Teaching Entrepreneurship Around the Globe
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
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.
LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
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.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
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.
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.
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.