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Africa has complex and unique business opportunities. This entrepreneurship course takes an interdisciplinary approach to building scalable businesses designed to solve core problems or fill institutional voids. Unlike other business courses, this one focuses on identifying points of opportunity for smart entrepreneurial efforts through “live” online lectures, peer-to-peer learning, and real-life lessons incorporated into your own business plan.
Taught by Harvard Business School Professors Tarun Khanna, Caroline Elkins, and Karim Lakhani, you will learn how Africa-specific trends impact the opportunities and challenges in undertaking entrepreneurship ventures on the continent. This course will examine the nuances that render Africa unique in today’s emerging market landscape, and the similarities that can be drawn from the world’s other fast-moving emerging economies. Developing your own business plan with peer-to-peer feedback is the capstone learning experience of this course.
The course will provide a series of time-tested lecture content and active reading assignments. Each week students will engage with course content and readings, and the week will end with a live webinar section that includes HBS faculty and leaders from the African business community. In addition, each student has the option to participate in the course’s week-by-week business plan development process. Business plan development will culminate with such students having an opportunity to submit a business plan. The best plans will be judged by a highly qualified African business jury. In so doing, the course will expose students to an unparalleled network of business academics at Harvard Business School, as well as Africa’s top business leaders.
Course content draws upon HBS cases and student tested and reviewed courses. They include the world-renowned Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets course that has reached over half a million learners in 200 countries, and HBS’s four-day intensive MBA course, Africa Rising: Understanding Business, Entrepreneurship, and the Complexities of a Continent.
Week 1: Identifying an opportunity - Institutional Voids
Institutional voids are a defining characteristic of emerging markets. To be an effective entrepreneur, one has to learn to not only find a way around these institutional voids but also render them into opportunities. This week’s sessions will define what is meant by institutional voids, how these voids are prevalent throughout emerging markets, and the ways in which two companies in different African regions and industries effectively turned these voids into opportunities. Ultimately, winning in an emerging market often comes when an entrepreneur builds upon a simple idea, but one that is needed to fill or circumvent a challenging institutional void.
Business Plan Building Commences: At the end of each week, students will apply the lessons learned as a guide to building a solid business plan. The first week, for example, will focus on getting an entrepreneur to think about opportunities available in their region, and get the participant to think about practical and insightful ways to size their market, think about the stakeholders that would be involved in launching their ventures, as well as thinking about what strategic advantages they have that would lead to success.
Week 2: Standardization and Scaling
How does an entrepreneur take a viable business model, and decide which aspects of it lend themselves to standardization so that it can help scale it across (parts of) the continent? Is scale best sought in a particular instance within a country, a region, or continent-wide? Related to this, how does one make the pitch to providers of growth capital? How, if at all, does that pitch differ from that made to attract start-up capital in the first instance? Capital can be obtained from a range of sources, each with its pros and cons.
Week 3: Thinking about your brand
In this week, students will focus on building a brand that garners broad-based support and loyalty. Brands communicate intangible promises – trust, integrity, reliability, respect, among others. On a practical note, how can brands be conceived and nurtured in environments where the specialist intermediaries often helpful in building brands are not always available (market research firms, advertising platforms, agencies that value brands)? How should one think of the cost of branding one’s venture? To what extent is the paucity of African brands an opportunity rather than a limitation for the astute entrepreneur?
Week 4: Defending your business model from its inception
At the heart of this week’s learning is the key question: How does an entrepreneur defend her idea? Put another way, how can you protect the results of your creativity? Patenting as a formal protective mechanism is sometimes useful, though for the most part has less utility in emerging markets such as those in Africa (compared to mature economies). So how can one think more holistically, by incorporating other barriers to imitation? What are the tradeoffs involved in doing so?
Week 5: Partnerships and Platforms
Students this week will consider multiple platforms – ranging from government-sponsored initiatives to technology and media platforms – that an entrepreneur can tap into as vehicles for success. Indeed, all entrepreneurs should consider actively leveraging such entities. Platforms lower the cost of customer access, allow one to contribute to and benefit from knowledge sharing, and permit the continued reinvention of the business.
Week 6: Launching your business venture
This week will focus on the execution of the business plan. All students participating in the business plan module will submit their final business plan in week six, and the course professors will choose a select number of plans for the final, live pitch session in front of a jury of African business leaders and experts. All students will be able to learn from, and comment on, the African jury’s selection process and the factors that African business leaders and experts consider when evaluating a business plan and pitch. The live session will then culminate in a course wrap up where the professors will offer students a review of the course’s key learnings.
There will be a live pitch session where finalists will present their pitches live to an jury of African business leaders and experts.
Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School
Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School, where he has studied and worked with a wide range of companies and investors in emerging markets worldwide. He joined the HBS faculty in 1993, after obtaining an engineering degree from Princeton University, a PhD from Harvard, and spending an interim stint on Wall Street.
Professor of History and Visiting Professor of Business Management, Harvard Business School
Caroline Elkins is a Pulitzer-Prize winning Professor and founding director of Harvard's Center for African Studies. At HBS, she created and teaches the short-intensive program, “Africa Rising: Understanding Business, Entrepreneurship, and the Complexities of a Continent,” and is the course head for the MBA FIELD Global Immersion program. She has also led HBS students and faculty in global immersions to Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania, and serves on multiple foundation and corporate boards in Africa.
Charles Edward Wilson Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School
Karim R. Lakhani specializes in the management of technological innovation in firms and communities. His research is on distributed innovation systems and the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities. He has extensively studied the emergence of open source software communities and their unique innovation and product development strategies. Currently, Professor Lakhani is investigating incentives and behavior in contests and the mechanisms behind scientific team formation through field experiments on the Topcoder platform and the Harvard Medical School.
This course will be graded on completion-basis. For students to pass the course, full engagement with the reading material and online videos is required as well as attendance of the live webinar components and breakout sessions.
The course will offer multiple formats designed to be inclusive of all preferred learning styles. These include a big lecture-style webinar every week, and HBS live-style breakout case discussions with small groups of students from different parts of Africa.
This course is created as a culmination of three successful courses taught by Harvard Business School faculty: Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies and Africa Rising: Short Intensive Program (SIP). We encourage you to learn more about these courses that have captivated more than half a million learners from 200 countries.
This component is entirely optional. Given that this is a course focused on building an entrepreneurial mindset, we strongly encourage students to participate in this capstone project to get the most out of the course. These business plans will be peer-reviewed and discussed in smaller groups. In addition, faculty and staff will curate them and select the best plans for a qualified African business jury to evaluate.
Aside from the weekly discussions where course staff will facilitate engagement, students will be able to receive staff guidance as appropriate.