This summer, Indiana University welcomed the presidents of Bahir Dar (BDU) and Debre Markos (DMU) universities who shared progress and pride in the Partnership in Business Entrepreneurship and Leadership Transformation (PiBELT) initiative. This two-year project is funded by a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It focuses on developing Ethiopia’s innovation ecosystem by implementing entrepreneurial curricula in their universities, training students and young entrepreneurs in business and innovation strategies, and strengthening collaborations between local and American enterprises. The two Ethiopian universities have partnered with IU and Ivy Tech to design, develop, and explore capacity-building experiences for university administration and program participants.
“The collaboration continues to enhance IU’s global engagement and visibility while contributing to improving business entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as higher education leadership capacity development at Ethiopian universities. This not only enables partner institutions to be more responsive to local development challenges, but provides an opportunity for Indiana to engage with emerging creative thinkers from Africa,” said Associate Vice President for International Research and Development Teshome Alemneh.
This site visit to Indiana fulfills just one of many goals outlined in the project. In developing a network of support and innovation with U.S. businesses, select cohorts of Bahir Dar and Debre Markos collaborated with IU and Ivy Tech Bloomington’s Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship to gain insights into business start-ups in Indiana, and further developed cultural and professional relations between the universities through experience-sharing and discussions. These strategic conversations with academic and administrative units across IU aim to engage university leaders from Ethiopia in fostering long-term success, sustainability, and self-reliance for entrepreneurship activities.
The program has made great strides in building a culture that supports entrepreneurship at both universities in Ethiopia since its inception. PiBELT enabled the development of training modules that address Marketing and Sales, Financial Management, Human Resources Management, Business Plan Preparation, Business Law, Digital Marketing (E-commerce), and the Startup Entrepreneurship Toolkit. Through PiBELT, Bahir Dar strengthened their existing Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, and Debre Markos established a brand-new Center with technical assistance from IU and The Mill, a local nonprofit center for entrepreneurship in Bloomington.
The initiative has also emphasized the need for supporting young entrepreneurs increasing their capacities to develop their business and innovation ideas into viable startups. Through Pre-Acceleration and Accelerator Training, selected participants were able to explore and build business skills and develop their own start-up concepts. Initial innovation ideas between the universities covered a diverse range as participants pitched concepts including travel agencies, recycling systems, cafes and bakeries, and textile manufacturing.
While these initial successes are notable milestones, the grant is also focused on the future and is committed to continued expansion and development of the program beyond its initial implementation. To maintain growth, the universities utilized a train-the-trainer model. Thirty-six staff and faculty members between the two universities completed this aspect of the program and are now able to facilitate the pre-acceleration and accelerator training modules: Customer Development, Customer Work, Revenue/Marketing/Sales, and Pitch Deck/Review and Expectations.
In the second round, students and entrepreneurs were chosen from a pool of applicants to receive Pre-Acceleration training and further develop their business and innovation ideas. Of the 43 applicants selected for training, 36 submitted projects for competition. Participants presented at a Demo Day where 20 were chosen to progress to Accelerator training to develop the details and marketing strategies for their ideas. The finalists were narrowed down to 10 winners – five from each university – whose business/innovation concepts were granted the Seed Money Award to fund their development. Winning projects covered a wide range of industries and included wheelchair production, an E-learning platform, pellet form animal feed production, cleaning services, plastic recycling, seed sowing machine, one card system, local Tej (mead) production, wastage disposal and filtration., and an ice cream shop. Winners from Debre Markos and Bahir Dar were honored at the Seed Award Ceremony on July 11 and July 14, 2022, respectively.
The PiBELT project is a flagship project for Ethiopia. It created a revival of business entrepreneurship and technology innovation at DMU. We’re eager and working hard to ensure the sustainability of the initiative and its impacts.Dr. Tafere Melaku, president of Debre Markos University
Work by Bahir Dar and Debre Markos universities has set the Business/Innovation Incubation Centers on track to become centers of excellence within Ethiopia and the broader region. PiBELT’s pursuit of collaboration between the universities and businesses locally and with U.S. partners has created opportunities for students and young entrepreneurs to develop their skills, ideas, and networks, and enabled improvements in the teaching and training of competitive, job-ready graduates – and it’s not done yet.
As the initial timeline for the initiative comes to an end, the universities and their international partners have set goals to continue their efforts to stimulate innovation in Ethiopia. By further developing individualized training and mentoring, improving curricula at Bahir Dar and Debre Markos, and strengthening collaboration with local businesses and industries, the universities hope to provide young innovators the opportunity to grow and develop their ideas for years to come.
If universities can’t create the entrepreneurship ecosystem and nurture entrepreneurs, who else can?Dr. Firew Tegegne, president of Bahir Dar University