How Taking One Year Out to Focus On Your Business Can Change Your Life

Over the course of the past three years, the Ashesi Venture Incubator (AVI) under the NEXTi2i project (a collaboration between Ashesi University and MIT D-Lab funded by USAID) was focused on understanding the requirements of entrepreneurship in the Ghanaian ecosystem, especially for graduating students of Ashesi University. In an effort to continue the Ashesi mission and vision for those who are ethical leaders and entrepreneurially minded, the incubation experience was that much of a pilot to test what young entrepreneurs truly need to get their businesses up and running. During their one-year incubation experience in the AVI, all fellows/ incubatees are provided with personal financial support, logistics support, business development support and mentorship from local and global industry professionals. 

The AVI was designed with the intention of helping fellows develop hybrid businesses that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) because it is not enough to simply equip the new age of entrepreneurs with the skills needed to become profitable and not internationally explore how to be sustainable. To meet the urgent demand for sustainable development in emerging economies, businesses must also be in the position to deliver some level of social impact, be it through their supply chain processes, sourcing, or inclusive employment practices. Beyond achieving sustainability through impact, businesses are also able to derive strong brand equity. 

At the close of the incubator experience, graduates of the AVI’s most recent cohort, such as Teni Agana of the Loozele Initiative described a positive experience; “The AVI has helped me to really understand my business better and helped me to maximize my impact and profit… Joining the AVI has helped me to be confident in myself and what I do… My presentation skills have increased as well.” 

And for fellows like Emma Forson of Elnak Recycles, she learned that the  Ghanaian market wasn’t quite ready for what she was offering initially. So she had to revise her business concept. She navigated the situation by shifting her business practice to meet the expectations of the market while delivering innovation. Starting out with her initial long-term goal of being a “textile recycling centre” which “collects used/ unwanted clothes and turns them into fibre and recycle fabric”, Elnak Recycles is now focusing on “collecting people’s unwanted clothes and fabric scraps and turning them into upcycled things that people can buy and use like scrunchies, purses and bags and also consignment thrifting. That way we prevent clothes from ending up in landfills by creating a loop, in the process, protecting our climate.

Robert Boateng-Duah of REST (Robotics Engineering Science & Technology) Solutions, stated that the “AVI has been my highlight for the past 12 months because it’s given me really fundamental and very serious insight” and a “sandbox to make very costly mistakes that if I had done in the real world would have really affected me in every way.” 

The young entrepreneur also highlighted that “one of the biggest lessons I learnt from the AVI was that the fact that you have a good product/ invention/ innovation does not mean you have a business… The AVI gave me the insight that a business is a well-oiled machine of which a good idea/ product/ service is just a subset.

Despite the hardships and trials that COVID 19 brought to the program over the last year, the AVI successfully held its graduation ceremony, virtually, on the 27th of August 2021 at 6pm GMT and was able to honour all of the fellows and members of its entrepreneurial ecosystem. The AVI gave out special awards to a select number of these fellows and entrepreneurial ecosystem members. The list of awards included the “Impact Award” Derrydean Dadzie, CEO of the Heritors People ltd., “Entrepreneur Award of the Year” Emma Forson, Founder of ELNACK Recycles who also won the “People’s Choice Award”. There were two awards for “AVI Mentor of the Year” which went to Adrian Watson, founder of JEEAN, and Annatu Abdulai, Director of Acceleration, Growth Mosaic Ltd.

Mentors drive the entrepreneurship nexus, which connects the entrepreneur and the business opportunity. . Mentors personally support the entrepreneur to better pursue the opportunity and also open up their  networks to the entrepreneur to access additional support. You need mentors to make the entrepreneurship nexus work and we are grateful to the AVI mentors for their commitment to the program..” 

                                                            – Dr Gordon Adomdza (during the ceremony)

As the USAID support for NEXTi2i program, which established the AVI, draws to a close, the Ashesi Venture Incubator transitions to become one of the  Ashesi Entrepreneurship Centre programs with new funding support from the Mastercard Foundation.

Several of the fellows of our inaugural cohort have gone on to achieve commendable feats, some even beyond their goals. For example, David  Boanuh of Beautiful Stories Studios (BSS)was commissioned to provide the cinematography for all the scenes shot in Ghana for Beyonce’s Disney+ music video, ‘Black is King’. BSS has also worked with Apple, Unilever x Chelsea FC and more. Another fellow making the waves is Kevin Blankson of SWOOVE. His venture, which seeks to bridge the gap between logistic networks in Africa, has started doing trips from Accra to Kumasi and launched an open API that will help developers gain access to online deliveries (the first of its kind) in Ghana. SWOOVE boasts partner agencies in Kumasi, Tamale, Takoradi and many other cities across the country.

These achievements show that the sky is the limit for the second cohort. We are looking forward to hearing and seeing where the AVI training will take them and we look forward to sharing with you in the near future.