Improvise with what you have, advises Ghanaian manufacturing entrepreneur

Ivy Appiah

Ivy Appiah

While some aspiring industrialists might leave university with the dream of applying their skills to develop a business that adds value to local resources, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the capital intensive technology often required. And Ghanaian Ivy Appiah admits she felt the same.

She is a biochemist who graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and founded Tiwajo Industry Limited, a company that manufactures food and beauty products. This includes the natural cosmetics range, Paridox.

But when Appiah first started her company she was forced to re-think how it would operate.

Speaking at the recent TEDxAccra annual event, she explained that the technology and industry tools she needed for manufacturing her products were too expensive when she started, and she had to improvise.

“It is very challenging when you have to think of an industry – where all the big things, such as warehouses, require so much capital investment,” she highlighted.

“When I was doing chemistry in class we were told how to convert milk into yogurt. The processes we [were taught] were so big – the factory setup, the pasteurisers, the fermenters – they were so much beyond reach.”

However, after school she again looked into the yogurt-making process – a method of pasteurisation and fermentation using temperature control – and realised she could improvise using the tools she already had available in her mother’s kitchen, such as an ice chest.

She started manufacturing yogurt and it wasn’t long before she was supplying restaurants, hotels, and packaging it in sachets for children. She then deployed the same “simple processes” strategy to manufacture soap – for example, using kitchen knives to shape soap bars rather than industrial cutters. From there, she has been able to grow her business without ever taking out a loan.

Today Tiwajo Industry’s products can be found in both the local and international market and while Appiah has since invested in many of the industrial machines she needs to scale her business, she advises other manufacturers starting out to first try making do without them.

“I’m not saying machines are not important – they are very good at converting raw materials into products. They are very effective and you can produce more within a short time and all that. But the fact still remains, for someone who has just came out of school… you don’t have what it takes [to buy them]. But you have to start.”

“If we can think about how to improvise the process, it can all be possible… There are some simple beginnings to consider. Start with what you know and apply your ability – just putting in what you have learnt or know already. Make the whole process simple. And the impact is so clear. With that simple technology, simple innovation and simple ways of doing things you create employment and feed a family,” she continued.

“But it is a process. You start from one stage, you migrate to the next stage and then, definitely, you will get there.”