The practice of setting up universities as entrepreneurial spaces is not new but it is one the Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), an organization that supports entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship across Africa, is taking the bold step to back in African Universities.
The Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Parminder Vir, engaged a group of young entrepreneurs, both aspiring and established, at the University of Botswana last week Wednesday. Vir regards Universities as an important hub that needs to be part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Her view to this approach is that big businesses stop innovating at some point, leaving a gaping hole within the private sector in terms of growth. She explained that this is where Universities can come in, by bringing business into their space where linkages can be forged as one way of feeding into the business momentum through creativity and invention. By so doing, it also exposes students to a practical learning experience into the insights of a business, in addition to the knowledge garnered from the classrooms.
The Foundation is actively seeking partnerships across the entrepreneurial ecosystem with a particular and unrelenting drive of empowering a generation of successful for-profit entrepreneurs to bolster Africa’s economic and social transformation. 11 people working within the TEF have taken to delivering on this gallant vision of Tony Elumelu, a Nigerian entrepreneur, industrialist and philanthropist. Launched in 2015 TEF represents a 10-year, $100 million commitment, to identify and empower 10,000 African entrepreneurs, create a million jobs, and add $10 billion in revenues to Africa’s economy.
In the run to making the vision come to life, TEF has adopted a collective and collaborative partnership approach. Vir revealed that she and her team plan to introduce the programme’s start-up enterprise toolkit into universities. The toolkit comprises of a 12-week programme that equips startups with basic skills required to launch and run their businesses at early growth stage. It covers several topics including starting and scaling a business, business development, marketing strategy, effective management and product design. This is intended to expand the reach of the programme in building the skills set of entrepreneurship.
A recently published report by Statistics Botswana on Enterprises and Establishments which gives a picture of the country’s industrial structure found that about 92 percent of establishments reported 29 or less employees, of which 50.5 percent had four or less employees. This indicates that Botswana’s entrepreneurship landscape is predominantly small and medium enterprises. The largest industry in terms of number of establishments was wholesale and retail trade with 36.6 percent, followed by other services industry with 10.7 percent and accommodation and food services came third with 9.8 percent. Other service activities include repair of computers and personal and household goods and other personal service activities (hairdressing, funeral activities, dry cleaning).
Should the University of Botswana replicate the TEF programme and attract businesses into its space, as proposed by Vir, the move could potentially influence the profile of the economy. It could also ramp up the impact of private sector to the growth and development of the economy, which currently is showing signs of fatigue.