Eleven Fellows Succesfully Graduate From The Ashesi Venture Incubator

Eleven Fellows Successfully Graduate from the Ashesi Venture Incubator

What would happen if a recent graduate had the option to pursue entrepreneurship full time? Furthermore, what if this graduate was paid a monthly stipend, provided mentorship, professional and personal development sessions, and given the opportunity to participate in business development training sessions? With all these guardrails in place, would it be possible to jumpstart the entrepreneurial endeavor of a bold African graduate by de-risking the entrepreneurial journey? These were just some of the questions that came to mind when the Ashesi Venture Incubator was launched. 

The entrepreneurship conversation in Africa is often met with excitement from various stakeholders, in hopes that the focus on the ideas and solutions entrepreneurial endeavors provide will translate into powerful economic returns. However, one may find that even with the number of growing programs and funding pools available on the continent (albeit limited), young African entrepreneurs run the risk of building unsustainable ventures — here today and gone tomorrow. The New Entrepreneurs Xchange for Transformation Idea to Impact project (NEXTi2i) sought to better understand this challenge and mitigate some of the inherent risk most young African entrepreneurs face by addressing three key areas: (1) the entrepreneurial ecosystem, (2) the capacity for young entrepreneurs to conduct effective and equitable research and (3) an incubation program that operated in a capacity that addressed the development needs of the venture and personal needs of the entrepreneur. 

The NEXTi2i project is a collaboration between Ashesi University and MIT D-Lab, funded by USAID. The Ashesi Venture Incubator is a pilot program of the project and is designed with the intention of developing hybrid businesses that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. The incubator model is intentional about the development of hybrid entrepreneurs because it is not enough to just equip this new age of entrepreneurs with the skills to be profitable. To meet the urgent matter of sustainable development in emerging economies, businesses must also be in the position to deliver some level of social impact, be it through their supply chain processes, sourcing, or inclusive employment practices. Thus, the Ashesi Venture Incubator is a one-year incubation experience for recent graduates and alumni of Ashesi University. Over the course of the one-year experience, fellows (incubatees) are provided with financial support, business development programs, and mentorship from local and global industry professionals.  The inaugural cohort of fellows consisted of twelve entrepreneurs with ventures across the tech, fashion, agricultural, construction and education industries.

The business development modules consist of a curriculum heavily aligned with the entrepreneurship education provided at Ashesi University. The reason for this is that the modules enable fellows to utilize the learnings more practically, with an emphasis on testing and validating the assumptions they’ve made. The four development areas include (1) The Hybrid Business Model: Fellows learn how to innovate their business models to include impact and to develop and test these business functions, (2) Customer Acquisition: Fellows design their sales and customer acquisition strategies, (3) Financial Modelling: Fellows dive into the financial components of their business, utilizing cash flow projection planners and pro-forma income statements, (4) Pitch Development: Fellows learn how to position their brand and develop strategies to enable them to present their business.

As the fellows complete their one year experience, many have found some success during their time in the incubator. Dzifa Angablah of Safi Label [1]grew from a team size of two to ten, rebranded and repositioned her venture and is now stocked locally and globally. David Boanuh of Beautiful Stories Studios [2]honed his craft and expanded his production company’s vision, eventually landing the opportunity to film the ‘Beyonce, Black is King’ Ghana feature. Kevin Blankson’s SWoove[3], a logistics firm, expanded its reach across three regions in Ghana and has served over 1500 merchants and users on its platform.  These experiences and more were presented by the fellows during their virtual Demo Day on September 12th, 2020. The audience had the opportunity to see the final presentations of fellows and bear witness to their next steps beyond incubation.

A memorable moment from the Demo Day experience was provided by the keynote speaker Sangu Delle, CEO of Africa Health Holdings, when he asked, “How can we build a prosperous Africa, where regardless of challenges, one can realize their dreams?” The response to this question was answered almost inadvertently by the fellows as they presented and demonstrated their hybrid businesses. Nature of Vi Farms, when sharing some of his company milestones, stated: “We have impacted the lives of over 700 underserved people in Southern Ghana by providing lean and affordable pork. We want to be a model for young people to participate in agriculture to reduce the importation of food.” David of Beautiful Stories Studios shared: “In the AVI, I’ve been building a product of five stories called Sixth Sense. We want to tell stories that will make Africans here and in the diaspora proud of themselves. We’ve made great traction and built good networks that will take us to big screens.” The remarks from almost all the fellows spoke to the amount of work they put into their businesses to produce their hybrid models which will one day contribute to a more prosperous Africa.

What has the year taught us? It has taught us that the best made plans can go awry, but it only makes the pivot more impactful. In the middle of the incubator, the world experienced a global pandemic and every business needed to reevaluate and retool. Our fellows were no different and our incubator quickly needed to adjust to this change. Our fellows learned something that cannot be taught: the power of mental toughness and resilience. We provided them with reliefs and as a result some of their models changed. We too adapted and managed to welcome a new cohort of fourteen eager graduates and alumni ready to take on the entrepreneurial journey ahead, with the chance to look back and learn from the young entrepreneurs who traversed the path before them. As the incubator expands, the team can only look forward to crystallizing a replicable process for an incubation program that can produce more hybrid ventures.