The next time you’re in Ghana, if you visit the 14-year old private Ashesi University, chances are you’ll be guided by a mobile robot enabled with a Microsoft Kinect to lead visitors. Students have been developing these tour guides to apply what they are learning in engineering classes to support curious guests. We were lucky to have the insights of Mr. Ebenezer Gwumah, the Associate Director of Development and External Relations, but this blend of creativity, student-led entrepreneurship and advanced applied technology is a perfect reflection of what we observed in our trip.
The entrepreneurial mindset starts early at Ashesi- this year they launched the freshman year-long class “Foundation in Design and Entrepreneurship” (FDE) as part of the school’s mission to train ethical, entrepreneurial leaders. As the FDE Professor Gordon Kwesi Adomza noted, given the high unemployment of current graduates in Ghana, “schools should be training entrepreneurs more than job seekers.” Taking inspiration from Babson College’s famous entrepreneurial curriculum, Northeastern’s IDEA Venture Accelerator and our very own MIT, Ashesi starts with a half semester of design thinking and a problem festival before going into business model testing and developing an MVP. I was very impressed by the commitment to problems, not ideas- a trap that I and my fellow MIT peers often fall into.
During the second semester students engage in a business simulation and are given a small grant to implement their idea. We dropped in on a class where a group was working on a charcoal-based odor remover for the fridge during power outages (unfortunately common). Other groups are working on a robotic vending machine that roams after 9pm and drones for mapping crop information. Approximately half of the student body lives off campus in the small town of Berekuso, making it easier to identify challenges and get feedback.
The focus on entrepreneurship continues throughout the four years at Ashesi. The leadership is busy developing a design lab and creating a student-led incubator in addition to a new World Bank-supported Climate Innovation Centre on campus to kickstart green technology solutions. Students already have access to a FabHub maker space with multiple 3-D printers and other machines to develop prototypes. At the moment about 5% of graduates go into entrepreneurship, with a goal of 20% becoming entrepreneurs 5-10 years after graduating. Having seen all of the effort that is going into supporting that goal, I believe they will more than meet their goal.