October 15th, 2007 | Published in Google.org
In partnership with Google.org, Technoserve recently completed the second Believe Begin Become program in Ghana, identifying 10 new winners of its annual business plan competition. As a Google volunteer, I had an opportunity to interact with this year’s participants by teaching a class on presentation skills, judging the final round of the competition, and conducting one on one consulting sessions. I also visited the growing operations of 3 winners from last year and saw firsthand how the Believe Begin Become program has contributed to the success of their business.
I was both impressed and humbled by every entrepreneur I met. They all exhibited a level of energy, passion and enthusiasm that was overwhelmingly contagious. Operating in an environment where sound infrastructure is not a given, poverty is a reality, and health issues abound, they are seeking to create and build sustainable businesses that will change their community and their country for the better.
This year’s top winner of the overall business plan competition, Sheila Ocansey (pictured below, left, with me, right), embodies this energy and passion. With FrutyFresh, she plans to package and distribute quality fresh fruit to local Ghanaian professionals, families, and children. Sheila was thoughtful enough to bring a sample of her product to her oral presentation, something that impressed all of the judges. I craved FrutyFresh fruit for its freshness, quality, and taste throughout the rest of my stay in Ghana. The other top winners include: Darko Abednego, Stanley Adjei, Yaw Agyei-Henaku, Joseph Brenyah, Savior Deikumah, Nikoe Gavu, Mary Koranteng, Daniel Oduro, and Joseph Tettey.
I observed firsthand the promise of what is possible for this year’s winners through visits with three winners from last year. Nicholas Vordzgbe of City Wash launched his mobile car wash service using a highly profitable, environmentally friendly approach to a common activity. City Wash is capable of washing an SUV with just 2 liters of water! His next move includes opening a point of service location and expanding his mobile activities. Isaac Bohulu launched Natural Scientific Pharmaceuticals in a style characteristic of Silicon Valley. In a room that should have been his master bedroom, he is running a government approved production facility for his flagship product, Neemfresh Herbal Mouthwash, made from completely natural ingredients. Finally, last year’s overall winner, Joseph Tackie of MeatyFoods, showed us how a shift in his marketing strategy allowed him to quintuple his revenues in one month. While we sampled the butcher’s spicy sausage, he told us of his plans to open his second store.
The Believe Begin Become program was launched with the hope that we would create an ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, customers, and employees that contribute to the growth and economic development of Ghana. Participating in the judging process, seeing the operations in action, and spending time with the entrepreneurs provided evidence that this is exactly what is happening. Participants from last year have become customers and/or suppliers of each other. Last year’s winner was a mentor to at least 3 of the winners from this year. The judges and potential investors have high standards; not only are they funding these businesses, but they are personally engaged and interested in their success. The program creates employment opportunities and causes