"The training with Alchemy World was excellent. It taught me how to be innovative, how to understand and improve my capabilities and skills and how to use these in a business context. I have learned about the scientific way to build my own business, how to start it, who is my customer, what is my product - to ask all the right questions."
Enterprising Ethiopia with Alchemy World Addis Ababa & London facebook.com/enterprisingethiopia twitter.com/EntEthiopia
Henok Hiluf, 25 years. Tel. 0914766778 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
My name is Henok Hiluf, I am 25 years old and finished the Bright Future and New Venture programmes with Alchemy World in 2010. I have a 1st degree, BSc, in computer science and engineering from Mekele Institute of Technology (MIT) 2011.
I am working in my private company together with my partner; we are Henok & Yonathan Bi-Product Recycling. Our license is computer maintenance and refilling printer cartridges. It is a very good business. For there are lots of used printer cartridges around – many offices print a lot and they all use HP printers. You can get a good quality ink powder here in Ethiopia and all the empty cartridges can be refilled 4-5 times before you need to change the OPC. So if you have the old cartridges you can buy the spares from the stationary shops – spares are cheap and the quality is very good.
We originally started refilling cartridges as a bi-product to supply different organisations and businesses. There are currently two other private companies doing this in Mekele and they sell the cartridges in the stationary shops.
We on the other hand pick up the used cartridges from the offices, clean them, replenish them and bring back the same cartridge to the same office.
The thing is that there are many bureaus and government offices and they print a lot. So they use a lot of ink. And many people collect the old cartridges in more or less legal ways; they refill them, re-pack and sell them as original. They produce a packaging that looks like the original, which is easy, they print the serial number of the cartridge on the packaging so they match and then they sell them as original.
And since the price for a “new” cartridge lies between 500 and 1200 birr it is a very easy and profitable way of making money. But this is of course illegal business. It is widespread, and the government has difficulties dealing with it.
We on the other hand do it differently. We always tell our customers that our cartridges are refilled. And if a customer doubts the quality of our product, we give them a sample so they can test it – and then they will buy. And as an extra service we offer printer maintenance.
We charge 300–400 birr for a refilled cartridge, depending on the size of the cartridge. And 50 birr for maintenance. So our prices are way under that of our competitors.
We are doing the business in a legal way. And our customers are always informed about our product. We tell them that they get the same product but at a much lower price. And once the customers understand the benefits they don’t mind. The problem, however is, that there is only little awareness of the value of recycling and refilling cartridges. And in the meantime people are being tricked.
So we need is to establish a system for return logistics. It should give both office managers and employees the incentives to use us; for office managers the incentives could be financial, ‘get the same product at a much lower price’ and for the employees, ‘support recycling and help the environment’. And we are working on our unique selling points that we can promote our product with. So we are looking into growing our business as an honest and environmentally friendly business that can easily compete on the price.
On the side I do another business: I design web sites. And for the future I am thinking of small-scale manufacturing. This is not yet thought through and I haven’t yet decided on the product. But I have different ideas and I have a network that can provide the machinery, when I am ready.
The training with Alchemy World was excellent. It taught me how to be innovative, how to understand and improve my capabilities and skills and how to use these in a business context. I have learned about the scientific way to build my own business, how to start it, who is my customer, what is my product - to ask all the right questions.
I have also learned to understand the customer better; I know what to ask and how to ask, how to persuade, how to sell, and how to understand what my customers want. You should be able to tell them before they ask. Don’t wait for them to ask. And you should understand what people feel about the product.
In the cartridge business for instance, everybody fears the cartridge is not original. And they usually aren’t. And they fear that it will ruin their printer. So we have to be very good at informing our customers, make them calm and trust our product. Consequently, understanding our customers and communicating with our customers is very important in our business.
The most fundamental thing I have learned is being an entrepreneur. And this is a very good thing for me; being an entrepreneur is like an adventure for me. You will fail and you will face some difficult challenges. But your life is your own. I am my own boss. I can structure my life as I want. I am free.
My future dreams and aspirations are a little different from what I am doing now: I am a writer and write for different magasines, and I am good at it. The problem, however is that you will not become a successful writer if you are not a producer in the movie industry. Furthermore, in Ethiopia every artist is poor. And I hate being poor. The producer is the richest one, and the artist is poor. So my motivation for a business is to build up the finance for a production company during the next 5-6 years. I will manage it, it will be an asset, but I will enter into the movie industry. Art is my life. And when I combine my art with my entrepreneurial skills, I can make my life the way I want it to be.
Alchemy World is a very excellent programme and it should be continued. I have learned a lot from the training and I know a lot of very good people through the training. It teaches you communication, both on a social level and on a business level. You are introduced to similar ideas and attitudes and you learn about networking.
My idea for Alchemy World is to start the entrepreneurial training already from high school. Now the training is starting at university level. But why not start at high school level? Entrepreneurship should be a subject there. For in high school nobody teaches you entrepreneurship.
This would be really excellent. For all the small shops and businesses in Ethiopia are owned and run by people who didn’t get grades high enough to get an advanced education. So instead they open a shop. These people could be taught entrepreneurship if it was a subject in high school.
Today there are only two faculties and students basically have to choose faculty based on their mathematics skills or on their English skills. This is very limiting. And when the students go to university they are all trying to satisfy the expectations of their families. But they should make their choice based on their own interest. To be able to choose one field over the other they should have some background knowledge about the field. This is not the case today and a lot of students choose wrong and regret their choices. Furthermore the Bright Futures training will help them understand their own resources and their capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses and it will further help them to make the right decision.
Alchemy World could also produce some educational material and some books for the libraries so the students could access the know-how on how to start a sustainable business.
All this would greatly benefit the students, it would benefit the community and it would benefit the economy and it would benefit our country.