ChangeLabs Africa: Accelerating African Innovation
The power of partnership and networking was demonstrated at the ChangeLabs Africa event held on Monday December 14, 2015 at Stanford University, California. This meeting brought together 20 participants to discuss how to strengthen the entrepreneurship ecosystem on the African continent. Those present included Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) www.ranlab.org, Stanford University ChangeLabs, African Diaspora Network http://www.africandiasporanetwork.org/, flexTM, HUBSV Silicon Valley Global Ventures, Stanford Angels and Entrepreneurs, Lean Startup Co, Rockefeller Foundation, MEST, Flextronics, Google[X], Draper Dark Flow, Naiss.io, HUBSV, Kumu, The Omidyar Group. Prof. Banny Banerjee,Director of Stanford ChangeLabs http://changelabs.stanford.edu/people/banny-banerjee & Almaz Negash, Founder African Diaspora Network https://www.linkedin.com/in/almaznegash led the meeting, which highlighted the needs of the African Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, and key opportunities to strengthen it. The multi-sectoral group of participants discussed the current challenges of starting and scaling enterprises on the Continent, and then identified critical “bridging functions” that a new entity—ChangeLabs Africa—could play in supporting scalable entrepreneurs. Additionally, this was also an opportunity to look into the upcoming African Diaspora Investment Symposium scheduled January 29-30, 2016.
Purpose of the event
Global ChangeLabs and the African Diaspora Network seek to create an international accelerator platform for mid-stage social enterprises on the African Continent, called ChangeLabs Africa. The December 14th event brought together a group of advisors to increase the robustness of the concept and ensure a powerful value proposition while still in early development. Over the course of the one-day strategic meeting held in Stanford University, the team 1) Defined the vision and strategic objectives for an international accelerator platform on the African continent, 2) Considered key barriers to success and identified creative pathways to overcome them, and 3) Developed a preliminary partnership structure for ChangeLabs Africa.
Highlights from the meeting Discussions
These will guide approaching the way forward
- ChangeLabs Africa is a platform which would help to fill the skills and process gap for impact-driven enterprises. It would facilitate connections between funders (venture capitalists, impact investors, philanthropists) and emerging enterprises.
- ChangeLabs Africa would guide entrepreneurs to develop and test their new products and services with real end users. In impact-driven enterprises, this early and consistent interaction with end users and communities is critical.
- One of the challenges the ChangeLabs Africa will respond to is helping entrepreneurs and expanding companies navigate the linguistic and cultural heterogeneity of African nations.
- The Innovators/entrepreneurs do not freely share about their innovations with the fear that their ideas will be stolen. There is therefore need to create supportive mentorship networks to transfer knowledge from experienced entrepreneurs to novice entrepreneurs. Slowly, a cultural shift towards advice-giving and open collaboration is necessary.
- Entrepreneurs themselves also do not have confidence about the potential of their enterprises. They often do not believe that their innovative projects can actually become big and positively impact the communities
- “It is always obvious to think in terms of who else can be excited with what you are doing and how do you get it to everybody?” added Dr. Dorothy Okello, RAN Director of Innovation.
- Almaz Nagesh from the African Diaspora Network also noted that Innovation is actually there in the villages/communities not in the Western World. Innovation is native to even the smallest villages as a practice of necessity and survival, and is not “imported” from Western organizations. However, inventive community members do not often recognize that the innovative practices or products that they have created could create tremendous value in other similar communities.
- “Additionally, the biggest challenge is that innovators do not have an idea of how to start going to talk to the potential scaling partners” Noted Dr. Roy William Mayega, RAN Deputy Chief of Party.
- Replication of workable innovations is one of the gaps that needs to be addressed
- It is now time for us as innovators and those who support the innovation process to see challenges as opportunities
- Not enough innovators are thinking about scale of their projects, thus they are not thinking far enough
- What would it take for us to create innovations that will serve and address both long term and short term challenges?
- Need to think about and design appropriate measures to address the existing gap in the basic infrastructural sector
- Frequently Asked Questions include; acceptability of the innovation? Does the innovation work? If it does where has it worked thus the role played by documentation in the innovation pipeline
- Need to promote knowledge sharing in Africa and across the world, taking advantage of the use of Modular Knowledge and Information Transaction Systems (MKITS) to escalate the message out there
- What is the innovation process and how does the innovation itself get there? Even with Innovations that have worked, it is important to understand and appreciate the process
- Need to craft all these ideas into content to inform further efforts towards setting up the international accelerator platform, ChangeLabs Africa.
The ChangeLabs Africa meeting was followed by a Introduction to Business Viability Workshop on December 15, 2015. In this workshop, the RAN Team joined Stanford University ChangeLabs Team to thresh out the details in a Business Modeling Curriculum Review to inform Business Modeling Training of the Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab Innovators in January 2016 and Business Modeling Pitching in the week of February 23 – 27, 2016. The training would involve among others; Introduction to Business Thinking highlighting the fundamentals of cost and price in addition to the structure and components of a business, a viable business with emphasis not to sell at a price where you cannot buy it back from the market for sustainability,meaningful and lasting value and the experience part of it is as a heavy mediator to how the need is felt and perceived. Need identification and the importance of prototyping all businesses. The team also highlighted some key questions to the innovators including the following; what the need is? Who is going to decide that the innovators offering is bought? What is the price will be? And how we can reduce the variable cost to bring costs down so that the offering is bought. Additionally, this team also held discussions around RAN’s scaling strategy-advancing our thinking while strongly noting what each partner/stakeholder is required to do in order to push forth RAN’s agenda. These discussions will be followed through in the Year 2016, first of the events being the African Diaspora Investment Summit, January 29 – 30, 2015.
Photos shared here