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School of Business Takes Entrepreneurship Thought Leadership to Nigeria

August 25, 2011
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View more pictures from the trip on Flickr

The School of Business is expanding its global reach as it helps support entrepreneurship in Africa. Ken Colwell, director of the School’s entrepreneurship programs, was among leading business professors and entrepreneurs who traveled to Nigeria in July as part of the Nigerian Youth Entrepreneurs Program (YEP). The trip followed the program’s nation-wide entrepreneurial business plan competition held in May 2010, which was hosted by Barry University’s Institute for Community and Economic Development in partnership with the Africa-Diaspora Partnership for Empowerment & Development (ADPED).

The program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Cultural and Educational Affairs, aims to promote cross-cultural awareness and empower future entrepreneurial leaders to take charge of social and economic development. Out of nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs who competed, 60 secured the chance to receive specialized training and participate in business plan development workshops in the capital city of Abuja in July 2010. Of those, 20 entrepreneurs were invited to Miami for a month-long exchange and training program in November 2010 to strengthen their entrepreneurship skills.

“It was highly competitive on a national scale,” says Colwell. “These entrepreneurs competed not only for the chance to receive specialized training, but for funding to start their businesses as well.” Start-up capital for the 20 leading entrepreneurs was provided by the National Economic Reconstruction Fund (NERFUND), which was established by the Nigerian government to provide financing to small and medium-scale businesses. “I think it really shows the government’s commitment to making this work, and it’s something that is really unique to this program,” says Colwell.

The business and academic delegation’s trip to Nigeria, one year after the entrepreneurs established their businesses, served as an opportunity to identify challenges and to provide a guiding hand.

“The entrepreneurial challenges in Nigeria are very similar to those encountered by entrepreneurs in any other country. Some tend to focus on a product or their operational details, and don’t particularly focus on identifying a target market or solving a problem for the customer,” says Colwell. The entrepreneurial ventures he encountered spanned across a variety of industries, ranging from private tutoring and fish farming to liquid soap production and waste management.

Colwell believes that by empowering entrepreneurs, young Nigerians can favorably position themselves to address some of the country’s pressing issues — the absence of a middle class, a lack of job opportunities for younger generations, and a limited business climate outside of the petroleum industry, where much of the country’s wealth resides today.

“We intend to have a continuing and deepening relationship, not only with ADPED but with other local institutions in Nigeria as well. We visited Obafemi Awolowo University, one of the country’s largest, and that was our message the whole time: the UM School of Business wants to continue its relevance in a global context.”

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