Our innovation addresses the issue of food security. There is an indigenous food crop in Ethiopia called enset which is underutilized and we noticed was an untapped resource. We have many of these plants in the highlands of Ethiopia, but it's not being used as a cash crop. Previous use of the plant had a very labor-intensive process, the quality of the resulting products were poor and did not address the needs of the market. Therefore, we had high unmet demand for enset-based food products due to poor quality from the traditional method.
So we are working to fix this issue. Our proposed solution is to commercialize high quality enset-based food products, which are produced using innovative technologies. So, while in the past it has been processed using basic tools, we have developed new enset processing machines, have introduced a new fermentation method and have also developed a well-defined starter culture to enhance the fermentation process. Using this innovative processing and fermentation technology, we now have high quality, value added products derived from the enset plant.
Dr Addisu and his colleagues at Lucy Enset are a great example of how research and innovation can solve local problems. They have developed a process that converts highly perishable enset pulp into flour. It will now be possible to mass produce a traditional staple that could previously only be processed and consumed at household level. This will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs in rural areas as more enset plants are grown. It will also be good for the environment. Their commitment to ensuring their new flour is affordable means that everybody wins as they tackle hunger in Ethiopia. – Moses Waweru, Senior Program Manager
Even though I’m a CEO, my team and I are scientists and do not have as much leadership experience. Because of this, I applied for the Mandela Washington Fellowship Program and out of 2,300 applicants I was one of the selected candidates. It was very exciting to be selected and the program has given me many insights on how we can manage and grow our startup.
There are also several things within the business that we are very excited about. Last month we took the product into the Ethiopian market for the first time. We also have received all our patent certificates. We have around five products that were registered for a patent under the utility model and all of them were approved and registered with our name. We also have received collaboration requests from several different stakeholders in Ethiopia, including Purpose Black, which is a large company that has its own farm and operates under the principle of farmer to market. Their CEO came to visit our processing plant, and they officially requested to work with us. The only question is what form our collaboration will take, which we are now discussing with the Lucy Enset and Villgro Africa teams.
As a startup company that is doing something completely new, we don't have skilled manpower already in the market, so anyone we hire we also need to train in order to give them the necessary knowledge. We can’t simply hire the right person from the market, so we have been very busy training those we have brought on board. Resource mobilization is another primary challenge. As a startup company, we need to have resources for equipment, vehicles, personnel and more.
Running a startup company is a challenge, but if we collaborate, if we have a strong network with other scholars and innovators, we can have a very good result. It’s important to prioritize collaboration and professional networking. Many startup companies are struggling with the same issues, so if you collaborate with the right professionals and have a network, you can solve challenges together and learn from each other.
Secondly, we have learned the importance of teamwork. We have a group of scholars from diverse fields, but we are working toward the same goal. The teamwork skills represented at Lucy Enset are a really good example for other startups, because we are all working toward the same goal. Our team is vibrant and we have a strong bond, and other startups can learn from this.
To be honest, if Villgro Africa had not supported us, for sure our company would not be here. They provided financial support with 20,000 USD, but have also given technical support, which has been incredibly important and encouraging. They have made our success a priority and we share our challenges and progress with them regularly. I would really like to thank the whole Villgro Africa team.