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Tertiary education is one of the founding blocks for entrepreneurship. So, believes Victoria Jackson (pictured above), senior community manager at MEST Africa.
“Access to the support and knowledge transfer of tech ecosystems and innovations must be available to all,” said Jackson, speaking to Ventureburn ahead of the MEST Africa Summit which takes place between Monday and Wednesday next week (18 and 20 June) in Cape Town.
Now in its tenth year, the organisation — which offers a seed fund, incubator and graduate-level training programme — has trained over 250 graduates with a further 60 set to graduate its fully-funded year-long training programme in August.
Some graduates have gone on to found their own organisations like coding initiative CodeTrain and STEMBees, a Ghanaian non-profit that aims to get more women involved in science, tech, engineering and mathematics.
‘Dedication to going out and getting tertiary education in most African countries is a feat all onto its own’
The following Q&A is part of a series Ventureburn will conduct with leading academics and organisations working on the continent, or overseas in facilitating tech innovation in Africa.
What role should academic institutions be playing with regards to Africa’s tech ecosystem?
My experience is that these resources are available, but only to those hungry enough to seek them out. Yes, hunger is a key trait in entrepreneurs, but we must stop the seemingly less hungry from slipping through the cracks.
I would like to see a further shift to make these resources part of the curriculum and not an extra benefit.
We need to remove the barrier to entry. Students need to know these resources exist, that they can have access to knowledge and support, and that even if you don’t take this career path there are still vital career skills embedded in understanding and exploring this field.
Which countries serve as a model of how academic institutions in Africa should approach innovation and support of local tech startup ecosystems?
There is no set country that stands out, but there are institutions such as Oxford University that are pioneering the way forward with including tech innovation in the curriculum as well as giving access to knowledge and resources to each and every student regardless of their field of studies.
How should academic institutions be supporting innovators and startups?
There is a shift happening and I do think academic institutions need to be commended for this. However, there needs to be more integration between formal education and entrepreneurship.
For example, a key requirement for application of potential entrepreneurs to our programme is that they hold a tertiary education degree. Dedication to education already shows the grit and determination that is needed to become an innovator and entrepreneur.
So how do we enhance this support? Incorporating more innovation, startup, and entrepreneurship knowledge and resources into all lines formal education.
I also think that the responsibility shouldn’t just lie with the institutions. Corporates and investors are crying out for more innovators, more entrepreneurs, and more investor-ready startups. They too need to roll up their sleeves and play an active role in providing the knowledge transfer to young and dynamic students who are on the hunt.
One of the prerequisites of MEST’s programme is that applicants have university degrees. How prepared are the candidates who end up on your programme?
Dedication to going out and getting tertiary education in most African countries is a feat all on its own. This alone shows the determination that our entrepreneurs-in-training hold.
It’s a tough year at MEST. Our entrepreneurs-in-training go through business, communication and tech training all while building their startups for final pitches at graduation.
We need to know that our entrepreneurs-in-training are as dedicated as we are to changing the African tech ecosystem.
That change starts with individuals and impacts the entire ecosystem. It is important that people understand that this continent holds all that we need to launch and scale successful companies.
Where could education institutes helps with this? Giving their students the knowledge that programmes such as MEST exist, that your tertiary education gives you more than access to an office job, and that learning doesn’t stop at the walls of intuitions such as universities.
Featured image: MEST senior community manager Victoria Jackson (Supplied)