How did you get the idea to start your business? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is at the heart of who I am. It is in my blood. It was, however, manifested when my entrepreneurship professor at college challenged me and I decided to take it to the next level.
The triple problems of poverty, high unemployment and environmental degradation beset rural communities in Ghana. This situation is forcing many energetic young women and men from rural Ghana to migrate to the urban areas, chasing for non-existing jobs. One way of addressing these problems was to use local resources, maximize the skills of the people, and enable partnerships throughout the value chain. Using this strategy, the Ghana Bamboo Bikes—manufactured from bamboo growing abundantly in the wild and unutilized—were promoted as an environment-friendly community-based alternative transportation option and livelihood activity for rural development. While most rural dwellers lack the skills and knowledge necessary to create wealth from the bamboo, Ghana Bamboo Bikes builds their capacity and creates employment for them. The workers are engaged as partners in development to ensure appreciation for the value of these natural resources, to help create added value to it and to create wealth for them and reduce poverty in the rural communities.
Who helped you in getting the business going and keeping it running? Where do you go for help?
Our major catalyst came from the SEED Initiative (www.seedinit.org) who invested US$5,000 in our operations. This enabled us to start on a very good note. They also provided our business with world-class mentorship, custom-made social entrepreneurship training, intensive skill training, and a global network of support and international exposure.
This opened other doors of business opportunities for us and the winning of several international awards including the World Business and Development Award 2012, GIZ Impact Business Award 2011, Samsung/Generations for Peace Development Award amongst several others.
Other networks, such as the Vital Voices and United Success, have been very helpful in diverse ways including linkages to funding sources, capacity building, networking and easy access to markets for our products.
In addition to some business grants, the business is being sustained by sales of our products.
What were the most difficult issues you had to overcome and what did you do about it? What problem are you trying to solve currently?
The Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative started as a novel idea which we pioneered in Ghana. It required us to modify existing well-established techniques and approaches, and connect various stakeholders to form a new system. There is some amount of risk with trying out something new and we faced three main challenges in developing our inclusive business model. We addressed them in the following ways:
- Slow market development for our bamboo bikes: We explored different ways of strategic communication, advertisement and publicity. We market the bikes as highly durable and cost-efficient products. Being made from bamboo and by people from rural communities is just a “story” behind the bikes. Most of our products cannot be directly identified as made from bamboo unless specified. This has helped us attract a larger consumer audience.
- Labour-related problems: There were no existing bamboo bike builders to start with so we had to invest in training highly skilled bamboo bike builders and identify alternative people who could perform the functions of the existing bamboo bike builders. We trained some of our bamboo bike builders with multiple skill sets, so that they can replace other positions for a short period of time when necessary.
- Wrong Perception about NGOs: Often, communities are used to ‘NGO give-aways’ and we had to ensure a shift from this perception to ensure that the Ghana Bamboo Bikes Initiative, which is a social enterprise project of the NGO, is perceived as a business opportunity and a profit-generating social enterprise that empowers rural dwellers and their communities. Our current dilemma is getting enough funding to expand our operations.
Were you ever at a stage where you wanted to give up and close down your business?
Well, as human as we are sometimes taken by emotions and sometimes when we are overwhelmed with a lot of tasks and other pressures we are tempted to say ‘why did we choose this path’. Nevertheless, it has not reached a stage where I want to give up. One important thing I believe in is that as an entrepreneur you need to be self-motivated and that it is important to understand what your main motivation and goals are so that you can focus your efforts on reaching those goals. You need to be equipped with optimism, confidence, self-awareness and knowledge and once you are passionate about the success of your business and you love what you are doing it shall definitely keep you going.
What should other (women) entrepreneurs try to avoid?
Sometimes when you are starting a business and lack funds we tend to bring in relatives and friends to come and support us in our business. Whiles there is nothing wrong with bringing in your trusted friends and relatives to help you build your business, it is important to fill positions based on one’s ability, qualifications and experience and not on the basis of their familiarity with the entrepreneur. If you want to build a highly successful business, try to do away with nepotism as it is seen as unprofessional and high risk in business.
What were the best three things you ever did for growing your business?
(1) I joined relevant international networks, such as United Success and the World Entrepreneurship Forum. Membership to such networks with its attendant networking sessions opens a lot of doors that I ordinarily would not be able to access; (2) I encouraged my workers, motivated them and always look for the best in them. This encourages them to give their best and increase production and profitability; (3) I learnt about my niche market, know my customers and stay focused and always producing the best product.
How do you support women in and through your business?
There are so many ways that we support women in the business. There are more women employees than men, women occupy the top most management team and there is high opportunity for growth. We also support workers with soft loans and access to others forms of government and private sources of diverse assistance.
What kind of materials do you think would be useful to add to the Knowledge Gateway?
What would be really useful to have on the site is information relating to marketing and fundraising including a list of financing sources in both developing and developed countries. Access to an online women mentor and guidance on developing media strategies would also be very helpful.