When it comes to innovation, Africans are not far behind. Regardless of the many issues that we face in Africa, such as lack of infrastructure or lack of access to dignified employment, we still thrive. This is as a result of continuous innovation happening in different sectors on the continent.
Today, we journey to the country of Guinea, where we meet the formidable Wiatta Thomas, a Liberian-American woman who has been living in Conakry, Guinea for the past 9 years. She has a deep passion for building wealth and boosting the African economy through social empowerment and job creation.
Wiatta describes herself as ‘a West African social entrepreneur and economic development consultant with an instinct for creating new products and programs.’ She is the co-founder of a business incubator called “Dare to Innovate”, which is the largest incubator in Guinea. With 5 offices across the country, the company has trained around 10,000 young people and have invested in over 65 businesses across the country over the last 9 years.
Why did she start Dare to Innovate?
Today, World Bank figures show that young people represent 60% of the unemployed population in Africa. Guinea's unemployment rate was at 4.3 % in 2020, unchanged from the previous year. The largest portion of the population is the most unemployed, not just in Guinea but across Africa. For the situation to change, the largest part of the population needs to be empowered for job creation. This is done when people can own their own businesses, and employ people, which will in turn boost private sector growth and grow the economy. This is where Wiatta developed her passion for agriculture as a central opportunity for job creation.
Eventually she started an agri-hub within Dare to Innovate, which birthed another company, AquaFarms Africa. She started this company with her business partner, Bequita Mahama, whom she met on a repatriation chatroom on Facebook around 6 years ago. Wiatta and Bequita, who is also African [from Ghana], share a very deep passion for the continent, specifically for economic development. They both believe that wealth building and economy building are key to development on the continent.
Why is AquaFarms Africa important?
AquaFarms Africa is an agri-tech company based in Conakry, Guinea, which employs aquaponics farming techniques (a combination of fish farming and soilless agriculture) to locally and sustainably produce fish and niche vegetables and fruits that would normally be imported from outside of the continent.
Aquaponics is a closed system which allows individuals to manage the temperature and create new environments in order to grow or plant high quality food, ready for delivery. This reduces costs for the clients due to competitive pricing and they’re able to provide jobs for young people due to the high profit margins.
When the company started, Wiatta and her partner found that agriculture is capital intensive and whoever goes into this sector will have to manage their whole value chain due to a lack of support services - a task which is a lot to take on for a young person just starting out.
Her company then designed the social franchise concept where they build and design out a franchise unit where young people can learn everything they need to do to manage that unit, while AquaFarms manages the rest of the operational value chain, such as marketing, branding, and quality control, amongst others, and provides land, water, resources, etc, in order to reduce cost for the business owner. For Aquafarms, it reduces their liabilities and increases their assets as they are able to provide low cost loans to the business owners in order to run their systems and own their franchises.
Business lessons from an entrepreneur
An invaluable lesson that Wiatta says she has learned while building her company is PARTNERSHIP. She believes that who you work with is so important as you need to have the same values and let people work within their strengths. If there are people on your team who do not have the same values as you then it hinders your growth. Having a great partner makes all the difference.
She also believes that entrepreneurs need to keep moving forward regardless of the obstacles. When she started the business, she had no capital but still managed to design a workable system. Her proactive approach has gained her partnerships and funding with the likes of the World Bank and Sheraton Group. She says that “the key to success is seeing something that does not exist and knowing that it exists. You need to see it so vividly that nothing can stop you. You have to be able to envision the impossible in order to succeed.”
Although COVID-19 drastically affected her business, she learned a very valuable lesson about REST. She realised that rest is a right and not a privilege, and because she was able to rest and reset, she achieved a lot more and gained more freedom to create new ideas.
With AquaFarms, Wiatta is seeking to revolutionise the way in which Africans operate in terms of agriculture and food sovereignty. She is not creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs, but is about wealth building and growing into the future. This is why she is focusing on high end products, led and owned by young people.
AquaFarms Africa is the winner of the Afritech Innovation Prize. They have been provided with access to international lawyers and highly requested tech credits. In addition, they have won £1000 in cash.
You can find out more about the company here, and connect with Wiatta Thomas on LinkedIn here.