Young entrepreneurs believe if academic institutions changed how entrepreneurship is taught, moving from theoretical to more practical approaches, would create more graduates who are not job seekers but rather job creators.
The entrepreneurs have challenged tertiary institutions to overhaul the approach, stating that delivering entrepreneurship lessons relying only on academics with no entrepreneurial background is like teaching “a computer science lesson without a computer” because a student will lack practical skills of establishing a business and understanding its highs and lows.
To have a strong economy, Entrepreneurs also explained that entrepreneurship is like a team sport, not a solo endeavour, and must be ‘learned by doing’ and universities should hire entrepreneurs to conduct lessons, not only academics.
This and more are part of the discussions happening during the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Rwanda, which is being held under the theme, “Unleashing a Collaborative Ecosystem.”
The theme aims to inspire communities to work together to create and share networks and markets to help rising startups thrive. It also seeks to celebrate the triumphs and learn from other entrepreneurial communities around the world.
“Entrepreneurs are there, and experienced. They should be consulted or hired to deliver these lessons. Learning entrepreneurship from academics is like teaching computer science without a computer,” said Ruvimbo Chikwaya, CEO of African Solutions Private Limited and an entrepreneurship lecturer at African Leadership University (ALU).
“It is hard, it demands more than what most people are willing to give. If you talk to any of the great entrepreneurs in the world, I can guarantee you that they don’t want to walk the similar journey, where they passed. We need to be honest, not just sell the dream of entrepreneurship,” Chikwaya added.
He pointed out that it hurts to tell people to be entrepreneurs, but when they graduate with theories and start a business, they immediately fail because they have met unexpected challenges.
The observation was made during a session dubbed “cultivating entrepreneurs” that targets all students from tertiary institutions across the country. Entrepreneurs pointed out that universities hire lectures with academic qualifications, for example Master’s degree and PhDs, but without experience in establishing business, and highs and lows of businesses.
“The truth is that being an entrepreneur is hard and should be taught by people with practical experiences, not theories. What is important is that it Is based on experiences that are critical to students to complement the curriculum. One good thing is building the strategy, but if you have not been there, you will not be able to know the shortcomings and challenges. It is very important to have the right person in the room delivering entrepreneurship lessons,” Chikwaya noted.
According to Canadian research, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management converted their entrepreneurship classroom into a medical-school-style operating theater, where students sit in a large auditorium and watch as a professor performs surgery not on a human body, but on a business startup.
The research indicates that most Canadian schools have changed to using experienced entrepreneurs while teaching students because the practice helps students to absorb the perception, and that entrepreneurship skills can only be developed through experience.
In Rwanda, the Entrepreneurship Development Policy (EDP) was launched on 30th November 2020, and aims to improve the entrepreneurship sector in the country.
The EDP was designed in consultation with representatives from central and local governments, Private Sector Federation (PSF), and financial institutions, entrepreneurs from MSMEs to large enterprises and from startups to long-standing businesses along with local and international investors, consultants, academics, and development partners.
It also aims to make improvements to the business development services ecosystem by identifying capacity building needs, focusing on the young generation.
“Teaching entrepreneurship should be more practical, but also students focusing on being entrepreneurs need resilience and working on it, if they are to succeed. It is not a simple thing. It needs patience and learning, much learning from the markets and what it requires,” Lorna Ong’ESA, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academics, Research and Quality Assurance at Davis College in Rwanda said.
According to Prof. Benson Lenig, McMaster University from Canada, theoretical and pedagogical foundations are typically evident in countries, and it limits the accumulation of useful evidence that could inform better teaching practices of entrepreneurship lessons.
“It should be experimental education, combining students who are already startups with those who haven’t, for them to share experiences. Educators should be ahead of this experience, or even business owners, ” Prof. Lenig explains.
Entrepreneurship is building something beyond you
Being an entrepreneur is more than being a business owner; it’s a perspective and a lifestyle that must continue to exist even when the founders have died. However, to build this legacy it goes with sacrifice, resilience, innovation and working very hard.
“Your idea must continue to live, even when you have died. So, it’s beyond you. An innovator must develop their idea into a finished product and launch it on the market in order to qualify as an entrepreneur. You cannot do this alone, you need people around you, people who support your idea. People with different skills and be able to run the business, even if you’re not around,”
The entrepreneurship training goal was to make Rwanda’s ecosystem for cooperative entrepreneurship stronger.
These programmes also align with the government’s goals to generate 1.5 million non-farm jobs by 2024. The government aims to reduce worrying unemployment rates among educated Rwandans.
Data from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) pilot survey show that Rwandans with greater levels of education had higher unemployment rates.
Damilare Oyedele, CEO of Nigeria Tech Solutions Limited said that to be a successful entrepreneur connection is the biggest thing when matched with working hard.
“You cannot do everything alone. When you become selfish, you end up losing everything. You need people with experience. Learn from the best entrepreneurs,” Oyedele said.
“Let the team you work with believe in your vision. Be patient, seek guidance and work on every weakness. Seek mentorship, don’t think you can do everything alone and acquire everything alone, it’s impossible in business,” he added.
The entrepreneurship training, which is part of the GEW, convened various university students from Carnegie Mellon University, University of Rwanda, Davis College, ALU, among others. It also gathered entrepreneurs across the continent and beyond, as speakers to explain ways of shaping the future entrepreneurs in the country.
” Lessons should be practical. I think, and hearing from great entrepreneurs becomes a lesson itself,” Francine Umuhoza, a student at University of Rwanda said.
“In their journey, none has said that being an entrepreneur is easy. It needs experience and experiential mentorship for us. Having theories should be there, but real starting a business, its operational , sustainability, and competitiveness on market is much greater, ” she added.
GEW, which returned to Rwanda for the first time since 2018, is hosted by Jasiri and partner organizations including Inkomoko, Carnegie Mellon University, Africa Leadership University, Business Professionals Network, Westerwelle Startup Haus Kigali, and the Segal Family Foundation, among others.