We Need More Innovators

Written by Margaret Wang

In 2005, there were 16 accelerators in the world, mostly in America; today, there are close to 7,000 accelerators and incubators globally. The number of start-ups have also increased significantly. So why do we need more innovators?

The fact still remains that 90% of start-ups will fail, and they will continue to fail because of a weak starting team that cannot identify a market need or create human-centered products. So yes, accelerators and incubators are increasing the quantity of entrepreneurs, but we need to complement this with more innovators who can help start-ups succeed. We need more innovators working at start-ups.

Innovate for Africa (IFA) was born out of this principle-- to create more innovators. I am a strong believer that innovation can be taught. As an entrepreneurship educator for several years, I remember my student nervously presenting a prototype of an education toolkit that contained a cheap laptop device with her proposed app to help students in rural Egypt. Another group of students presented their prototype of a filtration water bottle for citizens in Sub-Saharan Africa with their financial statements. They were only 12-14 years old. And when I went to Lagos with the co-founder Quadri Oguntade in January 2020, I met a huge group of aspiring entrepreneurs in Covenant University and University of Lagos with the potential to contribute to the growing innovation ecosystem in Lagos.

Jan 2020 Trip to Covenant University

But passion and ideation is not enough. So we went back to the drawing board. How can we create innovators (which is what MIT defines as the “process of taking ideas from inception to impact”)? In other words, how do we train passionate and aspiring innovators to either be the innovator who will CREATE or HELP sustain a successful business? With our founding team’s experience as entrepreneurs, technology consultants, and business analysts as well as education at MIT and Harvard, we created our “Innovation-Readiness Curriculum.”

IFA's Innovation Readiness Indicators

For our Pilot Program, our fellows focused on building critical thinking, communication, creativity, and leadership skills through modules on strategic analysis, product management, digital marketing, and design thinking (from conducting primary market research to creating prototypes). We focused on expanding their grit, growth-mindset, and self-learner attitude with entrepreneurs as guest speakers. I am proud of their growth, but I am even more excited about the next phase of their fellowship-- their placement at a start-up. We believe that if our fellows couple their experience with our continuous and ongoing training, they will become the innovators that will help current start-ups succeed. A couple of years from now, they’ll probably have the experience to build a successful and sustainable start-up.

Day 1 of our Pilot Program 2020 "Innovation-Readiness" Training

So yes, while I would love to see more entrepreneurs (thank you accelerators and incubators for this), we also need to consider the quality of entrepreneurs: we need innovators. We need these innovators to drive down the failure rate of start-ups. This is why Innovate for Africa (IFA) was born.

Learn more about our program at our website: https://www.innovate4africa.org/

Hire a fellow from our future cycle: https://www.innovate4africa.org/hireafellow

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