Univer­sity re­think on job cre­ation is re­quired

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Wes­ley Diphoko Wes­ley Diphoko is the On­line Ed­i­tor for Busi­ness Re­port and head of Independent Me­dia’s Dig­i­tal Lab.

THE UNEM­PLOY­MENT rate, which in­creased from 26.5 per­cent in the last quar­ter of last year, is the high­est since Septem­ber 2003, de­spite a rise in em­ploy­ment in fi­nance (152 000), man­u­fac­tur­ing (145 000), and con­struc­tion (143 000).

Sec­tors that shed jobs were agri­cul­ture (44 000), trade (15 000) and gov­ern­ment (2 000). The cur­rent eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion means that young peo­ple who are cur­rently study­ing have lim­ited chances of get­ting jobs, even if they are qual­i­fied.

This should in­spire a change in aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions. Uni­ver­si­ties can no longer just pre­pare young peo­ple to be em­ployed – they should work to­wards pre­par­ing young peo­ple to be en­trepreneurs and cre­ators of jobs.

Uni­ver­si­ties should col­lab­o­rate more with start-up in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors to de­velop job cre­ators. Y Com­bi­na­tor is a great ex­am­ple of a creator of em­ploy­ers in the US. It se­lects an elite group of young en­trepreneurs. Months of in­tense work cul­mi­nates in Demo Day, when in­vestors and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists flock to hear their pitches. Any one of them might turn out to be the next Drop­Box (class of 2007) or Airbnb (class of 2009).

Y Com­bi­na­tor is one of the first start-up ac­cel­er­a­tors to be formed in the US in 2005 fol­lowed by TechS­tars, an­other lead­ing start-up ac­cel­er­a­tor. Th­ese two are con­sid­ered to be premier ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­grammes glob­ally. In South Africa, the Band­width Barn, a sub­sidiary of the Cape In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy Ini­tia­tive (Citi), is one of the lead­ing in­cu­ba­tors in the coun­try. (Dis­clo­sure: I served as board mem­ber of Citi for 10 years)

The Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion re­cently out­lined a clearer pic­ture of what they do. Re­search lit­er­a­ture has also been re­viewed on the ef­fec­tive­ness of ac­cel­er­a­tors and in­cu­ba­tors to achieve their stated aims, some best prac­tices for ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­grammes, and some fig­ures on the size, scope, and im­pact of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions.

In­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors are play­ing an in­creas­ing role in start-up com­mu­ni­ties around the world. There’s sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial of ac­cel­er­a­tors to be job cre­ators, and for th­ese ben­e­fits to spill over into the broader so­ci­ety. How­ever, the mea­sur­able im­pact of ac­cel­er­a­tors and in­cu­ba­tors have on per­for­mance varies widely among pro­grammes – not all ac­cel­er­a­tors are cre­ated equally. Qual­ity mat­ters. I be­lieve in­cu­ba­tors can play a very im­por­tant role in de­vel­op­ing young peo­ple who can cre­ate jobs.

Start-up ac­cel­er­a­tors and in­cu­ba­tors sup­port early-stage, growth-driven com­pa­nies through ed­u­ca­tion, men­tor­ship, and fi­nanc­ing. Start-ups en­ter ac­cel­er­a­tors for a fixed-pe­riod of time, and as part of a co­hort of com­pa­nies. The ac­cel­er­a­tor ex­pe­ri­ence is a process of in­tense, rapid, and im­mer­sive ed­u­ca­tion, com­press­ing years’ worth of learn­ing-by-do­ing into just a few months.

The fol­low­ing are just some of the African lead­ing in­cu­ba­tors that are worth sup­port­ing: LaunchLab; Cor­tex Hub; In­no­va­tion; iHub (Kenya); MEST Ghana; Band­width Barn (Woodstock and Khayelit­sha); Nel­son Man­dela Bay ICT In­cu­ba­tor; RaizCorp MTN So­lu­tion Space.

Growth in US-based ac­cel­er­a­tors re­ally took off af­ter 2008, as it did for start-ups, early-stage cap­i­tal, and ven­ture in­vest­ment more broadly. The num­ber of US-based ac­cel­er­a­tors in­creased by an av­er­age of 50 per­cent each year between 2008 and 2014.

Cur­rently a num­ber of aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions have adopted in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors as part of their pro­grammes. Stan­ford and Har­vard Univer­sity are lead­ing in this re­gard.

In South Africa, LaunchLab, an in­cu­ba­tor set-up by the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch has pi­o­neered the con­cept of in­clud­ing in­cu­ba­tor within an aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion. It al­lows stu­dents to set-up their busi­nesses on cam­pus and sup­port them to grow.

What is now needed is to bring in­cu­ba­tors closer to aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions with an aim of turn­ing stu­dents into job cre­ators as op­posed to be­ing job seek­ers.

In the next few months as part of pro­vid­ing use­ful in­for­ma­tion to our read­ers we will be shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about in­cu­ba­tors and ac­cel­er­a­tors.

The out­come of our work will be­come a use­ful re­source for young peo­ple to know where to go to be­come cre­ators of jobs.

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