How Ghana’s Michael Agyekum Addo built his business with almost no startup capital

As a young boy raised by his single mother in a poor village in Ghana’s Eastern Region, Dr Michael Agyekum Addo is no stranger to adversity. His mother was a trader and became ill when Addo was six years old. As she could no longer work, Addo took over his mother’s selling activity to provide for his two other siblings.

Michael Agyekum Addo

Michael Agyekum Addo

Later on, the benefactor who supported him financially through secondary school died unexpectedly. Addo completed the last five years of school with his fees in arrears because the headmaster of the school was sympathetic to his plight.

He repaid his fees once he had completed his education and was working as a teacher. In 1972 he entered university to study pharmacy. Addo sold jewellery part-time on campus to earn some money.

After working for a private medicine manufacturing company for a few years, Addo started his own business, opening his first pharmacy in 1986. Since then, Addo has built the pharmaceutical company Kama Group.

Growing his business

Kama, which means “excellence” in the local Akan language, now employs over 400 staff and boasts 11 wholesale and retail outlets across Ghana, two pharmaceutical factories, a micro-finance firm, real estate business and a multi-purpose conference centre.

Getting capital to start his very first shop was a challenge, so Addo set his business up by borrowing almost everything.

“I must say that I didn’t have any money, not a cent, not a dollar, but I depended upon networking, the people I knew,” he says.

Addo says he came from a poor family with no relatives to help him, but had “dreams and determination”. He saw closed up shops and enquired about them. He asked about one closed shop whose owner was living in Ivory Coast, and “he gave it to me on credit”.

Buying the supplies he needed on credit was how Addo started his business. He earned the trust of his suppliers by repaying them as soon as he could. “The furnishing and the painting were all done on credit and I started getting my first supplies also on credit and reliably tried to pay back and collect new stuff, pay back, replenish, pay and replenish, consistently like that and I grew my business with the profit that I made.”

Start with the familiar

Addo is now a successful entrepreneur whose company is named on the Ghana Club 100, a listing of the most prestigious companies in Ghana. He advises entrepreneurs to start a business in an industry with which they are familiar.

“Going on my own was much easier because I knew the terrain. So I believe that… what your parents have been doing, what you are aware of, what you have also tried on as an apprentice, those are the areas that you’ve got to start your [entrepreneurship] life, before you go to what other people have been successful in. The fact that others have been successful does not mean that you can also be successful,” he says.

Teachers can groom entrepreneurs

As a deeply religious person who believes in giving back, he has established the Kama Education Project which trains teachers to make entrepreneurs out of students from a young age.

“My belief is that the teacher can do better, the teacher can do well, the teacher can change the whole world. It is the teacher who churns out the doctors, engineers, politicians, name them. So it’s the same teacher who can create jobs through these people that he handles.”

Addo believes giving students practical insight into their field of study is vital to teaching.

“When I gather these teachers, 500 at a time, I tell them the theory behind teaching which they know already. Then the practical form as per each subject; what are the areas that you can take the children to for [field] excursion for them to see how the topic that you are teaching is related to practical life. You could also invite the contractors or the people in that field, in that practical field, to come to the classroom,” he says.

Addo is concerned with promoting education and entrepreneurship in Ghana, and has written a book detailing his advice called The Seven Principles of Success and Wealth Creation.