Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) is an award-winning program that focuses on empowering young men and women to drive innovation in agriculturethe largest employer of labour in Ghana. The Centre offers training, mentoring and financial reward to outstanding and innovative entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector.

In 2018, the KIC program won the P3 Impact Award organised by the US State Department, the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business alongside the UN General Assembly in New York. The P3 Impact Award looks at programs and partnerships that have the potential and prospect of improving the economies of developing countries. Last year, over 60 programs from around the world applied, however, only five were shortlisted and the KIC emerged winner.

Orient Energy Review in this exclusive interview with the Director, Corporate Affairs, Kosmos Energy Ghana, GeorgeSarpong who is also the Director of the Kosmos Innovation Centertalks about the Kosmos Innovation Center.

Can you tell us more about the KIC and the motivation behind it?

The Kosmos Innovation Center (KIC) started in 2016, primarily to leverage on Kosmos’ entrepreneurial skills to empower Ghanaian youths with agricultural entrepreneurship skills.

Currently, there is a growing rate of youth unemployment in the country. Many of these unemployed youth are educated and we want to help them turn their energy into something productive, and Kosmos chose the agricultural value chain.

Agriculture is one sector in Ghana that touches on many lives. However, it is devoid of innovation and technology. These youth are very excited by technology and innovation. So, creating that environment and ecosystem for them to leverage their enthusiasm in addition to the capacity building support we provide them, allows them to create the next generation of companies that will bring productivity and efficiency in the agricultural value chain.

Simply, we inspire, invest and transform Ghanaian youths to become productive citizens. And the success we have recorded up to date is very encouraging. For example, to date, I can say that we have trained over 400 entrepreneurs and have actually catalysed the creation of 14 start-ups till date. We also made seed funding investments in some of these companies and we have funded six start-up companies that are making traction in the country’s agricultural value chain.

In a few years to come, we can confidently say that KIC companies are contributing X amount to Ghana’s economy and making X impact in the entire agricultural value chain. I think we are on that path right now

How much seed capital are we looking at?

We give seed money of approximately US$50,000 dollars each to two companies every year. Therefore, over the course of three years, we have given out US$300,000 to six companies that have benefitted from the seed monies. The growing attractiveness is that we are also able to encourage outside investors to come in and invest in some of these start-up companies, which varies from US$10,000 to US$20,000. These investments are different and independent from the support Kosmos offers. It is important to note that Kosmos funds the entire KIC program from the time successful applicants enter the program to the time they complete.

How is the KIC program structured?

There are three stages in the program, namely: the AgriTech Challenge, Pitching and Incubation with the first two stages happening within a 10-month period.

The AgriTech Challenge is a 10-month program where successful applicants group themselves into teams, trained, nurtured and progress monitored.

Last year, about 600 applications were received but only 120 were selected. This number was grouped into 24 teams and within the duration of 10 months, participants are taken through capacity support, capacity building in every facet of entrepreneurship to help them build their minimum viable products, refine their concept, marketing, and financials.

Participants are also trained in leadership, ethics and governance – those soft skills that allow entrepreneurs to be real leaders and to with the willingness to give back to society.

That is critical and very important to us.

The second stage of the program is the pitching. During the 10-month phase, there are three pitches that allow KIC to narrow the number of participants.

For example, we had about 24 teams that participated and after pitch 1, it was narrowed down to 16 teams. This number is further narrowed to 11 after pitch 2 where the teams go and further develop their minimum viable products, and validate it. The third and final pitch will see two teams selected to receive the US$50,000 seed investment each.

The beauty about the program is that, almost all the teams, by the time they get to the final pitch have good product worthy of investment. The products, the pricing, and the promotion should all be ready for market. This is the reason why we push hard for them to have their minimum viable products ready and validated in the marketplace.

The last stage of the program is incubation, which is for 12 months. This is to allow the teams a physical place to hone the products and continue to build on their skills that will make them better entrepreneurs.

At the incubation stage, most of the teams are at the point of revenue generation because some of them already have started fully. But we allow them to be there for 12 months, to ensure that we are monitoring their activities, their progress, and ensuring that they are actually achieving the KPIs to be real entrepreneurs.

The Kosmos Innovation Program is very comprehensive. Because when you look at the success rate of start-ups globally it’s very low. We want to ensure that, we get better success rates out of the KIC. So, even after the incubation phase, when you are actually out there, we have you enter into our Fellowship, which allows you to be part of a family of KIC participants where you will have exposure to mentors and networks to help continue to build your business.

There is the third component of the program – the KIC Booster Program; which helps beneficiary companies validate and refine their business model, prepare their company for growth and access the capital needed to build successful businesses. We do boot camps for them and expose them to external investors.

Another discovery we have made is that even those that participated in the program but did not get the initial investment, don not quit. We have examples of some of the companies that did not get investments but have continued to pursue their passion for entrepreneurship and some of them are making a real success out there.

We have learned that not everybody necessarily is cut out to be an entrepreneur. So as much as you may desire to want to be an entrepreneur, you are just not cut out for it. However, by the time you are through with the KIC program, we have built your skills to the point that you will become better and more skilled employee. We are seeing evidence of that because some of them have secured employment, the employers are saying very good things about them. Equally important, they are becoming what I call the pipeline for the KIC companies that need employees to be pulling from their own because of the network that we have built.

How long does Cosmos want to run with this program?

The intent is to continue in perpetuity. The Kosmos Innovation Program is unique and gaining a lot of traction from other companies that are willing to collaborate. Considering the success we have recorded here in Ghana, Kosmos Energy is considering opening KIC programs in other countries of operation. We have scratched on something that is working; something that perhaps has eluded Africa for a long time, where donor agencies are trying to create that winning program that will address the problem of growing unemployed youths or mitigating the numerous challenges that we have in Africa. I think what we have created over here is a tip of it. It allows others to see it. We are the pioneers to de-risk the environment, to find that magic wand that allows Africans to make and affect others. We need to be able to equip the African youth with something more productive that allows them to take their destiny in their own hands.

Personally, I see a vision where when that African youth or let me perhaps focus on Ghana now, is getting out of college and he is not thinking about looking for work but they are first and foremost thinking of what they can do. I think that is when we would have that multiplier effect and cause a paradigm shift in the way the youth think.

When I heard about the KIC, I was a bit intrigued because oftentimes, oil companies invest in something that is related to their operations, but what informed this shift from your area of operation to a different sector?

Actually, I do not think we have moved away from what we do, we are just leveraging on what we do best. We are transferring the entrepreneurial skills that enabled us to succeed in the oil and gas sector to this program.

Why another sector? Because we always see ourselves as partners to countries where we operate. So, Ghana is our partner, we are part of the community and I think a good corporate citizen always want to do something that will help uplift the community. We saw the growing youth unemployment as a challenge. We saw the agriculture landscape as a real opportunity. Therefore, we are leveraging the skills to improve that sector. That is the reason why we are doing this.

Are there any plans in the future to handover the KIC to a third party to run so that you can focus on your core business?

The KIC is not actually taking away our focus from our core business. The reason is that it has become part of who we are. Kosmos employees enjoy working on the program because they have discovered something that allows them to give. Therefore, it has become part of our business; it is not really doing something different. I always call it “fire in the belly”. We have kindled the fire in these young people’s bellies, this fire is burning, and we just need to harness it.

We are very passionate about this program. Whenever I have the chance to talk about KIC, my eyes just get bigger and I cannot help but share the joy. The KIC is helping shift the direction of our country, we are making an impact on our youths – a young person whose life may be changed forever. I have no doubt the companies we have helped catalyse are going to grow to become some of the fortune 100 companies in the world. Yes! They have what it takes.

How does your program complement or serve as a plugin for existing government programs such as the “Planting for Food and Job”?

I think what we are doing perfectly complements what the government is also doing. Our companies are undertaking projects ranging from food storage, soil fertility, farm transportation, how a farmer can determine the quality of fertilizer or the chemical product and so many innovative things. All these innovations are to support and improve agriculture in Ghana. So, what we are doing is actually complementing the various government programs in the agricultural sector to ensure maximum success.

Are there any plans to collaborate with the various tertiary institutions in Ghana on this program?

Yes, we do. In fact, we are in the midst of sorting our collaboration with the various universities. Beyond that, we have universities from the US that have actually come here to be part of the program. They have seconded some of their MBA final year students to be consultants to the companies in the program. The University of Indiana has been with us for the past three years. Georgetown University MBA School just joined last year and a lot more want to be part of this program.    

Gilbert BorketeyBoyefio

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