Ashesi, a university for navy seals… sort of

A guest speaker in our study tour class once explained, “Africa’s startup scene doesn’t suffer because of the lack of funding, it suffers because of the lack of credible teams and good ideas”.  To be fair, most of the ideas from MBAs aren’t so great either.  Then we had this creativity class from Ideo, a design consultancy firm.  It turns out that “creativity” is not just an innate ability that we are born with, but like a muscle, it is something we can exercise and improve.  If creativity is indeed a skill, could entrepreneurship be a skill too?  To answer that question, I tried to write down all the necessary attributes of a successful entrepreneur and stopped at #50 – it seemed like a never ending list.  But what it boils down to is something much simpler.  In the words of Bill Aulet, “you need the spirit of a pirate and the discipline of a navy seal”.

In many ways, the “Foundation in Design and Entrepreneurship” (FDE) program at the Ashesi University just outside of Accra is the navy seal training camp for the next generation of entrepreneurs in Ghana.  Students enter the flagship entrepreneurship program having already gone through basic infantry training – accounting, marketing, strategy, and management.  They begin FDE by bulking up their design thinking muscles before bringing it all together in combat simulation – receiving funding and starting a real business.  And this makes sense.  Navy seals aren’t born.  They are created.  But they are not created in a classroom with books (I’m not aware of anyone who created a unicorn by reading Zero to One).  They are created through applied hands on experience.  They are created through mens et manus.

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