One of the enterprises Challenges Worldwide worked with during the Spring 2016 cycle is Michachn Inventions, a business specialising in the development of self-powered electronic appliances. A long walk down a dirt road from the George W Bush Highway at Hong Kong, past a local school is where you can find Michael behind his desk inside his humble office. A ‘practicing scientist’, Michael graduated with both Medical and Electrical Engineering degrees and then went on to become the Founder, CEO and ‘sole mind behind’ Michachn Inventions.
His unique and independent approach to life radiates from his irreverently positive outlook. Starting at the young age of 14 years old, Michael began designing, manufacturing and selling his first popcorn machines. After selling his first machine, he used the money to build two more machines, which he then went on to sell and use the money to build four more. Through a continued process of manufacturing and selling, Michael’s entrepreneurial potential began to flower and as his business grew he used its fruits to finance himself through university.
Despite going to university, he describes himself as ‘88% self taught’. His ability to work through his own initiative and to play by his own rules becomes apparent when you hear of the vast array of products he has designed, ranging from solar-powered popcorn machines to solar-powered motorbikes to solar-powered lamps named ‘Gloritaive’, a name inspired by his mother. Like his solar-powered lamps, his faces shines with excitement when he speaks about his next project, the Self-Powered (SP) Series, ‘the new generation of electrical appliances’, which he claims includes a solar-powered mobile phone and laptop.
Michael describes an entrepreneur as much like ‘a seed of maize’. Maize has the potential to grow to become a tall and strong corn plant which can feed people. It can even produce more corn plants to feed more people in turn. Yet, for the maize seed to get to this state, it must survive a natural and potentially destructive struggle against competitors for a limited amount of resources including nutrients and water in the soil. This description’s imagery and meaning is clear. If entrepreneurs achieve their potential, they can help to empower people around them or even help to start more enterprises. Yet, these businesses require essential inputs to grow. Inputs such as clear direction, good employee and financial management, a gap in the market for its produce and often investment which it constantly competes for with other enterprises. Michael believes the biggest way we often deceive ourselves is in believing the world is ‘nice and easy’. Through this anecdote he aims to dispel that myth, as without some of these essential inputs, an enterprise is likely to fail.
In this world, even entrepreneurs like Michael can use a bit of targeted watering to help them fulfil their potential and this is what the volunteers who have been allocated to his business hope to provide. Even though the volunteers had only been working for Michachn Inventions for one week, Michael was eager in his praise. They had already established a better way for the firm to keep its financial records using Microsoft Excel and Michael felt he was learning personally from one volunteer’s commitment to working to an organised time schedule. He also seemed particularly invigorated by the idea of having two fresh pairs of eyes see his business for the first time and he seemed certain from his experiences already with the volunteers that with their ‘abilities and intellectual skills they can bring more order to [his] business’. For a modern day Thomas Eddison like Michael, who has light bulbs seeming to endlessly go off above his head, a bit more order could perhaps be exactly what he needs.
Just as the volunteers can shine new light on old problems within the enterprise, Michael believes that his solar-powered appliances can bring new solutions to Ghana’s energy crisis. In a country cursed with recurring dumsor – electricity blackouts – and in a continent which is blessed with almost endless sunshine, Michael is confident that solar energy can be a sustainable source of renewable energy in Ghana. Michael has changed a lot since he first began the business, but one thing has definitely remained the same and likely to remain unchanged. This is his motivation for inventing his products. Michael says he feels a great sense of power when he turns something otherwise useless into something useful. He constantly aims to generate value through the natural gifts which he has been given and which surround him. Every time he manufactures and sells a solar-powered product, he turns otherwise unused materials into useful profit, much like how his products turn otherwise unexploited sunlight into useful energy. The way Michael’s motivations in business synchronise with the purpose of his inventions gives him hope that he is on the right track. Michael hopes to grow Michachn Inventions so that one day he can produce enough solar-panels to reduce their cost for businesses and consumers across Africa and he is convinced that this is ‘only the beginning’.