Hub Manager’s Diary | How to build a quality startup programme?

This article is part of my series of articles and stories I will be sharing about managing business incubators and tech spaces in Africa. I have also developed a tool for the same subject which can be accessed here.

The article follows the question that I was asked by Mohammed Shellimoh, the energetic young Hub Manager of Kiota Innovation Hub located inside the main campus of Iringa University formerly known as Tumaini University, Central Tanzania. “Mo” was interested to know what are the pillars that build an effective entrepreneurship program to transform early-stage ideas to startups.

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Catching up with Mohamed “Mo” Shellimoh (In Black Shirt) at Mkwawa Arts Space, “Mo” manages Kiota Hub.

From the discussion, I thought I should put together this blog post to help other Hub Managers out there who are looking to pilot their own programmes for their spaces. The thoughts shared here are from my personal experience of running an Innovation Hub for four years, designing multiple entrepreneurship programs for different organizations and starting Africa’s first corporate sponsored and venture-backed accelerator, Sahara Accelerator.

The exact question from “Mo” was “How to design a project or initiative that can help young entrepreneurs to cross the Valley of Death?“

This is what I have learned, there four areas that if you get them right you will be able to nurture and produce quality entrepreneurs from any programme you design.

1. Contents
All brilliant entrepreneurship programs have something in common, heavy but smart contents. If you check programmes such as Y-Combinator Startup School or Google Launchpad it is always about the quality of the contents. My favorite being YC Startup School Masterclasses, what you can consume in few hours you can’t learn from anywhere for years. My advice here was, he should spend much time with his team to design a programme with rich contents that can add to the existing knowledge of the entrepreneurs.

2. Relevance
One of the challenges we faced when we were designing Buni Internship Programme (BIP) as a replica of a programme called Demola based in Finland, was relevancy. Even though the concept was exciting it didn’t work well in our ecosystem. My advice here was simply the programmes have to be relevant. They need to meet the needs of local entrepreneurs, fixing actual existing gaps and real case scenarios. The programmes should be designed while considering issues like; the skills gap, lack of early-stage funding, lack of mentors pool etc. Also, the programme needs to evolve responding to the needs of the entrepreneurs, not until recently in YC Investor School, I realized YC also started as an internship programme.

3. Network
Sponsors, investors, R&D, Mentors etc, the good programme needs to leverage what exists in the local ecosystem and utilize it effectively. Unfortunately, we have broken ecosystems with a lot of gaps to fill but still, we can push for partners that can add value to our programmes; they can be private sector partners, international organizations etc. Networks are essential for the growth of your entrepreneurs. It will help them change their mindset and explore new possibilities beyond their areas of comfort. The best way to encourage networking is to host series of events and meetups for your entrepreneurs; Demo Days, Pitching Sessions, Angel Fairs etc.

4.Team
Brilliant programmes have great teams of trainers and facilitators. Best programmes invest time and resources to ensure the presented contents are coming from actual entrepreneurs with on the ground experience running businesses and starting new ventures. For example, If you go through the profile of trainers of YC whether it’s a startup school or investor school programme, you will notice the massive experience and exposure the team has. As much as I know getting a team of such caliber is next to impossible but it is important at least to think on whom you are bringing into the team to work with the entrepreneurs. Google Launchpad Paris was one of those program structured to add unique value to entrepreneurs within a short period of time through quality trainers.

Good entrepreneurship programmes don’t depend on having so much money but rather having the right resources. By the time I was leaving Buni we had worked with over 400 students with zero programme budget. The students worked on over 50 projects, few receiving seed funds, some becoming products, some failed etc but one thing for sure, participants they left the programmes with a massive shift in perception towards entrepreneurship.

The Internship Program manual can be accessed here.

To the new Hub Managers out there running Accelerators, Incubators etc, invest more on those four things to attain intended outputs from your programmes. To run a successful hub goes beyond having the physical space; you need great programs, exciting network (community) and support team.

Appreciation.

  • Mohamed “Mo” Shellimoh for interesting discussion, keep doing what you do good.
  • Mkwawa Arts Space, for hosting us.

Written by

Entrepreneur, TZ Patriot, Loves Tech, Founder saharaventures.com, Project Management Consulting firm, Co-Founded saharasparks.com and Sahara Accelerator.

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