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Ashesi University has proposed a three-year initiative to create a pioneering incubator for validating and accelerating early-stage social ventures addressing global development challenges. Together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) D-Lab, Ashesi seeks to build long-lasting institutional capacity in supporting recent alumni to successfully navigate creation and growth of social ventures. It will also teach ethical research approaches to effectively engage communities and customers, while convening the wider Ghanaian entrepreneurial ecosystem toward collective action.
The project has been titled NEXT I2I which stands for New entrepreneurs Xchange for Transformation, Idea to Impact. The incubator is called the Ashesi Venture Incubator.
Here, Jewel Thompson, an adjunct lecturer on Design Thinking and Social Enterprise at Ashesi and Incubator Manager, gives insight into the hub and how it will ultimately help to support the dreams of entrepreneurs.
How did the idea for the Ashesi Venture Incubator come about?
Ultimately, this project is centered around a purpose-driven incubator that seeks to support recent graduates and alumni helping them to create hybrid businesses that create impact and deliver value through their use of the lean research methodology. However, to ensure they are successful outside of the incubator our team is simultaneously creating cross sector partnerships, disseminating knowledge products, and curating annual convening with key community decision makers to ensure fellows are entering an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is supportive and inclusive, and assists in the removal of external barriers that delay their success.
What particular challenge is it solving?
The widening gap within the entrepreneurial ecosystem calls for an emergence of hybrid business models that not only fulfil economic needs but also contribute to the social improvements of the communities. Our incubator serves as a launchpad for the next generation of purpose-driven entrepreneurs who have a desire to improve their local or regional economies. Our incubator not only provides tools and ongoing support, it is also instrumental in teaching our fellows how to empathetically engage with the communities in which they seek to provide solutions for with their businesses. Our unique offering is found in the rigorous research our team is conducting to ensure the businesses that come through our incubator have solutions that are tech enabled and have the capacity to transform economies.
What you hope to achieve with this new space?
This project is presently funded by USAID, it is a collaboration between Ashesi University and the MIT D-Lab that seeks to produce the type of fellows who will design business that will make an impact locally and eventually scale the model globally. It is our aim to design a scalable and replicable incubator model that can be shared and implemented within universities across Africa and beyond. We seek to prepare a new generation of entrepreneurs who design the types of businesses that are transformative in their operational approach and their economical impact. We are cultivating a hub of bold and curious innovators who are cognizant of the need to scale their business in a way that is purposed for a new economy. As we continue to research, develop, and refine this innovative curriculum we intend to share it across the continent and beyond.
Who else is part of your team, and what do they do?
Besides myself, our team consists of Dr. Gordon Adomdza, a senior Professor at Ashesi and the Project Director responsible for leading the overall strategy and direction.
Jemimah Alemna is our communications coordinator responsible for the marketing and communication efforts of the project, and Arkeisha Amissah-Artthur is a business consultant and evaluations specialist serving as the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager (MEL). Project collaborators from the MIT D-Lab include Libby McDonald a lecturer and Inclusive Economies Specialist; Jona Repishti who is Director of the MIT D-lab scale ups program; and Kendra Leith, the Associate Director for Research at MIT-D Lab who spearheads efforts to provide our project members with the tools and curriculum to effectively implement lean research into their market research practices.
Are you currently seeking partnerships?
As we think ahead regarding the future of this project we most certainly are considering partnerships. Firstly, strategic alliances with universities across Ghana that are interested in adapting lean research into their curriculum and student project planning, and have a desire to incorporate this incubator into their schools. We are also looking for strategic partnerships with local NGOs, social enterprises, and individual leaders within the private and public sectors.
What’s your 10-year vision?
Implementing the model in more universities across Ghana, developing the type of entrepreneur that has sustainable long-term social impact, creating a collation of disruptors that use creativity, inclusivity, and technology in such a way that it forces older economic models to shift.
Finish this sentence: By 2020, Africa will be…
… In the position to take all its building blocks and finally be ready to design the type of Africa that not only takes care of its people but transforms its antiquated operating systems.
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