One of the biggest challenges facing the African continent is ensuring a strong agricultural sector that can assure future food security, and that challenge requires innovative entrepreneurs to come to the table with ideas. One such entrepreneur is Michelle Adelman, founder of Accite Holdings in Botswana, who is harnessing the power of technology combined with sustainable business and investment models to create fast growing solutions to meet the need for fresh produce and alternative sources of protein.
LoA chatted to founder Michelle Adelman this month to find out more
What does your company do?
Accite Holdings LLC is a boutique business development and impact investment firm focused on technology-led agriculture and food security projects in growth markets, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. Accite’s investment philosophy brings together proven technologies with a world-class team and localized business models to create pioneering businesses. For the past seven years, Accite has focused on developing socially responsible agriculture and food businesses including fresh produce and protein. Our main office is in Botswana, with operations in South Africa and growing across SADC, Mauritius and Kenya by the end of the year. By deploying technology and products that protect the environment and building businesses with local youth leaders at the forefront, Accite’s approach is anchored to 11 of the 17 Millennium Sustainable Development Goals.
“For the past seven years, Accite has focused on developing socially responsible agriculture and food businesses including fresh produce and protein.”
What inspired you to start your company?
I had a bit of a mid-life crisis! I spent the first 25 years of my career as a global Managing Director at Accenture. I had an amazing career working around the world with great people and leading corporate clients. Having worked in the non-profit sector in Africa for a number of years, I was constantly seeing problems but saying "but there is technology to fix that!" In my non-profit work with women and vulnerable children, I also saw first-hand how the lack of economic diversification and high youth unemployment was creating a continuous cycle of poverty. I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the leap to setting up my own firm and starting incubating and building businesses.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We take leading technologies and implement them in a very localized way in the African context. Accite’s flagship, Go Fresh! an award-winning Botswana-based agricultural operation, utilizes the latest greenhouse and hydroponic technology to locally grow Grade-1 vegetables consistently, year-round. The business has created 85 skilled and unskilled jobs by deploying best-in-class technology with an ISO9001 quality management system and operating model developed and proven over the last four years (www.gofresh.farm). Our latest ventures Infinite Foods (www.infinitefoods.com) and Crossover Quality Meats (www.crossovermeats.com) are delivering innovative ways to feed Africa protein. Our commitment to youth-led leadership teams and development keeps us grounded.
“The business has created 85 skilled and unskilled jobs by deploying best-in-class technology with an ISO9001 quality management system and operating model developed and proven over the last four years.”
Tell us a little about your team
We have a core leadership team that works across the businesses. Myself, together with my COO (Neil Taylor), Chief of Staff (Sally Overall) and Finance Manager (Gcinumuzi Viki) provide the foundation with international business expertise and pan-African experience. Each of the companies is really run on a day-to-day basis by a group of local youth-leaders. In Botswana, for example, our entire leadership team from HR, finance and growing operations are Botswana College of Agriculture graduates or certificate holders. Our corporate commitment to hire and develop youth leaders is at the core of everything we do.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
Not at all! My parents were teachers and my grand-parents were dairy farmers. I was always encouraged to “get a job” and “it’s always better to find a new job while you have a job”. The idea I would strike out on my own, in Africa, none the less, was more than a foreign idea. Honestly, I just woke up one day and decided it was time to give back. I wanted to take my experience and talent and put it to work for myself and help young people become leaders.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
Accite’s businesses create a platform to deliver affordable, nutritious, environmentally sensible food to Africa in a socially responsible model. Our team, our vision for technology and the base of our combined businesses create synergies in product line, distribution channel development, and customer reach. Our aspiration is to use new food and agriculture technology as a catalyst to solve some of Africa’s most pressing social issues like malnutrition and land reform. By 2021, I’d like to see Accite working with farmers to grow all of the inputs and manufacturing all of our products in Africa for Africa.
“Our latest ventures Infinite Foods and Crossover Quality Meats are delivering innovative ways to feed Africa protein.”
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Besides proving people wrong? Seriously, there is nothing better than seeing in real life the impact that you are making in your community. I still get a heart-felt feeling when I see our Go Fresh! delivery van around town, a beautiful salad on the table, the Beyond Burger on a menu or the smiles of my team, proudly in their uniforms as they are winning “Farmer of the Year” awards.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
It would be the same advice I would give a man. I think people have to think really hard about whether they want to be an entrepreneur. It’s not nearly as sexy as it sounds – it’s hard work, risky and lonely. I often say “everybody can be entrepreneurial, but not everyone can be an entrepreneur”. I think aspiring entrepreneurs need to really evaluate whether they have the stomach and financial resources to take a risk on their own, recognizing that nine out of ten businesses fail. The good news is, you don’t have to be starting your own business to be entrepreneurial. You can be entrepreneurial within your job or in your community organizations. I’ve never turned down someone at the office who came to me and said “I’d really like to stretch myself – and I’d like to take on this special project. Give me a shot”.
Specifically, for women, you simply have to be fearless. Whatever biases you have about women or yourself about what you can or cannot do, you won’t have any time for. So just put them aside before you get started!
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Why LoA loves it….
When it comes to challenge of ensuring future food security, the world in general and Africa in particular, needs innovative thinking and visionaries who can bring new ideas to life. Michelle Adelman is one such entrepreneur, and her ability to think out of the box helps to bring like-minded people together to create ground breaking new solutions to problems in the field of sustainable agri-business. Her efforts to bring innovative new alternative sources of protein to the attention and tables of Africa’s consumers are going to enhance healthy eating habits and make a difference to the environment and wellbeing of a continent’s growing population. Michelle and her businesses are definitely game-changing and ones to watch over the coming years. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa