When Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder, and CEO of Meta (formerly Facebook) arrived Nigeria in 2016, his first visit to Sub-Saharan Africa, he headed straight to CcHUB, a tech hub in Yaba, where he watched children learn coding. He also met at least 50 startup founders and developers before he moved to the nearby Andela talent accelerator he had earlier invested $24 million in. Zuckerberg invested in Adela, according to Facebook, “after being impressed by the company’s innovative model of learning and its drive to connect the global technology ecosystem with they most talented developers in Africa.”
The essence of his visit was to share his wealth of knowledge with Nigerian youths in order to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs and business leaders. Prior to the visit, 18 young Nigerians were working at Facebook, including some of whom he worked closely with. Also, Zuckerberg was in the country to promote his business after Facebook had acknowledged Nigerians as its highest users in Africa.
The CNN, which reported the visit, observed that “running a business in the country has always been tough for young entrepreneurs,” and that “successful startups in Nigeria thrive against the odds of weak infrastructure, anemic power supply and general lack of funding and investment.”
Zuckerberg’s path to immense wealth is worth repeating here. He was sudying at Harvard University, where he started two ventures: FaceMash, and HarvardConnection.com before he dropped out to develop Facebook. He is currently worth about $68.2 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Another tech billionaire, Larry Page, the co-founder of-Google, the world’s most popular search engine, was studying at Stanford University where he and Sergey Brin started BackRub, a search engine for their school. They later founded Google. Page is currently worth $38billion.
Whatever name it is called: incubator, accelerator or startup, experts have described the development of business ideas on campus as the only place for customer-students and friends to test and promote an idea for free. That is why they want students to start a business on campus with whatever they have. Campus incubators present a natural setting for students to share ideas with aspiring entrepreneurs, learn best practices, and seek funding from investors to test their ideas.
If a business idea fails, the lessons learnt will come in handy in future. And if it succeeds, the student simply takes it to a new height. “Universities have strong links to industry and with access to research and innovations are in the perfect position to be a key driver of entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Philip Marais, CEO at LaunchLab, who has been involved with startups for more than 20 years.
In most universities in developed countries, especially in the US and Canada, there is an entrenched entrepreneurial culture that make universities give students access to business support programmes, as well as the funds or grants they need to launch out.
Some universities that are not financially strong to run an in-house business incubator partner with nearby companies that provide rmentorship and workshops to mouid students into successful entrepreneurs. In return, such companies buy into the startup efforts of the students or offer them jobs.
Problem solvers, job creators
The university start-up culture has led to the question: How many of your graduates have created jobs from the normal sounding, how many of your graduates have found jobs. Young tech innovators only need an idea, a laptop or Android phone in an open concept office with like-minded students in a relaxed setting to build an online business around their own innovations. And any university-incubated business started by a student, no matter how small or shaky has the potential of growing into a business that employs people.
The few start-up incubators in the country are privately-owned, while only three are based in the universities. Yet, the country’s next generation of business leaders are currently studying in the universities and other institutions of learning.
The three business incubators or startups that currently exist in the country’s universities include: Roar Nigeria Hub at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Hebron Start-up Lab, owned by Convenant University, Ota, and the BOI-UNILAG Incubation & Co-Working Hub owned by the University of Lagos.
The Roar Nigeria Hub of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka is regarded as the first university business accelerator in the country, and West Africa. It was started in 2017 by two Nsukka engineering graduates, Charles Emembolu and Okechi Igwebuike. The Hub is focused on producing the next generation of entrepreneurs through support systems and skills-set to succeed as tech entrepreneurs.
The second one is Hebron Startup Lab at
Convenant University (CU). It is an extension of the university’s entrepreneurship education.
In 2021 the University of Lagos opened it’s
incubation hub: the BOI-UNILAG Incubation & Co-Working Hub, with the support of the Bank of Industry (BoI). The university’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Oluwatoyin T. Ogundipe, promised startup grants for successful entrepreneurs produced by the hub.
Other Nigerian universities either offer courses in entrepreneural or business studies or in still aquisition programmes to students seeking a direction in business. The problem with such courses is that they are not complete or designed to handle 21st Century business challenges. In some of these univeraities students only have classroom interactions and hardly exposed to a real-life business environment.
But Dr. Henry Ejo-Orusa, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Management Sciences, Rivers State University has rightly observed that:”…’technological entrepreneurship’ is what drives the economy and makes the difference between affluent and impoverished societies…”
In early 2022, the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State, said it would start providing startup capital for the institution’s student-entrepreneurs to actualize their business ideas. The University’s Vice-Chancellor, Lawrence Ezemonye, announced this in Okada, while declaring open the University’s 9th Students’ Product Exhibition and Trade Fair, where over 700 students were trained under the school’s entrepreneurship and skill acquisition programme.
Then, there is the American University of Nigeria, AUN which regularly organize events for students to pitch their business plans before the School of Business & Entrepreneurship (SBE). In 2022, four startups got the approval of their faculty mentors to get $5,000 seed out of seven startups that participated.
The pitches of the winners include: Stop & Shop (Merchandising), HydroCash Limited (Financial Services), Alternate World(Virtual Reality Gaming) and Doodles(Branding Company).
Adebisi Agbonlahon, in a paper titled: “Challenges of Entrepreneurial Education in Nigerian Universities: Towards a Repositioning for Impact,” decried the manner universities run their entrepreneurial programmes.
“Over the years, while graduates unemployment’s has not abated, there is a growing national discontentment on the socio-economic relevance of the course in Nigeria education,” she says.
There has been cases where a university’s business Incubation initiatives is directed at regional economic development efforts for local businesses to thrive.
South Africa leads in Africa
For many years, South Africa has maintained the lead in university innovative start-up programmes in Africa.
The country’s university environment embodies the fact that innovative ideas can create opportunities and shape the future.
Most South African universities see on-campus accelerators as a major contributor to the country’s future growth. The decades of apartheid rule, which created one of the most unequal societies in the world had forced successive governments to initiate various econonic programmes to tackle poverty.
Although, gains have been made over the years as more econonically-disadvantaged blacks venture into areas that were once in the hands of white South Africans, poverty remains astonishingly high among blacks. And with high crime and unemployment rates, especially among the 15-24 age bracket, university accelerators emerged as the natural points to address the most pressing social challenges.
As a highly industrialized country, most
South African universities collaborate with the local industries or institutes. This has impacted immensely on the business incubation efforts in tech innovations and ‘entrepreneurial initiatives.
The Rainbow Nation is one of the two countries in Africa that boast of the Triple Helix (TH) on Uniiversity-Industry-Government (UIG) collaborations. Egypt, the other country has a world-class university incubator in Cairo-based AUC Venture Labs, which has accelerated more than 270 startups in various sectors since it began operations in 2013.
There are seven South African universities that encourage on-campus entrepreneural programmes. One of these universities, the University of Cape Town has two professionally run innovation centres namely Solution Space and Bertha Centre. The two centres also collaborate in some areas.
Solution Space University of Cape Town auports startups that are into healthtech, fintech, ecommerce, energy among others. While Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship focuses on social innovation and entrepreneurship.
In addition to the seven universities is the
FabLab:a network of labs, which “provides innovators and with tools for digital fabrication,” and “incubates commercial ventures.” It operates in Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Kimberly, Limpopo, North West, Soshanguve, Mobile and Thokoza. It is run by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Department of Science and Technology.
Innovation is a super power
These days, the universities that want to grow and become highly competitive must create an environment that encourages bold thinking and creativity. Such universities should also be ready to take the students through a pre-startup culture and development phase, while adopting new technologies that translate to success.
The development of curriculum that emphasize innovative ideas and entrepreneurial culture has proved highly effective in universities with high level success in startups that lead to new companies for economic growth.
Take for example, the University of Toronto, Canada’s number one research-based startup and one of the top 10 in the global ranking of university-managed incubators. It offers more than 10 entrepreneurship programmes in three of it’s campuses that serve students, alumni, and faculty. The univeraity also supports alumni-led startups, and it’s programmes have led to the creation of more than 600 companies and more than 9000 jobs.
In the US, entry to an Ivy League school has always been competitive, because many see such schools as an assured foundation for future success in various fields. Currently, however, universities are also being rated on the number of jobs that their students or graduates have created. That is why aome universities outside the Ivy League schools have through innovative startup programmes have emerged among the top performers.
According to Reuters, some of the considerations for most innovative universities are “successful patent applications, the commercial impact of the innovation and the innovation’s impact on subsequent R&D.”
An example of a school that has achieved greatness through the above considerations is the University of California. Since 2013, it has emerged the number one position out of the 100 universities ranked worldwide for the most US patents granted for inventions..The ranking which is conducted by the National Academy of Inventions (NAI) and the Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO) considers the number of Utility patents granted to a university or it’s reserach foundations.
The University of California is also among the top 100 global patent holders, which include global brands like IBM, Siemens, Boeing.
Vision, key to startups success
Globally, the achievements of highly performing universities are the outcomes of hard work by dedicated teams. The university President or Vice Chancellor or both titles, depending on the institution, presides over the school like a modern-day CEO. They provide leadership, promptly respond to issues that affect the institution and delegate responsibilities to team members. When there is a crisis, they step out and look for a solution.
The President or Vice Chancellor strenghtene the existing institutions within the school, and collaborate with other schools within and outside the country. And of course they introduce or strenghtene the existing startup culture.
Across Africa, the major challenge that inhibits the growth of universities is funding. That is one of the reasons it is difficult to fund campus-based startups. Always, there are other issues to handle instead of a business startup.
In Nigeria, the university startup culture is relatively new, and will take time to really take off. It is not difficult to know that access to funding or how to even go about it affect the quality of teaching and research in our universities.
In the developed countries, university heads and their teams handle the hurdles of funding by going into partnership with succesful brands and also utilize their graduates networks. Some go into production and merchandising to raise money to execute the numerous projects on campus.
In this section, we will focus on two leading universities, the Massachusetts College of Technology (MIT) and the Imperial College London to show how far visionary leadership can take a university. We chose the two universities because they boast of rich startup cultures, and a history of working together.
Both MIT and Imperial College have consistently scored high in the global universities rankings. In some recognized rankings they either lead or are within the top three. MIT is an Ivy League school that is also a Silicon Valley frontliner based on it’s exploits in technology, innovations and investments in startups.
The Imperial College, based on its feats in science and reserach is in its own class as one of the best universities in the United Kingdom.
While MIT is a privately-owned university that was established in 1861 in Cambridge, USA; the Imperial College is a public school that used to be a College of the University of London that waa founded in 1917. In 2007 Imperial became an independent institution.
There is no better way to understand the passion the global MIT community has for research, breakthroughs and innovations than flipping through a copy of the MIT Technology Review, a periodical that tracks the accomplishments of people within the MIT community.
In business development, MIT remains one of the few technology-focused universities in the world that easily connect startups, experts and investors. It’s an entrepreneurial hotbed where students meet, share ideas, and get support to start a company.
A report in MIT’s website says it’s alumni have “founded over 33, 000 companies that have raised over USD 112.96B in funding from 6142 investors.” While it’s Innovation Mastery Online Innovation course, is regarded as “the world’s most complete online course in innovation.”
At the core of MIT’s success story is it’s leadership. Those appointed to head the institution always initiate actions that cement MIT’s place as a leading institution. They start and finish strong to leave lasting legacies. The President of MIT knows that it is a privilege to make special contributions to humanity. It is an opportunity to improve and solidify; to steer people to greatness and to make our world a better place.
For example, in June 2022, the president of MIT, L. Rafael Reif announced that he was stepping down at the end of the year after almost a decade in charge of the institution.
One of his major achievements was “The Engine, a business incubator designed to support startups working on potentially transformative ideas that take time and patent capital to commercialize because they are based on new science.”
The incubator had $670 million in assets under management when he announced his plan to leave. He was also leaving behind $27. 4 billion endowment, which he grew from $10.3 billion. Under his watch, the Institute had raised $6.24 billion from a Better World campaign.
While preparing for his exit and return to the faculty after a sabbatical, he was still holding on to the ideals that contributed in making the institution a top class institution. He was still echoing the institution’s values: “excellence and curiosity,” “openness and respect,” and “belonging and community.”
Writing in his column, in MIT news, he said:” We strive for the highest standards of intgrity and intellectual and creative excellence. We seek new knowledge and practical impact in service to the nation and to the world.”
Under his watch, each day about 20 to 30 students start a company at IMT’s startup centres. In addition to startups, the Legatum Centre for Development and Entrepreneurship, specially runs a yearly fellowship that supports “accomplished entrepreneurs who are working to bring about systemic change and economic growth in Africa.”
The Imperial edge
The Imperial College startups have proved highly effective in creating products that are readily accepted in the market. They create jobs and encourage local economic development.
The College has a long-standing tradition of using research and innovation to create opportunities for future business leaders and innovators. Experts say it is one of the few universities in the world that boasts of a 79 percent survival rate for it’s startups.
The College and the students behind the startup have a partnership arrangement that is almost a lifelong affair. The College invests in tte startups and become a shareholder
According to the College’s website: “If the College can also commercialise the IP that is generated from this research then it stands to enjoy long-term financial as well as reputational rewards.
“The College invests its IP as well as significant infrastructure and resources to aid the creation and support of Imperial startups. In return, as an investor in its staff, IP and other resources, the College receives equity in startups and a share of long-term royalties.”
The university’s new president, Prof Hugh Brady, told The Guardian that the mixture of science and business is what makes Imperial unique. “Innovation and enterprise are really part of the DNA, they’re part of what attracts the students. The atmosphere is different: impact, innovation, entrepreneurship just ooze out of the institution.”
Brady, a renowned medic, who joined Imperial from the University of Bristol where he was Vice Chancellor and President, also said he was “thrilled to lead one of the world’s great universities.
Nigerian universities must utilize fees
A major feature in most Nigerian universities is the indiscriminate hike in school fees. The private universities are known to change exorbitant fees and mostly attract students from the upper class and the upper middle class. Parents or guardians who sponsor their children or wards in private universities are often well prepared to meet the financial requirements.
Then, there are the public universities owned by the federal or state governments. Some of these universities, despite knowing fully that the common people see them as the only hope for their children to aquire university education are. always in a hurry to increase their fees. Recently, most public universities increased their fees, fuelling a backlash from Nigerians. Some of these universities, like the University of Lagos increased their fees by over 100 percent.
In the past, some VCs have been invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for questioning over the wasteful spending and or diversion of funds owned by their universities. Some public universities boast of modern architectural edifices, but lack the programmes and plans to help students to create, nurture and kickstart their ideas for profit.