How Research is Sparking Innovation in Incubators, Accelerators

How Research is Sparking Innovation in Incubators, Accelerators and the Entrepreneurs They Serve

WDI Hosts a Panel of Industry Leaders for “How Research is Sparking innovation in Incubators, Accelerators and the Entrepreneurs They Serve”

Time: 9 AM EDT / 4 PM EAT

Date: Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Location: Zoom, click here to register or above.

Incubators and accelerators play a critical role in the startup ecosystem by helping entrepreneurs become investment-ready and develop viable businesses. In this must-attend session for accelerators, incubators, entrepreneurs and their funders operating in the Global South, join us to discover how rigorous research fuels innovation in program design, supercharges operational improvements, and attracts more funding to this sector. 

In this dynamic session, representatives from IKEA Foundation (Netherlands), William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI, USA) in collaboration with Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC, Kenya) and African Management Institute (AMI, Kenya) will share the following insights:

  • IKEA Foundation’s approach: Learn how evidence-based, stage-gated grantmaking unlocks innovation for accelerators like KCIC.
  • Real-world impact: WDI, KCIC, and AMI demonstrate how targeted research drives continuous program enhancement, transforming entrepreneur outcomes.
  • Dismantling barriers by WDI and KCIC: Discover how we break down colonial research structures, empower local voices, and foster true collaboration and inclusivity for groundbreaking impact measurement.
  • The AMI advantage: See how AMI’s skilled M&E team partners with external researchers to boost program effectiveness using a blend of established methods and cutting-edge insights.

Please submit your questions in advance.


Yaquta Fatehi
Yaquta Fatehi
Program Manager,
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Stephen Musyoka, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Stephen Musyoka
Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, Kenya Climate Innovation Center
Nic van der Jagt, Ikea Foundation
Nic van der Jagt
Monitoring, Learning, and Evaluation Manager – Employment & Entrepreneurship, IKEA Foundation
Jonathan Cook, Chairman, African Management Institute
Jonathan Cook
African Management Institute

Entrepreneurship Development Center

WDI shares lessons with hopeful entrepreneurs on identifying a gap in the marketplace and building a business around a solution.

Small- and medium-sized businesses drive up to 70% of global employment and gross domestic product, and many are started by determined, dedicated entrepreneurs. The economies in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are powered by these businesses.

Accompanying the call for entrepreneurship in emerging markets, there’s a call for the knowledge, tools and networks to bolster those businesses. Would-be entrepreneurs working to develop successful companies are seeking the know-how to get there in a more efficient, effective way. After taking part in courses on leadership, communication, and team-building, participants in the Ford Community Impact Fellows Training program — a development program for which the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan has been creating courses since 2020 — asked for precisely that.

“They really wanted to know the nuts and bolts of entrepreneurship,” said Amy Gillett, Vice President of Education at WDI and co-leader of the Institute’s Entrepreneurship Development Center.

Gillett and David Estrada, Program Coordinator at WDI, created the “Starting a Business: Your Entrepreneurial Journey” course to teach participants the basic skills needed to effectively start their journeys. The 88 students in this summer’s program learned how to identify a need in the market, pitch a business plan, acquire funding, price a product and find a place for it in the market. While at work on the projects, the students were guided by 13 program mentors. These mentors had participated in previous online skills building programs offered by WDI and were eager to now share their knowledge and expertise in a guiding role.

The goal of the course was to set these committed students up for success in the business world by providing a foundation for a new company.

“We gave them an overview of the landscape and the fundamental skills they’d need to take an idea and get started,” Gillett said.


A successful entrepreneurship path is forged by experience — even if someone else lived it first.

Course guest speaker Jakub Zaludko, leader of strategy and projects at Impact Games, explained how he reshaped digital challenges toward commercial aspirations. As a trained political scientist and anthropologist, Zaludko observed how students in his home country of Slovakia were largely disengaged in the classroom, but they were noticeably focused while playing video games at home. Zaludko and his partners offered a solution: games with positive social impact goals. They built an innovative platform to develop games that encourage educational progress, promote freedom, and boost inclusion and equality.

Just as he did in the educational market, Zaludko explored how students can find a gap in their marketplace and build a solution to fill the void. Participants learned from his experience in identifying the community need, navigating the business world and launching a product.

The course content echoed similar lessons on focused solutions, mainly within low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). When developing the class, Gillett and Estrada wanted to be sure that examples and questions were sourced from spaces where students could see their own potential.

“Great ideas emerge everywhere. We don’t have any kind of monopoly in the U.S., which is why we included cases from all over the world when we created the course,” Gillett said.

Building a Network

Participants from nine countries, including China, Hungary, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Serbia, Slovakia, South Africa and the United States, shared their backgrounds, skills and experiences with one another — all in an effort to grow their business ideas and abilities. Business can’t be built in a vacuum, and engaging relationships are just as critical to the participants’ business development as the lessons themselves.

“To be a successful entrepreneur, you need these connections — and this is a great way to start building or expanding that network, for both participants and mentors,” Gillett said. “With these courses, we are building a global network of learners and entrepreneurs.”

Beyond simply initiating these critical connections, participants were introduced to the deep value of these relationships through their course conversations, projects and group work. “I learned about the value and importance of working as a team to solve problems as they emerge,” said a participant from Nigeria. “Each team member brings a unique set of abilities to the table.”

Pitching a Business

Ultimately, participants worked together to build a business plan and create a video pitch. Gillett, Estrada, and program mentors evaluated the projects with an eye on how well the teams integrated the course lessons.

The winning pitch was for a personalized, flexible online education company: Explore Online. It highlighted the need for customized tutors on a global level, reviewed a break-even analysis for the business and considered the organization’s value proposition.

The second-place team set out to tackle the problem of teenage pregnancy and motherhood in Kenya. Vijana Artifacts dug deeply into the issue itself in their pitch and shared their solution: viable vocational training for young mothers. They shared their business model, target customers and expected revenue streams.

The Truly Glam Apparel team came in third place. Their business pitch focused on sustainable fashion and explored the gap in the marketplace. Their solution involves turning to local artisans, relying on local production teams, and opening up opportunities for personalized customer experiences.

These pitches pushed students to hone their presentation skills. “I gained a better understanding of how I can present my new project to others,” said a participant from China.


To the participants, this course wasn’t just an academic venture. It was a professional stepping stone. Most participants either had a business plan in mind before starting the class or were excited by one they came up with during the process. For them, these tools are providing the groundwork for a lifetime of entrepreneurship. This is the mission of the Ford Fund.

“Ford Fund is proud to invest in expanding access to entrepreneurship in communities where Ford does business with a focus on providing more widespread  access to investment capital and educational resources, partnering with local organizations who share our desire to grow entrepreneurial ecosystems in an impactful way,” said Mike Schmidt, Director of Ford Fund.

Excited by the prospects of a new business, one participant from Kenya said: “My partner and I are on a mission to implement the idea we built during the course. Our next move is to develop a solid business plan and budget, then we’ll approach the necessary funding platforms and apply for grants.”

Buoyed by these positive impacts, the WDI Education team is on its way to creating even more courses for Ford fellows. While it will continue to run the current lessons, a new subject — driven by student suggestions — is on its way for a 2024 launch.

Ford Fund is proud to invest in expanding access to entrepreneurship in communities where Ford does business with a focus on providing more widespread  access to investment capital and educational resources, partnering with local organizations who share our desire to grow entrepreneurial ecosystems in an impactful way.

About Ford Motor Company Fund

As the global philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, Ford Fund focuses on providing access to essential services, education for the future of work and entrepreneurship opportunities for under-resourced and underrepresented communities. Ford Fund’s partnerships and programming are designed to be responsive to unique community needs, ensuring people have equitable opportunities to move forward. Harnessing Ford’s scale, resources and mobility expertise, Ford Fund drives meaningful impact through grantmaking, Ford Resource and Engagement Centers and employee volunteerism.

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business—our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom—or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

WDI Virtual Staff meeting

Above: A group of WDI staff during a video call earlier this week.

Dear readers:

Businesses, nonprofits and educational institutions are working swiftly to adapt to the global challenge presented by COVID-19. The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan is no exception. We have taken the appropriate actions to ensure the health and safety of our employees and others, including the closure of our on-campus offices.

That said, WDI remains 100% committed to serving our business, nonprofit and academic clients and partners, as well as supporting our student programs and affiliated faculty. Indeed, we are looking forward to launching new projects and actively exploring future opportunities with a wide range of partners.

In my discussions with clients and partners, both in the U.S. and around the world, as well as student teams and my colleagues here at WDI, I have been truly impressed with their perseverance and determination to remain focused on their important work.

In this month’s newsletter, I’m proud to showcase some recent achievements of our staff, clients, partners and students. In the coming weeks, the methods we use (e.g. video meetings and telecommuting) to complete work may look slightly different. But what hasn’t changed is our steadfast commitment to WDI’s mission, and to our clients and partners.

-Paul Clyde, WDI President


This primer provides a comprehensive but non-technical overview of the distinct health information systems (HIS) that all together support health care delivery in low-resource settings. It opens with a historical account and landscape assessment and describes the urgent need to build a lean rigorous HIS that integrates these different components. Subsequent sections describe the individual systems that: i) track individual patient and health care provider information; ii) directly document care delivery; iii) provide public and population health data; iv) support facilities’ and community health workers’ administrative and financial functions; and v) coordinate logistics and health commodities supply chains. A separate section describes imported data, including “master data” and manufactured (e.g., “meta”) data. The primer closes with recommendations for principled HIS stewardship.

WDI is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary organization. As a result, it often engages multiple sector and services teams in our work. The following project undertaken by both our Education sector and Performance Measurement and Improvement service demonstrates our holistic approach. The Education sector implemented Business & Culture: A Virtual Practicum — a classroom-to-classroom, action-learning course on international business cultures that brings together undergraduate students from Egypt, Libya and the U.S., supported by the Stevens Initiative. The course ran five times at the Ross School of Business, starting in Winter 2020. Participants attended lectures by international faculty, worked on interregional teams through synchronous and asynchronous exchange, employed field research methods to learn about one another’s business cultures and created a final project that captured their cross-cultural learnings. The program equipped young people in the U.S. and MENA region with the necessary competencies to communicate, problem-solve and collaborate in a global team environment—all essential 21st century skills in an interconnected world. The Education sector collaborated with the Performance Measurement and Improvement service, which led the design and implementation of an impact evaluation of the program on students in the U.S., Libya, Lebanon and Egypt. In addition to assessing the impact of the program on student outcomes (e.g. empathy, cross-cultural communication skills, business skills and knowledge), the data was used to improve the course and develop generalizable knowledge on how to increase the impact of virtual exchange courses.

WDI has produced a new video that highlights its work on the successful M²GATE program that connected more than 400 students from five Michigan college campuses and their peers in four  Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries through virtual exchange.

The video, titled “WDI’s M²GATE Program: Virtual Learning, Real World Impact,” features interviews with students from Michigan, Libya and Morocco, a mentor from Libya and scenes of student team planning sessions in Michigan, Libya and Tunisia. There also is footage from the final pitch competition that came at the end of the program.

M²GATE, short for MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship, used virtual exchange to bring together the Michigan students with those in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Teams worked virtually to develop social entrepreneurship projects and accompanying pitches over an eight-week period with the help of instructors, mentors and successful entrepreneurs from MENA and Michigan.

At the end of each of the three cohorts, the program hosted a virtual competition with judges naming winners based on each team’s video that pitched their scalable solution. The winning team from each cohort then traveled to Ann Arbor to participate in a live pitch competition at the University of Michigan.

The program increased cross-cultural understanding and equipped young people with the skills needed to thrive in a 21st century economy, such as entrepreneurship, team building, innovation and design thinking, international business, problem solving and critical thinking. (Read more about the program’s impact here.)

Designed and managed by the Institute throughout 2017-2019, M²GATE was funded by the Stevens Initiative, an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States, the Middle East and North Africa. The Stevens Initiative is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Aspen Institute. The Stevens Initiative is also supported by the Bezos Family Foundation and the governments of Morocco and the United Arab Emirates.



Sally Stephens, the Feb. 12 WDI Global Impact Speaker and chief business officer of Medicines360, the only nonprofit pharmaceutical company with a marketed product in the U.S., sat down for a one-on-one interview while on campus. (Watch the interview below.)

Stephens was interviewed by Andrea Bare, senior advisor with WDI’s Healthcare focus area, who talked with Stephens about a number of the organization’s operations. Stephens detailed Medicines360’s origin, its business model and how it operates, its approach to partnerships, how the U.S. market compares to sub-Saharan Africa and what the future holds.

Regarding partnerships, Stephens told Bare that Medicines360’s approach is to “partner if someone has the expertise that will help us meet our mission,” she said. “We saw a lack of expertise in the U.S. public sector, so we developed that expertise.”

She said the same “myths and gaps” exist in both the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa markets. For the future, Stephens said, Medicines360 will “focus on broadening our impact.”

“It is all about access for us,” she said.

Medicines360 has a unique mission-driven business model and an innovative partnership with Allergan. As its name implies, Medicines360 has a global focus and is driven to meet an unmet need for women around the world, including in the U.S. That is, affordable, long-acting contraceptives.

Its first product is a hormonal intrauterine device, or IUD, which had been out of reach for many women because of the high cost of the sole brand on the market. Medicines360 offers its FDA-approved Liletta at a discounted price to public sector clinics across the U.S. to increase access to this important family-planning product.

Additionally, Medicines360 has been working with international health organizations to offer the product, branded as Avibela in low- and middle-income countries, to also increase access to these markets. Avibela was launched in Madagascar in 2018. Sales of Liletta in the U.S. help fund research and development efforts by the company to bring contraceptives to countries such as Madagascar.

Stephens, who joined Medicines360 in 2011, leads the corporate strategy, business development, marketing and sales, and the developing countries programs at the organization.

WDI Education, along with two business school professor colleagues from the Philippines, recently visited several Detroit entrepreneurship- support organizations. Given our interest in supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets, we were especially interested to learn from the entrepreneurs we met in Detroit. Here are some key takeaways.

Ted London, vice president and senior research fellow of WDI’s Scaling Impact Initiative, has dedicated his career to exploring the role of business in alleviating poverty, particularly with respect to the base of the pyramid (BoP), defined as the 4-5 billion people who live on less than $3,000 per year. A key focus of his work is sharing what he has learned with aspiring entrepreneurs and future venture leaders through his MBA course, Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid, at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Ted London, left, speaks with a farmer in Africa.

In recognition of his impact, London has been named an Aspen Faculty Pioneer Award winner, given to innovative business professors teaching about the most pressing “grand challenges” faced by society today. London’s award also includes a “Building the Field” distinction that honors his long-term influence on building the BoP domain and shaping the next generation of business leaders.

Watch a video of London talking about his work here.

The awards, handed out by the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program, were established in 1999 to honor educators who exhibit leadership and risk-taking, and develop curriculum that studies the relationships between capital markets, firms and the public good. The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy study organization that provides a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues.

“This year’s Faculty Pioneers are leading the charge toward a more modern version of business education,” said Claire Preisser, who manages the Faculty Pioneer selection process as associate director of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program. “Against the backdrop of society’s ever-increasing expectation of firms, business education is still organized around preparing students to be profit maximizers – focusing them on financial, largely short-term measures of business success. Instead, our award winners equip students with the kind of problem-solving skills that firms need to make a positive impact on the most pressing issues of our time.”

London said he was humbled by the award and heartened to see his work in the BoP domain recognized.

“Our students seek to harness the power of enterprise to address society’s grand challenges, including poverty and inequity faced by the base of the pyramid,” London said. “Now more than ever, these students want strategies, frameworks and processes that guide and drive action. They also need to appreciate the unique opportunities and challenges of operating an enterprise in this demanding market environment.

“My goal is to provide them with both an action-oriented toolkit and the contextual knowledge needed to build scalable businesses with substantial social impact.”

His latest book, “The Base of the Pyramid Promise: Building Businesses with Impact and Scale,” was released earlier this year. WDI Publishing has also published many of his case studies

In addition to London, Andrew J. Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at Michigan Ross, was named a Faculty Pioneer Award winner. Hoffman and his graduate students have also authored many case studies found on the WDI Publishing website.

WDI Case Publishing recently exhibited at the prestigious Academy of Management (AOM) conference, the fourth time the case study publisher has had a booth at one of the biggest annual gatherings of students, academics, scholars and professionals interested in the academic study of management and organization practices.

This year’s AOM meeting, held in August in Anaheim, Calif., drew more than 10,000 registrants. WDI had previously attended AOM conferences in 2012, 2013 and 2014. WDI Case Publishing was a primary event sponsor in 2012.

“This event is advantageous for WDI because it gives us an opportunity to network with other publishing colleagues, and keep an eye on trends and gaps in the market,” said Sandy Draheim, manager of marketing and case publishing at WDI.

WDI’s booth in Anaheim featured WDI Publishing’s new branding and samples of its cases in each core business discipline, plus several in the social impact topic area. Faculty attendees from the U.S. as well as abroad were most interested in cases covering topics such as organizational behavior, strategy, and international business. Professors expressed interest in WDI Publishing’s unique collection of social impact case studies as well. There also were many, many requests for WDI Publishing’s case submission requirements.

“It was gratifying that nearly all visitors to our booth had heard of, and were aware of, WDI Publishing, and most had already visited our website or adopted at least one of our cases,” Draheim said. “I also displayed our new WDI brochure and received many inquiries about the Institute’s work.”

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