A business idea can sound like a spiritual vision to people. Not everyone will understand, only the person who conceived the idea. That can be a little discouraging, especially when those closest to you feel you are wasting your talent with some kind of unfeasible or even unreasonable adventure. Such is the story of Bismark – our entrepreneur for this week’s B&FT Inspiring Startups. He resigned from working in a financial institution to start a business manufacturing clean cooking stoves. Read on as he shares his story with what moved him to make such a decision.
Bismark Asamoah Asante attended Sweduru Senior High School and studied business. He then continued his education at the Cape Coast Polytechnic (now Cape Coast Technical University) where he graduated with Marketing in 2010. Following that, he did his national service with the National Health Insurance Authority at Winneba in the Central Region. After his national service he had short spells working for different financial institutions across the country.
At Winneba he had a chance to work with an organisation that undertook a survey in some markets to find out what problems women face when they cook. Most of the respondents identified smoke as their main challenge, which always end up in serious health challenges for them. Touched by their plight, he started nurturing the thought of coming up with a product that would help address this problem.
As it is said ‘chance favours the prepared mind’, he came across someone who had mastered the trade of manufacturing cook stoves. So, he took his contact and told him one day he would call him to give him a contract to manufacture clean cooking stoves for him.
But at the time Bismark had no capital to start, so he kept that dream waiting until he was able to save money from the various places he worked. In 2015 he was able to gather some money to, at least, start the business. So he contacted the man and they began production of cooking stoves that reduce the emission of smoke.
He registered the business officially in 2017 with the name Nasam Brand Enterprise. He called his product ‘Obaa Hemaa Special Cooking Stoves’, where Obaa Hemaa means queen mother – as he considered every mother who takes very good care of her children a queen, hence the choice of name.
Nasam’s first major production was 50 pieces of the stoves which he sold in the Kasoa market. Today, that small business has expanded beyond imagination. He is now able to produce 2,000 to 3,000 pieces monthly. Currently, the company has secured a contract to produce 5,000 cooking stoves for a Korean-based NGO in Ghana. So far, 20 people have been employed by his company. In 2018, his company won the National Best Improved Woodstove for Household Challenge organized by the Netherlands Development Organisation to recognise the efforts of entrepreneurs in the clean cooking industry.
Bismark’s vision for Nasam Brands Enterprise is to build a business that will become one of the largest cooking stove companies in the country and even beyond. With such a vision, he said, he is open to interested investors.
One challenge Bismark faced was getting the backing of his family. His family members didn’t understand why he would quit working in a financial institution and come back to them and ask for support to start a cookstove business, which only God-knows-when it would succeed. They didn’t just understand his choice in life.
Another challenge is the high cost of production. Materials for production, he says, are very expensive, and that increases the cost of production. To make matters worse duties at the ports are also high, making it difficult to import the needed machinery for his business.
Again, getting people to buy into the concept of cooking with clean stoves was another challenge he had to face. Some did not really see any difference in cooking with an ordinary stove or a clean stove so, it took considerable time to drum that beat into the ears of consumers.
The effect of coronavirus
For him, the pandemic has come at a cost, as sales have reduced due to the fact that many were focusing on getting foods and medicines to help them fight the virus. But like every other entrepreneur, the virus has also taught him valuable lessons. It has awakened his senses to drive his business through online sales, as the personal selling strategy collapsed during the lockdown and restrictions on movement.
Role of the GCIC
Bismark says the Ghana Climate and Innovations Centre (GCIC) has been very helpful to his business’s progress. The organisation, he said, has provided him with the needed managerial training to run his business well, especially in the area of record-keeping and instituting appropriate structures to keep the business moving.
How education has impacted
For him, his educational background has been a plus to his business. His study of business at both the senior high school and tertiary levels, he said, has shaped him and his approach to doing business; especially when it comes to the area of product development.
How the government can support
Considering the high cost of doing business in the country, especially with regard to importing machines for production, Bismark says it is important for the government to exempt small businesses from paying duties on machines for production; or, at least, subsidise the cost for them so that startups can access the needed to automate production.
He also wants the government to pay attention to the clean cooking sector, as it has received no attention or support.
“What I would like to tell my fellow young entrepreneurs is that they need to stay focused. Don’t be in a rush, trying to run ahead of your time. Learn from experienced entrepreneurs patiently, and take lessons from the way they operate their business. Don’t give up when people don’t understand you initially. They will understand when the business starts reaping benefits.”