Tailored Accelerator Curricula for the Startup Ecosystem: Best Practice from East Africa

By Daniel Midega
  Published 06 Nov 2018
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There are more than 3500 accelerators worldwide; the concept is not new in Kenya, the East African Silicon Savanna. In Nairobi, for example, there seems to be an accelerator everywhere you look. Counties, Universities, Investors (Angel and VCs) and even the national government are aggressively setting up startup accelerators and positioning themselves as champions of innovation and entrepreneurship, this is a good thing. Senior officials in the Kenyan government can be quoted as referring to entrepreneurship and innovation as the way to go to save the struggling economy. Even with such enthusiasm from all sides, the results of these accelerators have been uneven and skewed. The older accelerators still have an upper hand in the game and seem to be attracting more successful startups in terms of the ability of accelerator graduates to get more customers, grow their revenue, define the business models, raise capital, the effectiveness of recruitment and retention process of startups in the program, the curriculum used and mentorship models within the accelerator programs.

This blog focuses on Curriculum as an enabler for success for an accelerator.

“In order for an accelerator in this ecosystem to succeed, you need to tailor the program to the needs of the  businesses you are working with in this ecosystem. Generic programs have a high failure rate, I know this because we have tried different models in 8years”, says Sheilah Birgen, an entrepreneurship expert and one of the most experienced women in the startup incubation and acceleration space in Africa.

Sheilah, and other of the same school of thought are quite right. Ten years of innovation and entrepreneurship support in the region has shown that generic programs copied from elsewhere only succeed to a certain level. The best programs are tailored to the need(s) of businesses in the ecosystem.

iHub Nairobi’s entrepreneurship team has run multiple programs and accelerators over the last 8 years, with more than 300 startups in the region benefitting from the services. These have been very competitive and the acceptance rate has been less than 5% of the applicants. The success of these programs and accelerators can be attributed highly to the mentor pool and model, and curricula. iHub has developed and disseminated various curricula that spreads across Idea stage entrepreneurs to scale/exit phase startups. These include:

    • Traction Camp - Developed customized curriculum for growth stage startups in East Africa who are looking for Investment and expansion to new markets.
    • MIVP(Mobile Impact Ventures Program) - Developed the curriculum for idea stage businesses for the Mobile Impact Ventures Program through the m:lab East Africa.
    • m:lab East Africa - “5 Waves of Training” Curriculum for provision of training, coaching, mentoring, and strategic advice and support to entrepreneurs.
    • ICT4Ag (Information, Communication and Technology for Agriculture Program) - Supported the development of the curriculum on “Innovation and growth of entrepreneurship capacity in agriculture”.
    • Tech Hub program with Making All Voices Count (MAVC) Tech-Governance Curriculum - The program involved selection and incubation of startups to be supported in the program, organizing technology governance forums and conducting outreaches to various County Government
    • PIVOT EAST - Pivot East is a programme that targets entrepreneurs with educational workshops for technology and business advisory sessions. It culminated in the top 25 startups pitching to investors and partners at a finalists conference.

The iHub’s Traction Camp program has seen the development of a customized curriculum for East African startups, taking to account ecosystem opportunities and threats that exist for that specific ecosystem. This has involved review and iteration of learnings from implementation of previous curricula, and design thinking workshops to integrate user experience and best practice. The iHub entrepreneurship team has thoughtfully pieced together the curriculum using the right internal mechanisms and external ecosystems for entrepreneurs. This curriculum has helped entrepreneurs redefine their business models, revenue models and financial models Using different tools to achieve this, businesses have been encouraged to adopt the lean startup methodology, create their business model canvas, deduce the business assumptions to aid in the creation of financial models. Focus has also been put in customer acquisition and retention strategies, that not only aid in revenue growth but scalability too.

The curriculum implementation has been successful across East Africa, with 65% of the businesses in iHub’s portfolio either raising finance ($7,000,000 in 2017-2018), scaling or changing their business models, and an 83% program completion rate. The growth of the businesses can be better demonstrated by the revenues (Average $350,000 annually) and the number of employees they have added to their teams over the years (5470 full time employees and more than 35,000 part-time and indirect employees). The best bit about it is the replicability of the curriculum and the mentorship model.

The iHub team is available for any accelerator or partners in the African region that would like to gain learnings from the implementation of the Traction Camp program, get advice on tailored curriculum development, collaborate in implementing acceleration programs or to learn about the iHub Startup Accelerator Curricula.


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