Planting Seeds Over IAP

Over the MIT Independent Activities Period (IAP), I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana to start an agribusiness focused on cashew production and processing. While I began working with family members in Ghana on the idea last summer, during my first semester at MIT Sloan, I’ve had the opportunity to get through some of the first steps of starting the business–taking it from an idea to a reality.

Sloan has helped me think strategically about the cashew business and actually start up operations. Advice from fellow Sloanies, mentors, and Entrepreneurs in Residence has been invaluable. Whiteboarding ideas and mapping out the value chain over and over forced me to think through the competitive landscape, potential challenges in production and processing, and figure out where I can create economic value.

Access to grant funding for travel and market research through the Legatum Center and Sandbox has also been critical. There were certain data around yields, crop and input prices, and business regulations–which you might expect to be readily available online–that I was only able to find talking to people on the ground. In addition to doing market research over IAP and meeting players in the food and agriculture space within Ghana, I’ve been able to secure farmland for production and develop more detailed plans for operations, financing, and scaling the business.

My business model focuses on maximizing tree productivity and cashew apple and nut quality, developing a lean processing operation, and establishing retail customers for cashew products in the U.S. I’m planning to spend the rest of the semester refining my business model, determining the costs of setting up a processing operation, understanding market demand and price points in the U.S. for different cashew products, and developing the branding for my own products.

One of the things I really appreciate about MIT Sloan is the emphasis on learning outside the classroom. While it’s helpful to have guideposts for different steps in the entrepreneurial journey, the most valuable way to learn is by trying things yourself and working through inevitable mistakes. MIT provides plenty of resources for people to do this, both in teams and on our own.

Even with the institutional support at MIT, starting a business in Ghana has challenges that market research cannot prepare you for. Many of these roadblocks I understood already from living in Ghana and visiting every couple years: reliable data to make business decisions can be hard to come by; regulatory hurdles for setting up operations can be difficult to navigate; business processes are usually not documented clearly, making project management challenging. While frustrating at times, each of these issues presents a learning opportunity both for me and my partners in Ghana.

I’m looking forward to building my agribusiness over the next year-and-a-half at MIT Sloan and am excited for the next steps in the entrepreneurship journey. While I know there are going to be difficulties ahead, I feel confident I’ll be able to work through them with the help of my peers, mentors, and resources available across MIT .

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