Sometimes even a small amount of money makes a huge difference. An Arizona State University student took the $4,000 that she won in a Demo Day competition a year ago and created a company in her native Ghana to help feed children.

Already successful, Freda Sarfo, a master’s degree student in global logistics, won another $5,000 at last week’s Demo Day entrepreneurship competition, which she’ll use to expand her social enterprise, called Tropical Almond.

Like most everything else this semester, Demo Day was held online. At a typical Demo Day event, the founders pitch to a panel of judges at SkySong in Scottsdale throughout the day, and an awards ceremony is held in the evening. This semester, 85 ventures put together five-minute video pitches, which the judges reviewed last week. The awards were announced during an online presentation on May 1.

In her pitch video, Sarfo described growing up with a single mother in Ghana, where 1 out of 7 children dies of malnutrition. Women have few job opportunities to support their families.

The area is lush with tropical almond trees (different from the sweet almonds found in the United States), which produce hard-shelled nuts. Because the trees are planted for shade, the nuts often go to waste. Children become adept at shaking the trees to get at the nuts.

“Tropical almonds were our favorite and we were never hungry,” she said in her video.

In 2017, Sarfo came to ASU as a Mastercard Foundation Scholar, where she launched her business, Tropical Almond. With the $4,000 she won last year, she built a small processing facility in Ghana. She pays women to collect and crack the fallen nuts, which are then cold pressed. The oil is packaged and sold as a hair product for black women. The nut byproduct is processed into nutritious snacks. For every bottle of almond oil sold, one bag of high-protein snacks is donated. In the first three months, she sold 350 bottles through her online store.

Sarfo hopes to eventually start a tropical almond orchard in Ghana to produce a reliable source for the oil and more jobs.

“We’ve been able to feed over 100 kids with our protein-dense snack,” she said. “Through our outreach program, where we educate people on the benefits of the trees, we have been able to prevent more than 1,000 trees from being cut down and provide revenue for over 100 single mothers.”

Sarfo’s prize was among the more than $312,000 that was distributed during the Spring 2020 Demo Day online awards ceremony.

Unique circumstances like the pandemic fuel innovation, and that’s when ASU entrepreneurs step up, said Ji Mi Choi, associate vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at ASU.

“No one is saying, ‘We’ll hunker down and see you on the other side when this is over,” she said during the awards event.