Meet Peter Paul Akanko: the KNUST Graduate making Kente Stoles for Ivy League Schools
Peter Paul Akanko enrolled in KNUST in 2010 as a Biological Science major. He developed an interest in entrepreneurship during his time in the university through various entrepreneurship seminars he attended. When the school opened applications for an entrepreneurial training program, he applied to be a part. The Kumasi Business Incubator (a university-based business incubator that was partly funded by the WorldBank) was where Peter Paul launched his first business, the Kente Master. Let us take a quick dive into Peter Paul’s journey.
What inspired you to start Kente Master and why kente?
In 2012, I participated in a summer program with some students from the University of Pennsylvania for the International Development Summer Institute (IDSI) program with KNUST. We had visits to Bonwire and I saw all these treasures of beautifully woven kente fabrics. The avid fashion lover in me was drawn to the intricate patterns and designs. I asked myself what I could do to promote this heritage in a modernly relevant way, and what I could do to economically empower the local kente weavers. The lives these gifted and hardworking artisans were living were below average, and I had a strong drive to create something that would lift up their economic conditions.
You started this venture while you were in school. How did KNUST support you in the process of growing this business?
First of all, the opportunity that took me to the village was from the university’s Technology Consultant Center (TCC). I applied for the KBI in my final year and was accepted into it. They provided us with entrepreneurial training, gave us an office space, a laptop, Internet connectivity and exposed us to a lot of opportunities, which were all helpful in starting and pushing the business.
The Kumasi Business Incubator wanted the business to be a technology-driven business, and that was what challenged me to start selling the kente stoles online, which I perhaps wouldn’t have started out with if not for the push from them.
How did you get to have a market for Kente Master in the US?
Parag Bapna, one of the students who took part in the UPenn summer program became a good friend of mine. We kept in touch after he returned to the US, and I shared with him updates about the company I had started.
Parag Bapna reached out to Makuu (the Black Cultural Centre at UPenn) to talk to them about buying Kente Stoles from Kente Master. They didn’t have a supplier at that time so they expressed interest and that was an opportunity for Kente Master. We got the contract and supplied to them. It was a very good deal, and that opened my eyes to see there was a good opportunity for the business in the US. I asked Parag to come on board as a business partner and Rafiat Kasumu (another UPenn student) also joined. The 3 of us came together to start planning for how to reach the US University market. We sent tons of emails to schools, created social media posts, got pictures from our customers from various schools and gradually, we built a demand for our Kente Master stoles in US communities.
How many schools in the US have had ‘Kente Master Graduations’?
I would say about 30. In some cases, it is just students deciding to buy by themselves, and in some other cases, it is a student group specifically ordering, but all in all, we should have about 30 universities that place orders from us for graduations including University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth.
What do you think universities can better do to support student entrepreneurs?
I think an initiative like the KBI is very good. Business incubators or entrepreneurship programs in schools create well-structured systems where students can be taken through training and given the needed exposure to become entrepreneurs.
In what ways did the incubator help foster innovation and collaboration?
My first website was built by someone who was also in the incubator. That was a great point of collaboration among many others. The brainstorming sessions birthed many ideas that solved so many problems I faced on the journey. The requirement for the business to engage technology in its operations pushed me to really consider an e-commerce approach to pushing Kente Master.
How was your experience in the MacDan competition you participated in?
WOW! It was quite a tough and challenging one. The whole process was rigorous — took 2 years to go through! All in all, it was a great learning process and I grew a lot from it. We got the opportunity to meet MacDan himself and got to learn a lot from him. One key take away for me is his tips on how to keep a monitoring eye on your business. The opportunity did provide some exposure for Kente Master and helped me to expand my network of business professionals.
What have been some of the highlights on your journey?
I got to meet the president of France, the Netherlands Prime Minister, and the former president of Ghana. Our work has been featured in some US magazines and also on some of the WorldBank’s platforms. The McDan challenge was definitely one other amazing highlight along with getting to win the Africa Youth Awards in 2017 as Social entrepreneur of the year.
Any final words?
Africa has a lot of challenges. We need the youth to help solve these challenges. One of the ways is through social entrepreneurship, which is identifying problems and providing impact making solutions while creating employment opportunities.
I will encourage more young people to go into social entrepreneurship. Certainly, not everyone can go into entrepreneurship, but everyone can make a difference when they discover their pathway of impact.
A lot of youth do not make it a conscious effort to discover themselves and are unable to make a lot of impact in their lifetime because of the lack of that discovery. Young people should get out of the rat race and put effort into discovering themselves in order to make an impact with their lives.
Nominate an entrepreneur from the KBI for me to interview.