Can African MBAs reignite African Businesses?

On a warm summer afternoon in June, a cohort of Executive MBAs from the INSEEC Business School (L’Institut des hautes études économiques et commerciales), one of the foremost French Business Schools in France, met with the leadership team of the African Technology Foundation (ATF) in Silicon Valley, California to gain a deeper understanding of ATF’s role in the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and to compare notes on entrepreneurial strategies and operations between the Silicon Valley and Africa.

Founded in 1975 in Bordeaux, the INSEEC Business School, is a group of 16 schools that offers graduate programs in Management, Finance, Marketing, Communication and Luxury across 9 campuses in Europe, the United States and online.

The delegation from INSEEC consisted of business leaders from all over francophone Africa. Many of the delegates were entrepreneurs, while others were senior executives from multinational companies such as MTN, Deloitte, Ecobank, Nestle and Ericsson. A few students serve as elected government officials in their home countries, and joined the program to increase their knowledge on creative ways to impact the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems in their communities.

After opening remarks from Stephen Ozoigbo, CEO and Founder of ATF, the group inquired about the keys to succeeding as an entrepreneur and tips for building strong innovation ecosystems around the world. Those coming from Francophone African countries expressed that, in many of their countries, there are limited resources available for entrepreneurs, and that their experience in Silicon Valley has inspired them to work towards creating and fostering  robust entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Over a lunch breakout session, the cohort divided into smaller groups to allow everyone to share more about their professional backgrounds and future plans post-MBA. The diversity of industries and professions led to innovative conversations within the group, and they all shared a common desire to positively impact their communities by solving real problems in society.

Following lunch, Michael Novak, the CEO of One-Plus-Two Media, shared his company’s impressive work in media content enhancement and distribution targeting the 2 billion non-native English speakers worldwide. For the francophone audience, this technology has the potential to make previously inaccessible English content available across multiple formats for immersive consumption.

Mukul Agarwal, the CEO of Bootup Ventures, a Silicon Valley startup community and coworking space, also joined the proceedings and discussed the challenges that all entrepreneurs around the world encounter, especially when expanding to Silicon Valley. He emphasized the need for the program participants to engage continuous learning, adapt to industry changes on a global and local scale, and show resilience during tough times. Mukul invited the cohort to consider Bootup Ventures as their Silicon Valley landing pad as they launch, or continue to grow their businesses. 

The activities for the day evolved into an open discussion on a range of topics such as innovation in Africa, diaspora engagement, investment in Africa, and how programs in Silicon Valley and the integration of anglophone and francophone business opportunities across the continent.

Overall, the engagement was an opportunity for the cohort to learn more about how Silicon Valley is engaging Africa, as well as a call to action towards redefining their leadership roles within their local ecosystem, and actively participating in  the “Africa Rising” narrative.

For ATF, the engagement was a great opportunity to develop and improve diaspora engagement with entrepreneurial ecosystems across Francophone Africa.

It was also an impressive mix of business and government stakeholders that represented an array of interests across francophone Africa. Program participants showed a strong desire  to support innovation and entrepreneurship activities in their home countries, and expressed a renewed motivation towards enabling sustainable business opportunities within their local markets.