modernize it.
Thanks to the mobile application, motorists can pick their geographical location and the number of hours they want their car to be parked. Through the payment mechanism embedded into the application, they are billed and their account is automatically debited. A notification appears 10 minutes before the end of their parking time, instructing them to either recharge or move their vehicle.
The application was successfully deployed in a test phase in the Cameroonian city of Douala. The entrepreneur is now working on a more effective prototype that will not require a phone or the internet. “This new system doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. I’ve been working on the prototype for a year and a half. It will be a system where, from your office, you are debited for parking, without having to use your telephone”,she confides.
In addition to this, the businesswoman, who thinks big, has recently invested in Fintech by creating a company that will enable her to settle her foreign transactions more easily.
Dedicated to social causes
Caroline Sack Kendem has several strings to her bow. In addition to her entrepreneurial hat, she has been involved in social causes for over a decade. In 2010, she was chosen together with 53 other African women to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program, initiated by Hillary Clinton when she was Secretary of State to promote African women leaders. This project gave birth to the African Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP). In 2012, the entrepreneur set up the Cameroonian branch of the association which became one of the most active of the AWEP’s existing 44 chapters.
For the past ten years, she has served as the organization’s president, providing assistance to displaced persons and female entrepreneurs, among others. She also launched SAVE (Support to African Vulnerable Entrepreneurs), one of Africa’s first impact funds dedicated to financing female entrepreneurs.
In January 2023, she was appointed Global Chair for the “Vulnerable and Displaced Women, Migrants and Refugees of the G100”, an organization gathering the 100 most powerful women in the globe. “I was surprised to find myself in this group, because I’m not a minister or a philanthropist,”she says. As president, she will be organizing the “Central African meetings on the situation of displaced and vulnerable people in the world” in Cameroon in September, which will be attended by leading figures and high-profile speakers, and whose recommendations will be submitted to decision-makers at global level.
Caroline Sack Kendem was also recently conferred the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by Jharkhand Rai University in India. A distinction that rewards a career marked by hard work, endurance and determination.