W.E. Do Good - Gemechu Abraham
Like many entrepreneurs, Gemechu Abraham (’11, management) knew he wanted to be his own boss since he was a kid. “In elementary school, I used to buy candy at the local dollar store sell it to my classmates for less than our student store sold it,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, the administration shut down my operations pretty quickly.”
Fast forward several years later and Abraham was coming to San Diego State on a soccer scholarship. “I also knew that the SDSU business school was very good, so this made it a perfect fit,” he said.
During his senior year, Abraham took an eye-opening trip to his parents’ home country of Ethiopia where he saw children that had no physical classroom, but were still learning under a tree. Upon returning to San Diego State, he presented his information to members of his social entrepreneurship class (management 455) taught by social entrepreneur, Michael Sloan.
Abraham teamed up with Sloan to create a for-profit company, World Entrepreneurs Do Good (aka W.E. Do Good), as part of a class project and they raised money through the sale of skin care products donated by Sloan’s company, Kalma, to purchase over a dozen solar-powered lanterns to provide to children in the village of Simbo (pop. 400) in southwest Ethiopia. Abraham delivered the lights to the children himself between December 30, 2011 and March 7, 2012.
"I also knew that the SDSU business school was very good, so this made it a perfect fit." - Gemechu Abraham
While there, Abraham vowed that W.E. Do Good would further help the region by selling the donated Kalma products with the intent of building schools in Simbo and other villages as well (the first school will be completed in 2015). He later expanded the company’s objectives by embarking on the most ambitious project to date: developing a business plan to put threshing machines in the hands of local farmers to help them deliver a cleaner crop of grain in a fraction of the time.
The initiative to develop and market the threshing machines has taken on a life of their own. Sloan and Abraham teamed up with the Zahn Innovation Center at SDSU to attain resources to create low cost threshing machines to help farmers process teff, a highly nutritional grain that is a staple in their diet.
Teff is currently harvested by hand and the grain (about the size of a poppy seed) must be removed from the plant and then must be “winnowed” which means separating the grain from the chaff. At the present time, teff is processed by beating it on the ground or having animals walk on it. Additionally, the grain is unsanitary from the dirt, stones and animal feces that mix with it during the harvesting process.
With help from the Zahn Center, Abraham and Sloan were able to engage with SDSU’s mechanical engineering students and with students from the College of Business to create a business plan to develop a low-cost, portable, human-powered teff thresher. They also developed a sustainable marketing scheme that allows impoverished women in the region the means to establish their own businesses by purchasing the threshers and renting them to local farmers.
In 2014, W.E. Do Good earned $10,000 in seed money to perfect the thresher technology by winning the SDSU & USC Social Innovation Challenge and, in early 2015, the SDSU engineering students began working on the stage-three prototype, which is expected to be ready in September. Where beating the grain on the ground took approximately 14 hours, five humans and several livestock animals to produce 2 lbs. of grain, the stage three prototype can produce 7.5 lbs. of grain in the same amount of time with only two humans running the machine. The grain is also less likely to have the pollutants and debris associated with the beating or trampling processing methods.
Also in 2015, Abraham traveled to Ethiopia where he identified an in-country artisan metal works manufacturer who will develop the next (and possibly, final) prototype and construct the threshers once they are in the manufacturing stage. A local manufacturer will not only make it easy for residents to obtain spare parts, but will also save shipping and duty costs.
We are working with [PCI] and [USAID] to provide loans to the Ethiopian women who want to start their micro-enterprise by purchasing the threshers from us and renting them to the farmers.
W.E. Do Good also has help in making all the final details come together. “We are working with Project Concern International (PCI) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide loans to the Ethiopian women who want to start their micro-enterprise by purchasing the threshers from us and renting them to the farmers,” said Abraham.
Additionally, Abraham, Sloan and Peter Morrill (an SDSU management student working with W.E. Do Good) traveled to Texas Christian University in April 2015 to participate in the fifth annual Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition. After completing with 48 other universities, the W.E. Do Good team was awarded first place in the competition, bringing home $25,000 in cash and $75,000 in in-kind awards.
If everything continues to go well, W.E. Do Good expects to have threshers available to sell to the women entrepreneurs by January of 2016. And while Abraham and Sloan encountered many unanticipated issues, Abraham urges current students hoping to become social entrepreneurs to be persistent. “Embrace the challenges that come with being an entrepreneur and don’t be too quick to crumble or give up,” he said. “Stay focused, but ALWAYS remember to have fun in the process.”