A Personal Perspective on Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship in Africa

The first time I heard of Africa was probably my mother saying “clean your plate, there are children starving in Ethiopia” … at the dinner time (when I wouldn’t eat my vegetables on numerous occasions). The infamous famine was over 30 years ago now (remember Bob Geldof and Live Aid).  I don’t remember us studying Africa in school but I suppose we did … and until recently; many of my personal perceptions of the continent were out-of-date – probably too similar to that of most insulated Americans, which were very different from today’s reality.

It turns out, that Africa is on the rise.  According to the McKinsey Global Institute, by 2020 Africa’s nominal GDP is expected to reach US $2.6 Trillion (eclipsing Canada $2.19 Trillion and close to India’s $2.9 Trillion). 54 cities in Africa (more than Europe) have over 1 million people each.  400 million Africans live in cities (India has 340M).  Smartphone users are expected to increase from 67 million to 360 million by 2025.

Growth prospects for Africa remain positive and the region’s GDP growth is projected to rise.  African households in the middle income group are projected to rise to 128 million in 10 years.  The continent has more than 500 million people of working age (15-64). By 2040, that number is projected to exceed 1.1 billion … or more than in China or India.

I met some remarkable people this week who happen to come from Africa.  About this time last year, I became aware of an organization called The Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) through my employer (IBM) … who sponsors this organization in part.  IBM is one of a handful of companies who are actively involved with YALI.  The United States’ commitment to Africa is long-standing and deep.  The United States has invested in development partnerships with Africans to foster sustained economic growth as well as improved quality of life issues.

Selected from roughly 50,000 applications, the class of 2015 YALI Mandela Washington Fellows represents the promise of an emerging generation of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs.  Mandela Washington Fellows have proven track records of leadership and demonstrate a strong commitment to contributing their skills and talents to strengthening and serving their communities.

The current class of Fellows represents all 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and included equal numbers of men and women.  Many of them operate their own businesses.  Nearly all Fellows were the first in their families to visit the United States.  They are in the US for six plus jam-packed weeks of education and experiences.

I was asked to teach an all day course on entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame – one of the hosting campuses.

Even with a lifetime of both entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial experiences to draw upon, I was a little uncertain how to approach the class.  As I read the biographies of the Fellows, it was obvious that many in this group of people had a very different lifetime of experiences than I did.  I could only imagine the motivation they had to draw upon.  I was actually a little concerned that I might not be able to relate to them and the class might not go well.

Once the class started, all of these fears were washed away.  It turns out that the language of entrepreneurship is universal.  Defining a market, creating competitive differentiation or figuring out a SWOT Analysis is universal … regardless of where you come from, what you have done in your past or whether you eat your vegetables.

Hopefully the information I presented will help them succeed with their various endeavors.  I felt as if I connected with many of the students and in some cases, created relationships that will stand the test of time.  One student even gave me a personal momento he brought from his country. This small gesture touched me.

I am proud to be associated with YALI. The prospects for companies who choose to do business in Africa looks bright.  Most importantly, the future for this group of people is brightest of all.

As a side note … President Obama is scheduled to speak the upcoming 6th Global Entrepreneurship Summit being held in Nairobi.  President Obama elevated entrepreneurship to the forefront of the United States’ engagement agenda during a historic speech in Cairo in 2009. The GES has expanded each year, subsequently hosted by the governments of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, and Morocco.  This is the 6th annual gathering of entrepreneurs at all stages of business development, business leaders, mentors, and high-level government officials.

Leave me your thoughts and comments.

What Is An Intrapreneur Anyway?

The word entrepreneur is more than 150 years old, having come into English from French in 1828. But it was not until comparatively recently that its intra-corporate counterpart, intrapreneur, was introduced to the business lexicon.

“a person within a large corporation who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea into a profitable finished product through assertive risk-taking and innovation.”

The term is usually credited to Gifford Pinchot (the grandson of the first Chief of The US Forest Service, also the 28th Governor of Pennsylvania, with the same name). According to Mr. Pinchot’s website, in a 1982 The Economist magazine article, Norman Macrae gave credit to Gifford Pinchot as the inventor of the word intrapreneur. Mr. Pinchot went on to publish his book “Intrapreneuring” in 1985. In 1992, The American Heritage Dictionary added Intrapreneur … giving new legitimacy to the term.

There are obvious derivations of the word … Intrapreneurship, Intrapreneurial, Intrapreneuring and even Intrapreneurist (the name of this blog – but I’ll save that explanation for another blog – it’s sort of a John Wayne thing).

In a September 30, 1985 Newsweek magazine interview, Steve Jobs used the term to describe his team, “The Macintosh team was what is commonly known as intrapreneurship, a group of people going in essence back to the garage, but in a large company”).

Wikipedia has embraced and references the original American Heritage Dictionary definition cited above. This definition is by far the best. I give this definition an “A”.  I will make a small tweak or two in my version below but it’s a solid “A” nonetheless. There are strong decision-making and collaboration components in support of the risk taking aspect … and navigating corporate politics make collaboration essential, which is something entrepreneurs don’t have to worry about. Also implied in the definition, is the fact that the role requires strategy, execution and delivery of results.

My tweaked version is: “a person within a large organization who takes direct responsibility for turning an idea (or innovation) into a profitable finished offering through assertive risk-taking and effective stakeholder collaboration.”

Here are some other popular definitions:

Dictionary.com (which is based on the 2014 Random House Dictionary)an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation’s usual routines or protocols.

My rating is a “C-“. This definition is a little loosy goosy … intrapreneurs may get some latitude but freedom is a stretch. Saying they do not have to follow protocols is also a stretch.

Dictionary.com II (which is based on the 2009 Collins English Dictionary)a person who while remaining within a larger organization uses entrepreneurial skills to develop a new product or line of business as a subsidiary of the organization.

My rating is a “B-“. This definition is tighter. Saying that an intrapreneur develops a new product as a subsidiary does not make sense organizationally though.

Merriam Webster Dictionary: a corporate executive who develops new enterprises within the corporation.

My rating is a “D-“. This definition is too short and limiting. You don’t have to be an executive, and intrapreneurs don’t develop just new enterprises or work in only corporations. Pretty poor for such a prestigious brand. I suppose being too narrow is not as bad as being wrong though.

Speaking of wrong … the usually reliable Investopedia has a rather bizarre definition: An inside entrepreneur, or an entrepreneur within a large firm, who uses entrepreneurial skills without incurring the risks associated with those activities. Intrapreneurs are usually employees within a company who are assigned a special idea or project, and are instructed to develop the project like an entrepreneur would. Intrapreneurs usually have the resources and capabilities of the firm at their disposal. The intrapreneur’s main job is to turn that special idea or project into a profitable venture for the company.

My rating is an “F” (can I rate it lower?). This definition is laughable. Being assigned an idea and instructed to be an entrepreneur is a hilarious notion. It sort of misses the point doesn’t it? … and takes all the initiative out of it. Having all the resources and capabilities at one’s disposal is also an amusing thought.

When I started writing this blog, I did not expect to find such a large disparity of definitions. I was disappointed to find so many uninformed (aka lame) “name brand” definitional sources.

What is your definition?

As always, leave me your thoughts and ideas here.

Entrepreneurship Alive and Well in Local DC Area

I had lunch recently with my good friend and local entrepreneurial legend Ching-Ho Fung.  Ching-Ho was the Chairman of Parature until the recent sale to Microsoft in January for $100 million.  We were both in a reflective mood and discussed the state of entrepreneurship in the DC region.  I was struck how much is happening in support of entrepreneurship.

Along those lines, I attended a DC I-Corps event on 3/28 on the recommendation of Jim Chung, the Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer for George Washington University.  DC I-Corps is a regional program designed to foster, grow and nurture an innovation ecosystem in the nation’s capital, the nearby states of Maryland and Virginia, and the mid-Atlantic region.  It is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and jointly run by the University of Maryland College Park, George Washington University, and Virginia Tech.

The event featured presentations by four “teams” who are graduating to the next phase of the program and will/may become ventures one day soon.  Keep an eye out for ToxFix, ReadAhead, SmartPupilometer and RedShred.  All four look promising because they address real-world problems.  It’s part of the “Evidence Based Entrepreneurship” concept taught within the program.  I was particularly fascinated with RedShred as their RFP response solution is based on natural language processing techniques … something I have blogged about many times.  It’s a great example of a burgeoning Cognitive Computing solution.

Interestingly … the definition of a start-up by the I-Corps program is “A temporary organization designed to search for a scalable repeatable business model”.  I love this concept since it teaches entrepreneurs to find problems first that they can then address with a solution (and it’s value) before anything else.  It’s the right model.

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where some product manager is trying to apply the “every problem looks like a nail if you are a hammer” mentality.  That’s the wrong model.  Additionally, many entrepreneurs think the first thing they need to do to find venture capital.  There is a place for that but it’s not first.

I-Corps has gotten it right.  From what I can tell, this looks like a good program for anyone with an idea, or invention, to get started on the right foot.  In recent years, all of the local universities seem to be been expanding their focus on entrepreneurship.

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland have certainly expanded their offerings.  Next for them is the 2014 Cupid’s Cup Business Competition.

I plan to attend that one as well … and hope to see you there.  I also plan to blog more on both entrepreneurship (as well as intrapreneurship) going forward … so stop back soon.

As always, leave me your thoughts and comments below.