President of Nigeria, Mahamadou Buhari, once said “Change begins from you”. And that is exactly what one young entrepreneur, Kwame Adu, did. He was worried about the unemployment rate among youth in his community and the menace of plastic bags taking over the country. This moved him to start a paper-bag manufacturing company that will address both problems. Read more as he shares his story with the B&FT’s Inspiring Start-ups.
Eric Kwame Adu Amos is was born in Akyem Hemang, Eastern Region of Ghana. He is a product of the Nkwatia Senior High School (NKWASCO) at Kwahu-Nkwatia, also in the Eastern Region. From there he gained admission to the University of Development Studies (UDS), Wa.
Life has not been rosy for Kwame at all. He had to suffer to make it in life, as he lost his mother at age five. At some point he had to be a hawker, selling chilled water on the streets before he got some money for his feeding fee.
His entrepreneurial inclinations began when he was in university. At UDS, the third trimester is normally used to visit different communities to study problems they face and students are required to come out with some solutions. So, he went back to his home town, Akyem Hemang, and realised the majority of his people were unemployed or had no gainful employment. It began to dawn on him on what he could do to liberate his people from poverty.
With such an ambition in mind, he started saving his national service allowance of GH¢250 (approximately US$50) a month. After reading wide and with engaging keen observation, he came up with a business idea.
The paper-bag business starts
Kwame Adu, who now resides in Tafo – also in the Eastern Region, observed that plastic bags are swallowing communities across the country, so he decided to do something about it. And that was when he came up with the paper-bag idea.
An interesting business module
Kwame was just not interested in making money for a living. So, he chose a business module that would address the two main reasons why he started the business, and still make the bags cheaper than plastic ones.
“I wanted to do something that would first provide jobs for the youth in the community, and secondly address the plastic-bag menace. But in all, I wanted the cost of the product to be at a price people can easily afford so that it eventually flushes out plastic bags from the system.”
Having settled on that idea, he came to Accra—the capital—and gave the design and layout to a printing house to print them for him. Then he brought the printed bags back to his residence and employed three people to glue them together.
When the final product came out, he did a market survey by asking how much people are willing to buy the product. Various prices were suggested, and Eric settled on GH¢1 – a price many find unbelievably cheap. With such positive feedback, he launched his product with the name AEA Paper Bags
How AEA Paper Bags stand out
Besides the cheap price, the bags stand out for two main reasons—quality and durability. Even pebbles can be packed in them and they will still be intact. Ever since its introduction onto the market, there has been a mad rush for it in the Tafo township and its environs.
From just a test production of 10 bags a week when it was first introduced, production has moved to 1,000 bags a week. Yes, 1000 bags a week. That is how far the business has progressed.
How the products are marketed
Kwame Adu uses personal selling methods to market his products. He takes his products from shop to shop, market to market, street to street among others, where he finds people to sell to them.
AEA Paper Bags has the vision of flushing out of the system out of the system polythene and other plastic bags that are increasingly causing harm to the environment. He wants to use this environmental problem as a way of also creating employment for the youth.
One challenge that Kwame experiences on a daily basis is having to hire a machine for production due to financial constraints. It is quite expensive to always take the production to Accra and come back to his resident town, Tafo, to finish them and sell. It increases his cost of production, and that is one reason preventing him from reducing his price further.
“For me, my wish is that the price of the bags come down as low as 20 pesewas, so that it will rival the price at which polythene bags are sold. If that happens, all consumers will readily choose paper bags over polythene bags – and that will address the environmental challenges and also provide employment to many. But all these can be possible only if I have enough funds to buy machines for production.”
How education has helped
“For me, my education has really helped me. It is through education that I valued research, and it helped me to identify a problem which I turned into business.
“Education has also helped me in my book-keeping. I am able to keep accurate accounts of my products and sales, and this has helped me track the progress of my work.”
How government can assist entrepreneurs
The best way government can help entrepreneurs, Kwame Adu says, is through regulations. For him, government must enforce regulations that will grow local industries to compete with foreign giants.
Advice to the youth
For Kwame, one advice he has for young men and women out there is that they should become entrepreneurial. He believes the first step is trying to solve a problem and turning it into a business.
He advises that youths should not always look at government to provide employment for them, but rather come up with innovative ideas which can be transformed into a business. And as they do so, they should not always put money ahead of them. The money, he says, will come when the business is stable.
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