Business Schools Spur Entrepreneurship in Africa

Business Schools Spur Entrepreneurship in Africa

Mike Quinn is the CEO of Zoona, a mobile-money operator founded in Zambia in 2009 that processes $200 million in transactions each year at branded booths and small retail stores for workers who need a place to store their cash during an era of robust economic growth on the African continent.


Although he is in fact a Canadian, educated at the London School of Economics, Quinn highlights the fact that entrepreneurship is booming in Africa. From Nairobi to Lagos and from Dakar to Kigali, a new generation of entrepreneurs are going into business, a result of dampened job prospects but also the rise of cheap computing resources, local success stories and a growing new consumer base: the middle class. 

“There is lots to do, but I really believe that entrepreneurship will be the driver behind Africa’s rise,” Quinn says. 

And business schools, both on the continent and in the western world, are doing their bit to improve Africa’s lot. 

Stanford’s startup bootcamp in southern Africa

Stanford Graduate School of Business, for example, recently expanded two programs to empower young, budding entrepreneurs and owners of established businesses in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The Seed Transformation Program enables business owners to lead their regions to greater prosperity through the growth of their companies and job creation. The Stanford Go-to-Market program is a bootcamp for accelerating business ventures to market. Both courses will be based in the Botswana Innovation Hub, a science and technology park in Gaborone. 

Stanford believes this gives the school not only an opportunity to share insights, but also gain a better understanding of the business climate and unique economic attributes of southern Africa. 

The business school, which is based in Silicon Valley, established a US$3 million partnership with De Beers Group, the diamond miner, to launch the programs in southern Africa after first doing so in east and west Africa.

“We are coming to learn as much as we are to teach,” says Jesper Sørensen, director of Stanford Seed. “If the business and job growth that follows matches what we are seeing in our other locations, I anticipate this collaboration will be a very impactful initiative.”  

Entrepreneurship key to solving youth unemployment problem, says Cairo dean

In 2015, a consortium of leading African business schools from five major countries signed a partnership agreement, which committed them to sharing resources, expertise and research to boost entrepreneurship, job creation and economic development on the continent. The African Academic Association on Entrepreneurship (AAAE), as it is known, includes Strathmore Business School of Nairobi, Kenya and the Lagos Business School in Nigeria.

According to Karim Elseghir, dean of School of Business at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, youth unemployment and education are the most pressing challenges facing Africa. “A sustainable solution to unemployment is a well-directed entrepreneurship ecosystem and a more effective educational system,” he says.

A lack of local business school options

Webster University of the US established a campus in Ghana to fill a need for high-level management training. “As a continent, Africa not only has some of the fastest growing economies in the world but also an aspiring generation of young entrepreneurs who seek to further their education by enrolling in business school,” says Christa Sanders, director of the Ghana campus. 

She says there are “very few business school options across the continent and a growing middle class of Africans who seek access to business education”, and “a scarcity of well-trained business leaders to address the many challenges facing the continent”. 

ESSEC MBAs consult startups in Rwanda

While some western business schools are setting up campuses and formal programs in Africa, others are flying in on a temporary basis to try and spur innovation. MBA students from ESSEC Business School of France, for instance, worked with the African Entrepreneur Collective, a business accelerator for young entrepreneurs across the continent, which was set-up by alumni of Yale School of Management and Oxford University’s business school. 

Charles Haines spent six weeks consulting startups in Rwanda, including URTMCC, a milk collection business. “The African entrepreneurship scene is growing rapidly,” he says. “We’re seeing growth in various sectors, from IT to renewable energy.” 

ESMT Berlin offers internships with local firms

It is not just entrepreneurship bringing the world’s best business schools to Africa. ESMT Berlin this summer launched a program with the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, to prepare graduates to gain employment through education and internships. ESMT faculty will teach pro bono, covering areas such as organizational behavior, corporate strategy, finance, and accounting. The program, a pilot, started with 30 master’s graduates from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal in July. The students began 12-week internships in August. 

“It will help tackle the issue of youth unemployment in Africa, where many young graduates lack the necessary skills for industry,” says ESMT founding dean Wulff Plinke. “The program supports the best African talent and provides a clear incentive for entrepreneurship.” 


Business schools ultimately see education as essential to creating the business leaders and entrepreneurs who can sustain Africa’s economic growth, says Webster’s Sanders. 

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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