Bridging Skills Gap in Universities, Adopting Startup Launchpad Approach.
One of the ways youths learn as many skills as possible within the shortest period is by launching or working in a startup company. Can we adopt the startup approach to equip youths with multi-competence and address the skills gap in tertiary education in Africa?
Seven years ago, we piloted "The Internship Program" at Buni Innovation Hub to address skills gaps in Tanzanian University students. It wasn't clear what we were trying to achieve initially; after receiving multiple students and learning by doing, we designed a robust program that delivered the intended results within the shortest period possible. The program worked with more than 600 students from eleven different universities. Within three years, the students implemented over 80 projects targeting multiple sectors; some became startups, some open-sourced, and some were submitted for academic prerequisites. The program also played a crucial role in creating young startup founders from local universities.
A few years later, conversations around innovative pedagogy started in local universities to address skills issues. Championed by partner universities in Europe, different consortiums of Universities, regional and international, began to address the skills gap and university entrepreneurship problems.
Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept.
Multiple approaches are being adopted, including; Team Entrepreneurship Learning, Learning Factory, Learning By Doing (LBD), Challenge-Based Learning and Competence-Based Learning (CBL). These programs played a crucial role in helping universities adopt different approaches in addressing the skills gap moving local universities towards Third Generation Universities (3GU). Some of the programs have been successful at a granular level within specific institutions in addressing the skills gap. The question is still how do you replicate the impact at the national and regional levels? Over 10 million youths are getting into the job market in Africa every year, most of them lacking the necessary skills for the current and future job markets. That is a discussion of another day.
The Startup Launchpad Approach
Evidently, "The Internship Program" proved to us if you support students through a well-structured program to come up with ideas and transform these ideas into viable solutions, the process involved can help the students to attain the relevant skills needed for the current and future job markets. The Internship Program is like a "Startup Launchpad" for student-led startups, and it provides a platform for students to test and develop their ideas while still at the university. An example is this program powered by Babson College and The American University in Cairo.
In building startups, someone goes through a practical approach to what it takes to build a business. It provides a unique opportunity for someone to learn complex skills needed by the market at different stages of working to find solutions. In developing the product, one will learn technical skills to design, prototype and develop the product. At the same time, they will learn business skills when trying to make the first initial contact with the customer for their product. They are exposed to all sales, marketing, and branding skills of a product or service in the most practical way.
Beyond the technical skills, students have an opportunity to learn soft skills, including Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication and Creativity, the 4Cs, within the shortest timeframe. Student entrepreneurial movements such as Startup Sauna in Finland are every day in developed countries to effectively address the skills and bridge the gap between universities and industry. Similar programs are carried by Universities such as Stanford University in partnership with local accelerators and incubators such as Y-Combinator. The question is, how can we make this standard in Africa?
Structure of The Launchpad
Sahara Ventures is currently involved in the Dalila project, a capacity-building project in green and circular economy funded by EACEA, the Education, Audio-visual and Culture Executive Agency of the European Union. The project is implemented by a consortium of the Sapienza University of Rome, UCA University of Cadiz, The State University of Zanzibar (SUZA), University of Dodoma (UDOM), Uganda Martyrs University (UMU), Uganda Christian University (UCU), A Sud and INOMA.
Sahara Ventures role in the projects is to launch Startup Launchpad programs for students in Uganda and Tanzania. The launchpads aim to fast-track students' efforts to come up with ideas and transform the ideas into an early-stage business. In the Dalila Project, the launchpad is structured in three phases, Pre-Launchpad, During Launchpad and Post Launchpad. The Manual of The Launchpad is more structured, including specific activities conducted each week, recommended MOOCs, deliverables, articles and books to read, etc.
On-Campus Startup Schools
Just before the pandemic, Sahara Ventures was working on the concept of Silicon Dar Startup School, a platform to matchmake successful Tanzania startup founders with students in local universities, something like Sam Altman's Startup School. The goal was to introduce students from the University of Dar es Salaam to the Startup world. Local startup founders shared their experience building startups in the Tanzanian environment, challenges and opportunities. Startup Schools can be an excellent approach to introduce practical entrepreneurship in tertiary education before moving to full-fledge Startup Launchpads.
Call For Action
Sahara Ventures, we are open to collaborating with academicians and researchers to explore the approach further and develop it. We are currently involved in four projects that require us to test and deploy the approach with local, regional and international universities.