Ghana news: Emmanuel Tokunbo Darko: Finding meaning in life through entrepreneurship

It is pitch black at home in Emmanuel Tokunbo Darko’s home at Ashaley Botwe and for several miles beyond. Dumsor is in full swing. 

With only the light on his mobile phone to guide him, Darko stares in shock at the fresh bottles of yoghurt he had just put in the freezer.

For a moment, he wonders whether he should have kept his steady marketing job at Zenith Bank. Another few hours and the blackout (now in its 12th hour) would cause the yoghurt to go rancid leaving Darko with nothing to present at the food show.

He had planned to showcase Daisy Yoghurt, the probiotic yoghurt he developed with the help of a grant from TechnoServe, an NGO supports entrepreneurs to build competitive farms and industries.

In the past, Dumsor would have provided the perfect excuse for Darko to hit town, to indulge in his passion of music and dancing. But on this day, it spelled doom for his fledging business.

Early days

“Right from university, I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur but was not sure how I was going to go about it” he tells me. When I probed further, it appeared it was a natural outcome of living in the fast-paced city of Lagos where he spent his formative years being exposed to the ‘hustle and grind’ and entrepreneurial ingenuity which Africa’s most populous city is known for.

When it came for him to choose a course to study at university, Darko wanted a course that required little course work and ‘guaranteed an easy pass’.

How else would he attempt to test his many business ideas? Unfortunately for him, agricultural science demanded a lot more than he had expected and soon, course-specific minors like bio-chemistry and physics left him quite overwhelmed.

Journey to entrepreneurship

Notwithstanding the demanding workload, Darko still managed to find time to co-found the University of Ghana branch of Databank Universal Economics School (DUES), the student investment club under the aegis of the financial services giant Databank.

DUES provided Darko with an opportunity to sell Databank’s products on campus and hone his marketing skills. He subsequently joined Zenith Bank as Relationship Manager.

In 2013, Darko started an estate agency business letting and selling houses on commission. But with a plan to one day build his own homes for sale.
Simultaneously, he acquired a 20 acre plot of land in Senchi on the outskirts of Accra, to grow agricultural produce for sale. That venture failed as a result of the challenges of managing farm labour.

This caused him to rethink his approach. Banking on his knowledge in post-harvest technology, he pivoted the business to focus instead on linking farmers to ready markets like restaurants, chop bars and other business ventures that relied heavily on farm produce.

Bold steps

In September 2014, Darko left banking behind to focus full-time on his two ventures. He’d began to see profits from his real estate venture. “One deal could give me the profit equivalent to my annual salary at the bank”. He quit the bank as soon as soon as he stopped feeling excited by the work.

“When I woke up in the morning, I was no longer excited about going to work. It had become too monotonous for me and I felt there was more to life than selling banking products”.

If he needed further justification for the move, it came from his friends who were pursuing entrepreneurial ventures who he felt were living life more meaningfully; plus his deeply held belief that the easiest way to impact society was through agriculture.

Fast forward three years and Darko believes he is on the right track. Having acquired a generator, he is now “dumsorproof” as his agri-business, Babaoo Foods (which translates from Ga as food in abundance) has a network of street vendors across Accra.

He has a merger in the works and new product ideas to explore, with the hope that one day, his food products will be on the shelves of every kitchen in West Africa.

His real estate company, Verter Development Real Estates and Civil Works Ltd is also tugging along nicely, offering property development, real estate services, construction and civil works.

Personally, he’s in a great place and feels he is fulfilling his purpose. That’s what keeps him going despite the challenges he faces daily.

The list of challenges he reels under are those you’d typically expect from a fledging entrepreneur in these parts: inability to retain staff, high inflation, unpredictable cash flow and “trying to beat a system that is working against you”. “The system works against you and if you don’t consider the cause to be bigger than you, you’d give up”. 

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