Sweetpot yogurt is a flagship brand that produces delicious yogurt enriched with highly nutritious Orange-fleshed sweetpotato (OFSP). Sweetpotato yogurt is naturally flavored and supplemented with Vitamin A, and dietary fibres, presenting consumers with a healthy food choice. The product was developed with the aim of promoting the consumption of OFSP and providing markets for OFSP farmers in Ghana. The idea for sweetpotato yogurt began as a student project that quickly developed into a start-up business. It has been an inspiring journey of hard work, creativity and entrepreneurship.
Research has shown how OFSP is a rich source of vitamin A and viable food choice in addressing the issue of vitamin A deficiency syndrome especially in developing countries. While there are efforts to develop new products and incorporate OFSP into existing ones, entrepreneurship plays a key role in ensuring that these products can achieve their aim of improving the lives of people both nutritionally and economically. Adopting sustainable business models for novel products of this nature does not only promote research-based food interventions but also encourages young people to explore their entrepreneurial potential and challenges educational institutions to provide resources for students to consider starting businesses from simple ideas.
In the final year of my undergraduate studies at KNUST in Ghana, I worked on a student project to develop a standard recipe for the production of an OFSP yogurt. This was part of requirements by the Department of Food Science and Technology to complete the undergraduate program but for me, it was only the beginning of my journey.
The Support of the Department
The Food Science department at KNUST played a major role in my journey as a food scientist and entrepreneur. Through the department’s relationship with the International Potato Centre, I was offered the opportunity to work with experts in the field as an intern. The experience was invaluable and this greatly influenced the idea of sweetpotato yogurt. I must admit that having a wonderful mentor in the person of Prof. Ibok Oduro who recognized my potential and encouraged me at every step was instrumental in getting the idea of the ground. The department also provided opportunities to exhibit the product at conferences and promote the concept. A temporary production space was also provided to support the start-up.
The British Council also played a very important role in developing sweetpotato yogurt into a start-up business I applied for the British Council Blazing Trails for Entrepreneurs soon after graduating from KNUST in June 2016 and after a rigorous application process, I was enrolled in the entrepreneurship program. I developed a number of skills that I found extremely useful as an entrepreneur. These included developing a business model canvas, record keeping, pitching business ideas, generating business ideas and time management.
Blazing Trails Pitch Competition
I took the initiative to participate in the Blazing Trails Pitch Competition and after a series of short essays, interviews and presentations, sweetpotato yogurt was rated among the top 5 finalists. This was a considerable achievement for me considering the number and quality if business ideas in the competition. I was sponsored to attend the Enterprise Africa Summit, which was an amazing and profound experience and expanded my perspective on business and its ability to impact lives. Constructive feedback from the panel contributed a great deal in improving sweetpotato yogurt, especially with the packaging.
The Kumasi Business Incubator (KNUST)
In the early stages of the sweet yogurt start-up, Prof Ibok Oduro introduced me to the Business Incubator at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Being the first person from the department of Food Science and Technology to join the cohort of IT related start-ups was another opportunity to receive business development support to keep the idea running. Bi-weekly business classes facilitated by Mr. Samuel Akomea, expanded my view of how to navigate the business world and to take key actions such as business registration, marketing and other statutory requirements for the start-up. The lessons involved a series of practical based assessment of business ideas, business plan development, market research and validation, business cost structure, Branding and incorporation. I further developed my mentoring and networking skills as I interacted with other start-ups in the Incubator. They were helpful in giving constructive feedback on the product and how best I could market it especially on social media platforms. I also had the opportunity to meet a graduate who helped design the label for the product. The incubator also provided a working space which was very useful for the start-up.
Conference Presentations and Exhibitions
The findings from my student research on an OFSP yogurt presented at the Ghana Science Association Conference in 2016 and 2017 under the topics “Recipe Standardization for production of sweetpotato yoghurt” and “Translating Student’s Academic Research into Business;
The Case Study of Sweetpotato Yogurt”. Both presentations were awarded the 2nd and 3rd best presentations respectively.
The sweetpotato yogurt products have been exhibited and sold at occasions such as SME Ghana Awards Night, SCISA week 2016, Tratech (KNUST), Sensory Evaluation Course, Centre for Business Development Entrepreneurship Clinics, Everything you need to know about Sweetpotato, and the KNUST 51st congregation (where we had the Vice Chancellor of KNUST, the Tek TV, GTV among others visit the stand).I also had the opportunity to facilitate the Entrepreneurship talk on the Artisanal Chocolate making short course organized by the Department of Food Science and Technology, KNUST.
Down the lane, several interviews and pitching sessions lead to the following Awards;
Winner of the Rising Star Category, SME Ghana Awards, September 2017, with Business support packages
3rd Place in the British Council Blazing Trails Pitch Competition 2017 which came with a cash prize and a video documentary of the start-up.
Challenges and lessons learnt
There were a number of challenges at every stage and it was particularly difficult combining my day job as a National Service personnel in the university with the sweetpotato yogurt start-up. I had to believe in the idea enough to push in my monthly allowance to make the idea tangible. I was fortunate to have a team of student volunteers who assisted me with throughout the development of the product. It was also an opportunity for many of them to gain some experience and consider developing their own businesses. I also received a lot of help from my mentors, particularly Prof Ibok Oduro who kept encouraging throughout the whole journey and still does. Despite the challenges, it was very rewarding to see all the hard work pay off. I encourage my colleagues out there to make use of available resources (not money only) to explore and develop their entrepreneurial tendencies.
The Future and Social Impact
Although sweetpotato yogurt is in its early stages, the ultimate goal is to increase its capacity and develop key partnerships and funding support which will inadvertently provide jobs a number of people including farmers and workers along the production and supply chain.
As a consequence, I expect the success of the sweetpotato brand to provide a robust market for OFSP farmers and serve as an income stream for them to support their families as well as to expand their farming capacity with needed farm inputs and implements. With the available partnerships and funds, a scholarship scheme will be set up for Framers in some deprived communities in the nation to support their children, climb the educational ladder and become responsible citizen in the near future.
I would like to acknowledge British Council, SMEGA, my family and the following individuals for their unflinching supports and inputs on this journey; Prof Ibok Oduro, Mr. Samuel Akomea, Prof Ellis Otoo, Dr. Wireko Manu, Dr. Abena Boakye and Dr. Eric Owusu Mensah, Dr. Jacob Agbenorhevi and the Department of Food Science, KNUST