How entrepreneurs turn problems into global businesses

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· TIS team enters the “la Caixa” Foundation business competition in Barcelona, Spain

Team in Barcelona: Front row from left: Charity Apreku, Eddy Quansah, Ethan Pobee.
Back row: Salma Roland, Lydia Boahen, Christine Agyare.

The audacity of these teenagers was apparent when the team was introduced to the Board of Governors of Tema International School (TIS). They had been selected as the only team from Africa and had come to pitch their product to the Board. It was a most chilling encounter, listening to these youngsters – bubbling with pride and anxiety – about to enter a worldwide competition in Barcelona to not only represent Ghana but the African continent. My response to the team after the presentation was that, “The discipline and experience alone would guide you the rest of your lives. Go for it. Ayekoo!”

The “la Caixa” competition

The competition was tightly knit around these six modules. 1. Starting a business: Yes, you can; 2. Problems: How to look; 3. Opportunities: How to search; 4. Business model: How to define my product / service; 5. Prototype: How to construct my proposal; 6. Market: How to convince with value.

The modules were broken further into 12 sessions which began with the objective of “Presenting the entrepreneurial activity as a response to a problem/need.” The last session centered on a final presentation of “The Value Proposition”, which the team had now come to pitch to the Board. The winners will be invited to the Silicon Valley, California, where the idea for the product or service would be operationalized and marketed.

On meeting the team at Tema after the competition, I asked that they write to share that experience with the country. They wrote the following:

Product for a purpose

 “The task was to develop an innovative product which could solve a problem in our community. Our product is one that continues to evolve along with our group dynamics. What started as a group of four grew into an enlightened team of 6 individuals ready to take on the world. We began as the “Rain Coaters”; our original goal was to eradicate waste products through recycling, however, we realised the idea just wasn’t unique enough. That was when Velox was born.

“Velox is a relatively thin, portable and durable device that scans blood for biological details, such as blood type, blood sugar levels, blood pH, cholesterol level, oxygen levels, full blood count, blood alcohol levels and many more. We also developed a complementary app for this device that monitors your results and gives medically certified advice with meal and exercise plans based on those results.

“We had very helpful criticism from our beloved principal, Dr. Ken Darvall; the CAS Coordinator, Mrs. Surama King; Mr. Elikem Kunutsor; Adom Berchie; Ms. Nana Attafuah, and the backbone of our team: our mentors, Mrs. Elizabeth Poku, Mrs. Lady Diana and Mrs. Norah Kepome. With them, we successfully conquered the national competition; and on 10thMarch 2018, we left the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) campus knowing that we had made it to Spain.”

Experiences at Barcelona

“The streets told stories of ancient romances, and architecture: fit for kings and queens and beauty, aged like fine wine. It was hard to believe that just a few hours ago, we were walking down the well-trodden streets of Ghana; but it was real, it was there, before us, it was Barcelona.

“For the first few days, we were able to play the role of the tourists with three other teams- one from Peru and two more from Argentina and Columbia. It was amazing to be pushed out our comfort zone; none of them spoke English so we had to go out of our way to make lasting connections.”

“The Genius Bar”

“We arrived at the CaxiaForum and had the “CaixaLab Experience” where we not only learnt about enterprise, but we experienced it too. It was amazing to see how little problems – such as clothes falling down a line – can lead to the invention of a peg which is used all around the world today. Additionally, we attended a Disney exhibit where we got into the minds of the authors of our favorite classics. From there we learned that, just as Disney stories were retellings of classic tales, we too as young entrepreneurs can choose to mould the world’s storyline.

“We had various sessions on the different aspects of entrepreneurship including a session dubbed, “The Genius Bar”, where entrepreneurs shared their success stories – one of them was even from Africa. We were introduced to a concept called “Social entrepreneurship”: business not just to make profit, but to benefit the society as well.

“On 11 May 2018, six students of TIS (Charity  Apreku as the human resource personnel, Salma Roland as market research personnel, Lydia Boahen as head of sales, Christine Agyare as market research personnel, Edward Quansah as a biomedical engineer and Ethan Pobee as customer relations personnel) packed our outfits and headed off to the auditorium. When we presented, you couldn’t tell it was a group of 14-16 year olds. We were thrilled, we were nervous, but most of all, we were proud that we had this opportunity to represent Ghana and we made the best of it. Watch out world, Novatores is coming for you with Velox.”

“Catch them young”

As we say in education parlance, “Catch them young.” My lifelong advocacy for quality education and teaching teachers are consistently nourished and inspired by such encounters with the youth, knowing as Nelson Mandela put it, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. May the good God grace the continent with such discerning leaders and gallant youth. Amen!


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