I recently finished reading Brad Feld‘s book titled “Startup Communities: Building and Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in your city” and, since I’m a Computer Science professor at one of the most recognized universities in Angola, I payed special attention to Chapter 9: University involvement. In this chapter Brad argues that universities are the best place to foster entrepreneurial activity since they have one of the most important assets: the students.
Students are fresh blood. They have a different way of thinking, lots of time, energy and passion to innovate. With proper mentorship, often provided by professors or members of the startup community, students can become entrepreneurs while they’re still in college. This by itself doesn’t guarantee overnight success. It’s necessary that other factors are put in place such as: facilities (laboratories), entrepreneurship education programs, technology transfer offices and, of course, investment. The benefits can be astonishing: profit creation, new jobs creation, students and professors retention, economy diversification (Angola’s GDP is mainly based in oil) and innovation.
Consider for instance the top 2 most entrepeneurial universities in the world:
- Stanford university: professors and/or students founded companies such as Google, Yahoo and HP
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: students founded more than 130 companies and helped create more than 2500 new jobs
The Angolan entrepreneurial activity is still too informal, with a success rate around 3.3% by 2012. That means if 100 new businesses start in January 1 then, by the end of the year, 97 entrepreneurs will be out of business. The government started a nationwide project called EmpreendeAngola to develop entrepreneurial attitude in high school students. Diassala André, coordinator of “Programa Nacional de Empreendedorismo no Currículo Secundário” (National Program for Entrepreneurship in the Secondary Curriculum) explained the project in his TEDxLuanda talk.
Some of Angola’s universities have the entrepreneurship course almost associated with the Economics and/or Business curriculum. In his book, Brad argues that there is actually the wrong place to raise entrepreneurs: the entrepreneurship course must be specially associated with engineering curriculums (CS, IT, etc.). Why? In my opinion it is because they are more oriented towards innovation and experimentation. They are used to do stuff instead of mastering in Business Planning, Financials, Marketing, etc.
This is exactly what some universities are doing like ISPTEC – “Instituto Superior Politécnico de Tecnologia e Ciências” which teaches the entrepreneurial course to 4th year IT students and promotes entrepreneurship events with faculty and students. Another one is ISUTIC – “Instituto Superior para as Tecnologias de Informação e Comunicação” which organizes a yearly event called “Semana do Empreendedorismo” (Entrepreneurship week) where successful entrepreneurs and government entities are invited to share their knowledge and success stories with students.
The government is also tackling this problem. As can be read in the “Plano Nacional da Sociedade de Informação 2013 – 2017” (National Information Society Plan 2013-2017) the government aims to “reinforce the employment and entrepreneurship in the technology sector by creating a network of universities/institutes and technology incubators to support innovation”.
So, what else can “we” do?
- Create incentives for professors and organizational capacity to support entrepreneurial efforts
- Promote startup and business ideas competitions between universities
- Extend current government investments in entrepreneurship to university-based entrepreneurial activities
- Invest in research and technology transfer
In the next part of this post I’ll ramble about other entities (government or independent) that are working towards this common goal and introduce you to some of the entrepreneurs who started their ventures while still in school.