Adansonia: Entrepreneurship training with a social twist

After a pilot project involving 400 entrepreneurs across Uganda, Kenya, and Ghana, a new project named Adansonia – conducted by Bocconi University – is preparing to teach thousands of entrepreneurs across Africa with a brand new online course and expanded opportunities for building social networks and for pitching to investors. Apply here via our VC4A page.

What leads to a brilliant new business? One ingredient is thinking in novel, “outside the box” ways. Despite the myth of the “lone genius”, an innovative vision is rarely achieved alone. Instead, a great idea is a product of our peers. With a rich and varied social network, we share and acquire tips and knowledge, feedback and ideas. Innovation is a collective effort, perhaps more than we realize.

In spite of Africa’s recent economic growth and expansion of infrastructure and telecommunication systems, there is still more work to do in connecting and exchanging information among residents of different African countries. Such contact across borders and cultures may lead to a blossoming of innovation.

Adansonia entrepreneurship program

The Adansonia entrepreneurship program aims at fostering this collective innovation. It is coordinated by Bocconi University in Milan, a leading European institution for economic research and MBA training. The project targets all African entrepreneurs at all stages, from people curious about becoming an entrepreneur to people aiming to expand their existing business. It is open to people of all ages and working in any sector. The program combines online learning, interaction among peers, and an opportunity to submit a business plan to investors for the chance to pitch for funding.

The next round of the Adansonia program starts in May 2017. Participation is free. Applications are now open via our VC4A webpage.

Adansonia

Highlights from the first round in Kampala, Nairobi and Accra

From October to December 2016, approximately 450 entrepreneurs in three cities (Kampala, Nairobi, and Accra) participated in the first round of the Adansonia program. It began with in-person meetings in which participants learned to build a successful business, using interactive games and presentations from business experts and successful young entrepreneurs.

Then participants were allocated to different groups for the rest of the program. In these groups, the entrepreneurs communicated with each other in different ways to give advice and feedback on one another’s business ideas.

Some groups met in person for events that resembled speed dating. Other groups communicated virtually using Rocket.Chat, an easy-to-use “team-chat” software that enabled fast interaction across borders.

This focus on peer-to-peer networking is, to the best of our knowledge, unique among accelerator programs. And many participants found it useful; for example, one participant wrote:
“[I] liked the way we, the entrepreneurs, were responsive and zealous to help. Offering such a free help is not something one can get easily around the globe, but through using Rocket.Chat, every entrepreneur got access to so many people ready to contribute on his or her business.”

After two months of improving their business plans and helping those of their peers, everyone had the chance to submit an in-depth business plan to the pool of African investors who have partnered with Adansonia. The investors rated the proposals on several metrics, and the entrepreneurs with the top-rated proposals got to pitch their ideas in a live pitching event. This pitching event enabled participants to both practice their pitching and to get a chance to secure an investment. Empowered with the knowledge and skills that they acquired in the program, participants did not miss the target; the investor Isaac Owusu Afriyie, of Oxygen Group Limited, remarked afterward: “I am impressed with the quality of presentations by the entrepreneurs. They seem to know their stuff”.

Reaching thousands of entrepreneurs across the continent

A new edition of the Adansonia program will begin on May 7, 2017, and end in late June. Applications have already arrived from 34 African countries. The program will create a truly pan-African network of connections.

Adansonia 2017 will also provide all the participants with a new online entrepreneurship course that is taught by professors at Bocconi University and by African venture capitalists. The six-week course teaches how to create a new value proposition, test an idea before launch, assess market size and the competition, segment customers, make financial forecasts, build a team, prepare a business plan, pitch an idea, and apply for funding.

At the end of the program, entrepreneurs submit business plans for review by investors, and those with top-rated proposals get to pitch for funding. There will also be a prize awarded to the entrepreneurs who most actively help their peers: an all-expenses-paid trip to Milan for a 1–2 week business course at Bocconi University.

Applications for Adansonia 2017 are now open. All African entrepreneurs, both experienced and novice, are encouraged to join the program.

About the authors
Massimo Pulejo is a Research Assistant for the Adansonia Project and Msc student of Economics and Social Sciences at Bocconi University, Milan, with a particular focus on development economics and growth in African countries.

Charlie Brummitt, PhD, is a Research Associate at Harvard University, where he does research on economic development, machine learning, and complex systems.

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