Monday, July 12, 2010

Building an Innovation Eco-System..where it was Absent

As LoftyInc sits at the precipice of signing another significant agreement with a truly crucial partner, and beginning the wholesome process of initiating a true innovation and entrepreneurship eco-system in West Africa, an article recommended by my mentor, Marsha Wulff of Wulff Capital/Afroceuticals, provides guidance as we chart a course truly untraveled before in the region we have chosen to stake our claim: West Africa. 

"How to Start an Entrepreneurial Revolution" was published in Harvard Business School's HBR (Harvard Business Review). In Marsha's own words, here are the lessons (for us, our partners and our benefactors):

" It basically says: 
- It is a mistake to do too much that makes launching ventures easy, 
- It's best  to permit region-specific flexibility, 
- Engage private sector diaspora for advice/networks/expertise, 
- Inspire entrepreneurs with success stories, 
- Change public opinion with media releases, 
- Prioritize resources for ventures with rapid global potential, 
- Don't rely on formal business incubators to grow businesses, 
- The best policies and laws back off from encumbering enterprises, 
- If at first you don't succeed, try again, soon!"

The first agreement we executed back in May, 2010 with Project Diaspora USA creating alongside with Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), California's Graduate School of International Policy and Management and  the Biz Spring Program provides a networking platform that is particularly crucial to attract external resources to business of innovation incubation. For us at LoftyInc, it also provides us critical linkages to other regions on the sub-continent and allows us to share best practices. 

BizSpring (moniker, Adwuma Mbomu - in West Africa), allows us to bring innovators, innovation centers (universities, research centers and think tanks), funders (Venture Capital, Banks & Devt. Orgs) as well as government together to explore creating the necessary ecosystem that will enable entrepreneurs and innovative ventures flourish. Specifically, it will also supply the much needed capacity building resources from the ground zero of innovation itself: Silicon Valley. To us, it is about as much about doing good as it is about a strategic business objective. It will be nearly impossible to create the pipeline of venture capital deals we envisage our organization executing in a decade if we do not invest in creating this eco-system. 

Since Program Inception in May, we've succeeded in linking up with a number of institutions and private sector interests; the roll of which will be provided soon as we formally launch the program sometimes this Fall. 

To avoid the pitfalls enunciated in the article referenced above, it is about as necessary to harness local resources as well as localized institutional muscle to achieve this objective (Creating an Innovative Entrepreneurship EcoSystem). This goal is addressed by our soon to be announced partnership with a major Pan-African think-tank...actually, the pioneer of them all. We hope that this critical partnership will lay the foundations for not only building capacity as the first does, but to move pin pointedly towards creating the funding mechanisms for the would-be entrepreneurs that will be seeded within the creative new incubation bios that LoftyInc's team have designed to be the first (and the best) of its kind in the region. This bios will be known as the IDEAS LAB. An Equity Fund to back this laboratory of Ideas up is also in the works. 

Stay Tuned...

LoftyInc specializes in venture incubation & early stage funding of businesses in the ECOWAS sub-region. It was founded in August 2008 specifically to pursue early stage business development for emerging enterprises.