A report By AFDB
The profiles of two successful entrepreneurs were chosen base on their age, gender, the sectors they work in, and the target group they serve. One entrepreneur uses digital technologies as a core feature of his business, and the other focuses on technology to conserve the environment.
Profile of Bernice Dapaah
About the entrepreneur
Bernice Dapaah is a young, award-winning entrepreneur. She was born in Kumasi, located in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, but was raised in Dormaa, in the Bono Region. She is globally known as the founder and CEO of the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative. In her formative years, Bernice lived with her grandfather, who worked at the Forestry Commission and taught her to appreciate the resources of the forest. These experiences motivated her to start producing bicycles using bamboo. She graduated from the Christian Service University with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and holds a diploma in Human Resource Management and Marketing from the Institute of Commercial Management in the UK.
Bernice started her business in 2008 at the age of 28 with funding from her small savings and from loans provided by family and friends, until she received a grant of $5,000 in 2012 from the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). Two years later, she received a grant of $18,000 from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She occasionally receives assistance from volunteers from tertiary institutions who spend between four and six weeks providing technical support. In addition to these grants, Bernice says the company took out a loan of about 1 million Ghanaian cedis (the equivalents of roughly $160,000) from a commercial bank over the course of two years (2018-2020) to improve its operations.
In 2019, she received the Women of Excellence award from Ghana’s First Lady and was also honoured on International Women’s Day by the Second Lady of Ghana in 2020. She is an alumnus of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders programme and of the Harvard Executive Program. She has also been honoured as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD). Ms Dapaah sits on the advisory board of the World Intellectual Property Organisation Green (WIPO Green) in Switzerland and is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Biodiversity and Natural Capital.
About the business
The Ghana Bamboo Bike Initiative uses bamboo grown in Ghana to produce bicycles (in place of steel). For every bamboo plant that is harvested to make a bike, the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative plants ten more. For every bike that is sold, the initiative donates a bicycle to a schoolchild in a rural community who might otherwise have to walk for hours to get to school.
Factors for success
According to Bernice, the factors that have helped her find success include:
- Determination and perseverance: “Entering into a new and innovative area in the country was not easy. I had no one to turn to for advice and direction, as there was no company manufacturing the bikes. But I was determined to get this done, and I am happy that at least we are where we are now”.
- Hard work and discipline: “Without proper discipline, one cannot succeed in this business. I needed to make sure I woke up early and was at work by 7:00 am. And sometimes, I have to work through the night. I always set targets for myself and discipline myself to accomplish them”.
- Giving back to the community: “I feel joy when giving a bike to a school child each time we sell a bike”.
Impact and potential
The company teaches youth to build bikes, especially women from rural communities, where job opportunities can be limited. Ten farmers are employed to grow bamboo, and 25 artisans and welders use the raw material to manufacture environmentally friendly bikes that can be used on Ghana’s bumpy roads or exported overseas. More than 50% of the people the company has trained are women. The company’s aim is to increase the number of people they employ to 250 over the next five years by investing in expanding production to churn out more bikes and in diversifying the use of bamboo for other products and services. To do so, the company aims to partner with NGOs to build a childcare facility, which will help the company employ and support female employees.
To date, the company has sold more than 3,000 road-, mountain-, and children’s bikes, and they plan to donate 10,000 bikes to school children over the next five years.
Recommendations for the Bank and ecosystem partners
To grow the business and employ more youth in the future, Bernice pointed to the following four main areas where support is needed:
- Improved access to financing for physical infrastructure that allows the company to grow: To expand the production line to produce more bikes and diversify the use of bamboo for other products and services, the company needs additional funds. The expansion will provide more employment opportunities to youth and could also provide them with on-the-job training. This financial support could come in the form of a loan, a grant, or venture capital. Furthermore, the present production workshop can accommodate a maximum of ten artisans and welders. They can only employ more people if they are able to acquire a more spacious production workshop. To do so, Bernice requested capital investment to be able to expand the workshop (rent in the short term and build a complete workshop in the long term).
- Facilitated accreditation of training: On-the-job training is not accredited, and trainees do not receive any accredited certificate. Were that to change, for example through accreditation by the Commission for TVET, it would represent an added advantage for trainees and attract more people.
- Facilitated technical support from research institutions for diversification: Furthermore, the company needs support from research institutions to expand the use of bamboo for other products. Currently, they use bamboo only for the manufacturing of bicycles, but they believe that bamboo can be used for other products as well. Developing those new products, however, requires support from research institutions. Diversifying the product line would also help to create more jobs.
Profile of Jeffrey Boakye Appiagyei
About the entrepreneur
Jeffrey Boakye Appiagyei, 25, is a co-founder and the CEO of Sustainable African Youth Enterprise and Technologies (SAYeTECH), a company that builds smart agricultural machines to improve the productivity of smallholder farmers. Jeffrey was born in Takoradi in the Western Region of Ghana but was raised in Kwahu Mpraeso. He grew up in a family that operated corn mills, which he found to be too cumbersome. He began looking for opportunities to improve the performance of farm machinery, which was one his main motivations in pursuing his education and venturing into the production of innovative agricultural machinery. Jeffrey graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural and Biosystem Engineering in 2017. After finishing school in 2017, Jeffrey co-founded three companies:
- Techshelta Company Limited
- SATAgri Company Limited
- SAYeTECH Company Limited.
Initial funding for starting the companies came from friends, family, and prize money won from competitions. In 2020, Jeffrey was the winner of the National Green Innovation Agri-tech Competition, jointly organised by the Israeli Embassy in Ghana and Stratacom Africa. In 2018, he won the Green Entrepreneurship Award presented by the German aid agency GIZ and Hammond Brew Energy Centre. The competition honours individuals and organisations that promote environmental conservation and agriculture in Ghana. In addition, the company received a grant of $25,000 from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 2018/2019, and in 2020, a Ghanaian investor invested $30,000 into the company.
About the business
SAYeTECH designs and builds smart agricultural machinery, which applies IoT and AI technology. The machinery built by the company is specifically designed for African smallholder farms. Harsh climate and soil conditions coupled with small farm size present immense challenges, but also myriad opportunities. SAYeTECH tackles these challenges through a hardware-software combination that joins robust, versatile, and small agriculture tools and machinery with IoT and AI to provide customised solutions for each farm, thereby increasing productivity and farm output quality. SAYeTECH is a system brand; farmers can choose which service and hardware modules suit them best. The company has a management staff of eight and 25 craftspeople.
Factors for success:
According to Jeffrey, the factors that have helped the company find success include:
- Believing in and focusing on my idea. “People really discouraged me in terms of the performance of the machine and the fact that I had just finished school and did not have the financial resources to start the business. But I knew what I was doing, and I believed it would work, so I just focused and moved on”.
- Perseverance and teamwork: “I knew that it would be rewarding no matter what I was going through. We are a relatively small team, but we have been able to work together very well, apportioning responsibilities and trying to understand each other. I will therefore say teamwork has also helped me a lot”.
Impact and Potential
Since 2018, SAYeTECH and the Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab have hosted crop thresher fabrication training programmes in Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Kenya. The programme involves training local craftspeople to manufacture the open-source, mechanised, multi-crop thresher. Each mechanised, multi-crop thresher produced by the programme participants has the potential to serve 200 farmers and increase their efficiency by reducing what used to take two weeks of manual threshing per acre of crops to only four hours of labour. The buyers of the machines include non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government organisations.
The users or beneficiaries are farmers located in peri-urban and rural areas who use the machines for threshing. In the next three years, the company wants to scale up in Kenya, serve the East African market, and introduce other agricultural machinery focusing on post-harvest. In the meantime, the company hopes to raise about $2.2 million in the next five years through soft loans, equity, and convertible debts to scale up its machine service offerings in Ghana – by providing their machines as a service to farmers, who can pay either with their products or in cash. The funds will be used to produce about 100 threshers for use in their service offerings, resulting in about 650 jobs, mostly for youth. Should the project be successful, the plan calls for similar services to be provided to farmers in Kenya, before expanding to other African countries.
Recommendations for the Bank and ecosystem partners
To grow his business and employ more youth, Jeffrey pointed to the following four main areas where support is needed:
- Facilitated access to funding, specifically for youth entrepreneurs: It has been difficult for Jeffrey, who has just finished university, to obtain funding from commercial banks since his company does not have a long track record, does not have financial statements going back five years, and lacks collateral.
- Development of a platform that allows businesses to source the right talents: The company needs professionals with technical expertise in welding and fabrication, but lacks ideas for finding talent.
- Improved transparency of market information and improved availability to young entrepreneurs: The company lacks information on effectively accessing raw material. This market information, eg the type of crops farmers are producing and the estimated quantities, would help the company in the design and production of the machines.