Entrepreneurship is all about providing solutions to problems and the best entrepreneurs are birthed out of the dire need to fix the things that frustrates them the most. Such is the story of Adolf Afuffo-Afful, an amazing Ghanaian entrepreneur in the diaspora who has found a way to turn the solution to his food problems into a viable business. Adolf’s business idea is a true testament to the phrase “Thinking outside the box”. A problem most people face each day but constantly overlook; to Adolf, it’s the beginning of a new era and the birth of a revolutionary concept.
In an exclusive interview with Techpreneur, Adolf sheds more light on Himself and the idea behind Hive Refrigeration.
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Where do I start…I guess the beginning would be good. My name is Adolf B. Yaw Akuffo-Afful. I was born in a little borough in England to Barbara Akuffo & Adolf Afful, and as far back as I could remember I started my life in Ghana. My family and I lived in East Legon in an apartment, which was the greatest hide and seek fortress known to man. It was an amazing time in my life. This is where my entrepreneurial side debut.
My mother was a seamstress and owned her own design business. She was an inspiration to my sister and me. Her focus and drive to keep her business growing instilled so many values in us and garnered our respect.
As my mother would say I have always had that entrepreneurial spirit. She literally has books and books of my business plans as a kid. Stemming from kinetic energy sources of power to agriculture and hospitality. I’ve always been one to recognize what my environment lacks and react accordingly. If there is no appropriate fix, I will find a way to make one.
My sister and I ended up coming to the USA around the age of nine to live with my father. He is a man of action! Direct, concise & clear on every aspect and decision. He taught me that hardwork always pays off. The more effort you put into your goals and job, the more you recoup in the long run. Always place your best foot forward in everything you do, and others will see you for it. My stepmother was our headmistress.
When I say my sister and I were some hard cases when we were young, that is sugar coating it. My Step mom treated us like the ideal students, in order to keep us well rounded she made sure our academics were balanced with enough extra-curricular. We were involved in church groups, sports teams & school clubs. She always made sure that we were able to back up our facts, and made sure we were prepared for anything that came our way.
So skipping to the present, I recently graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a Marketing & Communications Bachelors and seeking my Masters in Management Information System. I have always been one to find the flaws in an organization’s structure and willing to help where I can by lending my expertise. I have recently been working with RIT Center of Urban Entrepreneurship Program, which caters to the local community by helping its residents with their potential business plans, funding, legal and marketing to help them succeed within our city.
- How did you come up with the idea of Hive Refrigeration?
In my junior year at RIT we were given the task by our new media marketing Professor Mrs Delaney-Johnson to create a solution to problems students may face on a daily basis. I started to think about the issues I go through on any given day. From the inaccurate timing of buses to me turning off my alarms in a sleep ridden stupor, there is always something to worry about. Then I thought about a problem I constantly faced when commuting to school, the issue of purchasing food throughout the day
I loved to cook but hated the thought of carrying my food around the campus. My ice pack would melt and my food would wilt and soften with it as well. So I decided my only option was to eat on campus. Every day I would spend $7 on breakfast and another $7 at lunch time. I realized daily food expenses were really adding up and began to think about how I could fix this issue. Then it dawned on me. In my teens, I had taken a trip to Hong Kong with some friends. I loved their use of vending machines for their everyday purchases from eggs to plated meals and beyond. At that moment I could feel the wheels of purpose turning in my mind. How could I repurpose those vending units in a way that could store personal food and yet be eye catching? Then it came to me, The Hive.
The Hive has become an innovative way to store food on campus, work, homeless shelters and manufacturing plants using a personal sized refrigeration unit with two tiered security authentication system. Think of it as a refrigerator “locker” you can leave your food in, knowing that it will stay cool and is placed safely away from anyone looking to “borrow” your food.
We made this possible by placing the two tiered security system one through a four pin program on the unit and the other through a mobile pod release action on the mobile app. You can even order food to your unit by using Ubereats, Grubhub etc. The Hive wishes to expand the possibilities of having your food on hand, by providing you the convenience of home with no hassle.
- What is your favourite aspect of being a techpreneur?
I would have to say my favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur in the tech industry would be collaborating with other entrepreneurial minds in and out of my industry. Learning key aspects from agricultural and banking professionals in order to adapt those principals into my company is something I find incredibly innovative and beautiful. Getting older means becoming more studious, having to learn from the people you surround yourself with and incorporating new technologies into your outcomes.
- At what stage is your startup now, and where do you see yourself in the next three years?
Hive Refrigeration is in stage one of our startup phase. We are still developing our product and right on target. We have two key building blocks that we are trying to establish with our build. The first being an appropriate solution to ventilating each of our compartments within our refrigerated system. So that we are not wasting power when a compartment has been propped open and can adjust its power usage based on the user traffic.
The second is user testing our refrigeration compartment rental app which is being embedded with some cool features that will be a game changer in how we use refrigeration. So all I can say is stay tuned to Hive Refrigeration’s official debut of our Yeti model in 2018.
Where do I see Hive Refrigeration in three years? That is a question I have recently adjusted due to our market analysis. I have always been the short and medium term goal setter. Taking everything day by day and adjusting for the future I say, but for the sake of the question I see Hive refrigeration expanding out of just the refrigeration market in general. There are so many markets that are looking for new forms of security within their storage options.
These markets include agriculture, medicine & transportation. Africa’s agriculture and transportation markets are slowly growing and the Hive wishes to be a part of that growth. The amount of food that spoils before even getting to the markets within our city are astronomical. In Sub Saharan Africa we waste around 100 million metric tons of food per year and at least $4 billion dollars in grains alone. Which is the annual caloric equivalent of feeding nearly 48 million people per year according to the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
With recent issues in Nigeria with tomato shortages due to pests and drought, to major food shortages in East Africa where they are requesting food assistance. Our goal in the future is to expand The Hive from solely a refrigeration company to an agricultural one as well. Partnering with small & medium sized farms to form a network fulfil purchase orders both domestic and international. The Hive wishes to provide agricultural education programs to our partner farms and solar refrigeration alternative which can embedded right on the farm.
We want to be a part of the farming process from A to Z, in order to make Africa self-sustainable. Our solar walk-in refrigeration platform placed on these partner farms will reduce storage spoilage that occurs when these foods are stockpiled in unsanitary conditions. We will then provide refrigerated storage vans in order to transport their produce to food markets, grocery stores, wholesalers and directly to consumers.
I know it seems like a lot, but I feel this needs to be done in order for our community and our nation to grow. If we can feed and self-sustain ourselves, we have the strength to further ourselves in all aspects.
- What was the first hurdle you had to overcome to get started with Hive Refrigeration?
My first hurdle’s I had to overcome may just have been the biggest one yet, and that was “I have no idea what refrigeration is, and who is going to help me?” Don’t get me wrong I know what a refrigerator is and what it does, but as to the control mechanism, type of coolants, ventilation systems and appropriate storage regulations. I had absolutely no idea.
So as my stepmother taught us in order to prove a point we have to back up our facts. So I took it one step further by having a meeting with a local refrigeration mechanic and wholesaler to better understand the backend and regulations of refrigeration. From there I enlisted two engineers and a refrigeration/hvac mechanic who became three of our eight founding members to date. When I say these guys know their fields in and out it is not a hesitation, being a younger group in our early and late 20’s some may say we are inexperienced. What we have accomplished in our own personal lives gives us so much more credibility in our fields.
I have helped establish thirteen different companies from multiple stages in the last five months alone. My team members have established thriving companies of their own as well dealing with electronic repair consultancy, wine based offerings, management capabilities, restaurants to a manuscript we are sure will be published. They are a very talented group and I am lucky to have them.
- How do you go about marketing your business?
At this time I have not paid for any marketing tools. We have garnered a small following of students and business owners who have seen us present and have had interest in seeing us grow. We have done a few major pitch competitions in and outside of the US and have gained free publicity through such web platforms as Huffington Post, RocGrowth, Startup Fest, Startup Grind, OpenWorks and I/O Space.
We are currently reviewing a few marketing manager applicant in order to relieve myself from that role and position. We are looking for someone with experience in marketing a startup, has a background in customer discovery and is knowledgeable about digital marketing strategies. So to all of you marketing savants out there, please feel free to reach out to us on our website at hiveuniversity.com.
- What do you do when you are not working?
There is a song by an American band: The Dirty Heads called “Vacation” which embodies how I feel about this question. It goes
“A-a-aye, I’m on vacation
Every single day ’cause I love my occupation”
This one phrase fully embodies my mindset when it comes to everything I do. If I am not working on The Hive I am thinking of another project I want to start, or another country I am planning to travel to. Other than that you could probably find me trying new restaurants or breweries with some friends.
But a passion of mine outside of the usual festivities would have to be just being outdoors. I took up growing my own veggies about two years ago and have been learning to landscape on my own as an extra activity to get some exercise. I just have to say it has been a blessing to be able to do the following and add it to hiking as well. I have always had a minor fear of heights, but I push myself in many ways to hike peaks and monuments that would’ve scared me years ago.
- What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Like most startup entrepreneurs the biggest sacrifices we have to deal with are one of the following three, time, money or control. Time being one of the hardest. I started this venture whilst attending University and I must say it was very challenging, having to balance school, work and managing a startup into my purely academic life was no small feat.
Nothing is more terrifying than giving control or equity of your company to someone else. It’s the feeling of the unknown that scares me the most. Do they have the right intentions? Are they in it for the long run? Can they deliver on their promises? This goes for many possible collaborations such as partnerships which can go awry. Luckily we vetted every partner we have collaborated with and only partner with investors who share the same moral ethics and vision we see for Hive Refrigeration.
Next was funding the project. In the beginning it was solely funded by my savings and income coming in from my part time medical occupation. We then started finding alternative methods of helping fund our projects from pitch competitions to business plan competitions and entering weekend idea lab and case study programs. Where there is a will there’s a way and my team and I are a living testament to that.
- I believe you’ve had a taste of both worlds, what is the major difference between Africa’s Tech ecosystem and that of the western world?
I unfortunately haven’t been properly initiated in the african tech ecosystem as much as I have in its international counterparts, but from an outside perspective and based on articles and friends who are in those industries it has grown tremendously since 2012. There are now over six tech incubators in Accra alone with more on their way. There are also major companies like Barclays bank, Techcrunch and Virgin mobile who have taken the initiative to sponsor tech based ventures with grants.
This to me hits every mark of a thriving tech ecosystem, but there is just one difference that I believe is key to growing our ecosystem, and that is collaboration. For far too long we have pitted ourselves against our classmates and neighbours. When we could have joined with them to become even stronger in what we are able to achieve. I believe having a system that fosters teamwork will push us into the realm of a ushering a new era of Ghana’s tech ecosystem.
- If you had the power of our country’s President for a day, what single policy would you implement to bolster Ghana’s Tech Ecosystem?
Woah! that is a lot of power in such a short amount of time! I would not want to be in his shoes, having the responsibility to ensure every citizens wellbeing and prosperity, domestic and abroad is a major job role most can’t even fathom. So kudos, I have nothing but praise to our President Nana Akufo-Addo.
But getting back to the question at hand, I think there needs to be a lot more done in different aspects of Ghana’s social, economical and foreign policies and believe a booming technological ecosystem can go hand in hand in making this possible. I would implement a policy focusing on these four areas, the recruitment of new companies, expansion of local companies, talent competitions, and talent development through education and media branding.
Under the new policy, companies that move their business headquarters to capital regions in Ghana for at least 36 months and earn a minimum $1 million each year, are eligible for various business grants and financial incentives. The policy would require 60% of all company employees earn tech industry standard salaries or, at minimum, a living wage. Next would be financial investments for government curated co work spaces, led by industry leaders domestic and abroad.
An educational program based on the STEM discipline (Science, technology, engineering & mathematics) also involving an agricultural aspect in order to benefit our Ghanaian student population by offering study abroad opportunities led by the Ghanaian government. In return students must offer at least two years of public service in governmental or non-profit associated industries. This would immediately benefit us by reducing the pressure on our national unemployment and reinvigorate the economy. Many of these students with funding could launch technological based ventures that could propel us in the same pattern as Taiwan.
- Do you have dreams of moving back home and growing your startup from here?
That alone is the dream! I don’t know any Ghanaian who has not at least thought of going back home and growing their business at the same time. The sheer pleasure it would give me to bring a potentially high growth manufacturing plant to Ghana and provide jobs to so many is what keeps me moving forward.
- Which local tech business do you most admire and why?
Funny you asked this question, I actually have two tech companies that I admire in Ghana for different reasons, but for the same outcome. I have taken a liking to how ClaimSync and mPedigree have built their brands and what each stands for. ClaimSync provides software that enable institutions and businesses to manage their records electronically. Currently, their solution helps healthcare facilities automate their patient record management and process medical records electronically. I believe this process will reduce paper waste in medical facilities and be able to expedite medical claims.
The same goes for mPedigree which helps business get constructive feedback from consumers and is able to assure users that the quality of the medicine they are taking is being provided by reputable sources. I see this venture hitting so many social fulfilments, that it should be the medical industries obligation to make sure each product produced has a scratch code associated in order to reduce counterfeiting.
- Lastly, where can people find out more about you?
Most people can find out more about me and the projects I am working on, on any of these platforms:
LinkedIn: Adolf Akuffo-Afful