This apparent disconnect between African Universities and the real sector is largely responsible for the slow-paced growth of entrepreneurship and industry in the continent. In this interview with African Leadership Magazine, Professor Alphonsus Ogbuehi, the first-ever Fulbright scholar at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Anambra State, Nigeria, talks about connecting universities to the real sector and the inherent opportunities for the continent. he also talks about the International Conference on African Entrepreneurship & Innovation for Sustainable Development, organized by the Faculty of Management Sciences of the University. Excerpts:
Entrepreneurship no doubt holds the key to poverty alleviation in the continent; tell us how this conference would help in providing the much need information and guide for budding entrepreneurs?
This conference offers an opportunity for budding entrepreneurs by featuring experts in the areas identified by entrepreneurs as most critical for success including the following: 1) leveraging government policies to promote entrepreneurship; 2) strategies to gain access to finance; 3) accessible education and training for entrepreneurs; 4) how to exploit available commercial and professional infrastructure; 5) and how to gain access to local and regional markets.
There appears to be a disconnect between Universities in Africa and the real sector; what in your view is the best way to create a nexus
This is an excellent question because it is at the heart of my current US Fulbright Scholar grant in Nigeria. The disconnect between African Universities and the real sector is attributable to the lack of a unified purpose between the two sectors. Universities have yet to realize the proper avenues for monetizing innovations and ideas from the campuses which can be in the form of equity interests or other forms of capital inflow from interested private sector players. Likewise, the Angel investor community in Africa has yet to fully gain confidence in the quality of innovations coming out of African campuses. This is also partly because there is no reliable risk assessment metric to guide investors who may wish to provide early-stage funding for innovations coming from the campuses in Africa. It is because of this divide that led to the 2016 Young Entrepreneurs Business Plan Competition that I had the pleasure of organizing at Unizik on December 21, 2016, for scientists and researchers with investors from the Diaspora as well as locally as judges. See attached report.
What is your view are some of the workable models, that can be readily adopted by different governments in the continent to encourage entrepreneurship?
It is somewhat difficult to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach to the role of entrepreneurship in economic development in Africa. however, I believe that any credible model must embrace African universities as a major component in any successful entrepreneurial ecosystem. In order words, I believe that Africa’s leading research universities must be emboldened to take the mantle as the nerve centres of such ecosystems that include investors, entrepreneurs, inventors, students, dedicated government agencies, private foundations and industry. Of course, efforts must be made to ensure patent protection and intellectual property rights safeguards must be enforced to nurture such an ecosystem. Lastly, I believe that Africans in Diaspora have a vastly untapped potential as a resource for developing entrepreneurship in Africa and it is essential to take steps as many governments have done to harness these willing and available talents. I commend ongoing efforts in Nigeria, Ghana, and other countries who are taking real steps to actualize these linkages.
You are on a Fulbright program in Nigeria within the last twelve months, what has been the experience? ,
Thank you for asking that question. Indeed, I am honoured to have been selected as a US Fulbright Scholar in Nigeria. It is also an honour for me to serve as Nnamdi Azikiwe University’s first-ever Fulbright Scholar. As a member of the Diaspora, I have come to appreciate the entrepreneurial opportunities as well as the challenges facing the country. I believe that the spirit of academic, cultural, and intellectual exchange that the Fulbright program stands for was alive throughout my stay at Unizik with very warm hospitality. I am privileged to have mentored students as well as colleagues in the Faculty of Management Sciences. I am also grateful to the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Joseph E. Ahaneku, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic), Prof. Charles Esimone, and Rev. Canon Prof. Anayo Nkamnebe, Dean of the Faculty of Management Sciences for their commitment to the future development of Nigeria’s best and brightest young minds.
What are participants to expect from this conference?
Participants to this conference can expect to learn best practices from experts in the academic and private communities on ways to a) jump-start their entrepreneurial ideas, b) learn how to grow their existing business to achieve sustainable scale, c) develop linkages through dynamic networking opportunities. Attendees will be able to take away ideas that can be put into action immediately after the conference.