3 West African Startups Prove it’s Possible to Thrive in Uncertain Times
13/05/2021 - Impact Hub

Turning challenges into opportunities. That is what entrepreneurs around the world have always done, and the pandemic is no exception. This article is the first in a series of eight where we will share the stories of African startups from Ghana and Nigeria who are doing just that. From healthcare to education, agriculture, and engineering, meet the resilient entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact on their local communities as well as national economies and contributing to the country’s post-pandemic economic recovery during these incredibly tough times. 

Let’s start with some context

The pandemic had significant implications in both Ghana and Nigeria. 

In Ghana, an estimated 42,000 people lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. Their three-week lockdown in April 2020 caused GDP to fall by an estimated 27.9% during that period and an additional 12.23% (3.8 million) Ghanaians temporarily became poor.

Despite a minimal increase in GDP by the 4th quarter, the Nigerian economy suffered a -4.20% decline in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics. It is also estimated that household incomes fell by a quarter during their 8-week lockdown, resulting in a 9% increase in the national poverty rate, meaning an additional 17 million people fell below the poverty line.

It has been proven over and over that entrepreneurship plays a huge role in getting us through – and out of – challenging economic times. Yet, it is also the entrepreneurs and small businesses that are most affected by economic crises.

To help shape the post-COVID-19 economic recovery in Ghana and Nigeria and support their entrepreneurs, Impact Hub created a program called New Economy Booster in partnership with Lab of tomorrow and with support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It was designed to boost innovative, impact-driven ventures by granting them access to resources, skills training, business coaching, potential investors and more. The goal? To help them not only survive the pandemic but to thrive. 

These are the stories of three of the participants, who are developing successful businesses despite the circumstances

Three west African businesses succeeding despite challenges

The Three Cord Collective: rethinking sustainable engineering in Nigeria

The three founders of The Three Cord Collective, Banke Makinde, Tunde Adekoya, and Rachel Lulu-Briggs, had always discussed the need for a local engineering solutions company. But it wasn’t until COVID-19 arrived that they finally realized their idea. 

“The Three Cord Collective is a social impact-driven engineering solutions company with a focus on sustainable development.” — Banke Makinde, Co-founder of The Three Cord Collective.

They provide innovative, local engineering and design solutions to some of Nigeria’s most pressing needs. 

Take for instance their flagship product, water sanitation basins. A low-cost, sustainable, and locally sourced option for public centers to comply with COVID-19 safety measures. 

Their end goal is to design and manufacture sustainable and affordable products for sanitation, agriculture, and other critical areas in Nigeria. 

During the New Economy Booster program, the team learned about effective business model design, financial structuring, and market research. They also gained invaluable mentorship from field experts that helped ensure they would be able to offer this much-needed service while remaining successful in the long term. 

african businesses

Attendees at a New Economy Booster event.

Suma Systems: providing easy logistics to small businesses in Ghana

According to a report on the state of small businesses, somewhere between 31-40% of small businesses in Ghana and Nigeria were forced to shut down between January and May of 2020. 

The businesses that were able to go digital – sell and market online – were the ones most likely to survive. This situation emphasized the need for ventures like Suma Systems, which focuses on providing easy, technology-based logistics services to Small Businesses in Ghana. 

A reliable delivery system is key in the e-commerce value chain but is something many businesses in Ghana still lack. The founders, Alhassan Yakubu, Raymond Taaku, Yakubu Salisu, and Jehu Appiah, launched their unique product in August 2020 to fill this gap. 

With the Suma delivery app customers connect to the closest rider using GPS, which makes the logistics process seamless for all users. 

Yakubu and Raymond claim that the New Economy Booster program was pivotal in granting them access to learning resources and networking opportunities. They connected with various businesses through the program events that eventually patronized them and spread the news of their products. 

Since their launch during the pandemic, they have estimated over 2,000 application downloads and have over 75 recurring customers weekly. But their plans don’t stop here. “In the next ten years, we expect 90% of smartphone users to have the Suma app”, says Yakubu Salisu. They also hope to be operating in 16 regions in Ghana.

african businesses

Attendees at a New Economy Booster event.

Frish/Nshonam: supporting Ghana’s local fisher community

Frish Ventures emerged in response to a problem the founders, Geoffrey Coombs and Samuel Danso, noticed in the Ghanaian fish market. 

Local fishermen struggled to compete with cheap, imported alternatives and illegal fish trawlers.  To solve this, these two entrepreneurs decided to partner with artisanal canoe fisherpeople to take their products to wider markets, cutting down the long process in the value chain. In doing so, they were supporting them to build sustainable businesses.

“Our plan is to make sure we are changing the lives of the artisanal fishermen.” — Samuel Danso, Director of Commercial Operations at Frish Ventures.

The onset of the pandemic emphasized the relevance of the technology aspect of their solution, a low-cost marketing and cold-chain logistics platform. They decided to join the New Economy Booster program to learn to scale this specific aspect of their business. “The New Economy Booster program really impacted our business and strategic thinking”, Samuel Danso says. 

The coaching and mentoring sessions helped them elevate their pitch deck and supported their strategy development. Their work eventually paid off and during the program, they received funding of USD 70k pre-committed from investors, which they will use to expand market access, improve their tech solution, invest in their cold chain network, and expand across Ghana. 

Long term, the company plans to pilot a micro-credit product for the fisherpeople and to extend its offering as a partner for artisanal fishers across the West African region.  

These are just a few of the many ventures and entrepreneurs who seized opportunities during this period, exhibited incredible resilience in the face of significant challenges, and used the resources the New Economy Booster program provided to grow their businesses and achieve success. 

Learn more about these and other amazing businesses in the program’s Dealbook


This article is part of a series featuring impact-driven entrepreneurs from Ghana and Nigeria sparking innovation in COVID-19 affected sectors. To keep up to date with the New Economy Booster program, subscribe to our newsletter, follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, and listen to the testimonies of the participants and program managers on our YouTube channel.