No membership fee is required to join the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) programme. “It’s just heart. You just must buy in and have the heart for the work.”

So said Dr Norah Clarke (left), Director for Entrepreneurship at Universities South Africa (USAf), at the recent EDHE Lekgotla 2022. Clarke was showcasing EDHE — its aims, activities, and future plans.

Dr Clarke reiterated EDHE’s three unchanged principles, and goals:

  • To develop or support the development of entrepreneurial universities
  • To support the development of entrepreneurship through teaching, learning and research, and
  • To support the development of student entrepreneurship.

She said these are achieved through strategically selected and planned activities.

EDHE has five communities of practice (CoPs), aligned with these principles. Each presented a snapshot of its activities and progress.

1. CoP for Entrepreneurial Universities – time for a national policy on entrepreneurship

Professor Eugene Cloete (right), Chairperson of this CoP and Stellenbosch University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, Innovation and Postgraduate Studies, said they had been involved in three reports:

  • the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) study on advancing entrepreneurial universities in Africa:
  • the report on South African universities’ Innovation Ecosystem Mapping; and
  • the National University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Baseline Report.

“All three of these reports have made strides towards developing an entrepreneurial mindset and culture on the South African climate in all 26 universities,” Professor Cloete said.

Not singling out each report but focusing on the challenges they had highlighted, Cloete said their main findings were:

  • Funding was a challenge, and it “will always be”, he said. “Of course, universities have to invest their own money into entrepreneurial activities, but it is very important to develop partnerships with the private sector to help with seed funding and also the eventual commercialisation of the innovations,” he said.
  • The need to change mindsets. The culture at universities is still focused on research output. “We need to create awareness and, in this respect, EDHE has done extremely well” through the Lekgotla, attended by more than 400 delegates in 2022, and the Executive Leadership Workshop we had earlier this year,” he said. “The challenge is to communicate clearly, the benefits of commercialising research to stakeholders, both internal and external to the university. It is also important to focus on the IP (intellectual property) pipeline, to strengthen it and generate momentum, which is easier for some universities than others,” said Professor Cloete.

Researchers also need to acquire an inductive mindset. They often have a reductive mindset. This involves setting a hypothesis and then proving it right or wrong. An inductive mindset, the creative risk-based one, where the future is not predictable, is what drives many entrepreneurs and many entrepreneurial activities.

  • The need to build partnerships with industry and big research organisations across the globe that are interested in IP development. In South Africa, this includes the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Medical Research Council (SAMRC), and other councils such as the Agricultural Research Council (ARC).

“These networks are crucial if we want to take our research to market and want an international footprint in the shortest space of time. There are people out there who know exactly how to do this,” he said.

  • The need to continue to share good practice between universities in South Africa and to establish a policy framework for entrepreneurship. A policy framework had seen research “skyrocket, making a big difference to South Africa. We need a similar policy for entrepreneurship, where entrepreneurship can be incentivised, not only at the national level, but also at an institutional level. In that respect, we need to encourage companies to engage with universities,” he said.He said universities needed to replicate previous co-funding modalities, where companies had provided funding for research or capacity building to universities, and government had matched the amounts.
  • More commercialisation of the social sciences, arts and humanities. Here the impact of traditional knowledge played a role. And there was social impact too, as these activities often created job opportunities.Professor Cloete said entrepreneurship was about “taking the patentable innovation into the wider community for societal or economic benefit.  We have created the landscape to move forward on a national policy on entrepreneurship, which will guide the system forward and make sure that our universities start contributing to employment, economic growth, and the eradication of poverty. ”

2. CoP for student entrepreneurship – an increasing number of female entrepreneurs

Chairperson of this CoP, Ms Nadia Waggie (left), Head of Sustainability & Impact (Careers) at the University of Cape Town and a member of its Innovation and Entrepreneurship Working Group, said its role was to mobilise students to create successful enterprises that will lead to both wealth and job creation.

The CoP drives three flagship programmes:

  • Student Entrepreneurship Week (SEW), hosted at the University of Venda on 18 to 19 August this year;
  • Entrepreneurship Intervarsity, with its internal and regional rounds, culminating in what she referred to as the “big splash”, the national finals and award ceremony in November. There are 3457 applicants this year, a big increase from 1155 in 2019;
  • Student Women Economic Empowerment Project (SWEEP) is about assisting women to become entrepreneurs against “the backdrop of gender-based violence”, said Waggie. “The growth since inception has been phenomenal, with 46 starting and now we have 237,” she said.

Furthermore, the participation of female entrepreneurs in the Intervarsity had also increased, with 677 women applicants.

3. Studentpreneur CoP – about being part of a community

“The students say to us: ‘nothing for us without us,’” said Clarke. So EDHE’s second CoP supporting student entrepreneurship comprises students, one from each university, bringing it to a total of 26.

“They are all student entrepreneurs who are in good academic standing, and who have been selected by the institutions to serve on this national body. They’ve got to have a very clear focus — only their business and academics. This is not the space for other priorities,” said Clarke.

Chairperson, Chad Lucas (right) from Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley in the Northern Cape, where he is chairperson of the university’s internal Studentpreneurs CoP, said in the past, students used to pursue entrepreneurship “to be changemakers in their own lives”. This was “loser” behaviour, he said. “They needed to be a part of something, to be a part of a community, a community that bridges the gap between economic participation and youth, with different voices to be heard.”

By being part of a CoP, they are aligned in a formal, structured way of working together under the EDHE banner, “to inculcate an entrepreneurship culture at the ground level. We act as changemakers for a better tomorrow,” said Lucas.

4. CoP for Entrepreneurship in Learning and Teaching – responsible for the Excellence awards

Chairperson of this CoP, Dr Thea van der Westhuizen, Senior Lecturer in Management and Entrepreneurship in the School of Management, IT and Governance at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said they had four task teams whose activities contributed towards EDHE’s national agenda. “Everything fits into each other like chains within the ecosystem coming together,” she said.

The CoP’s task teams contributed to:

  • The EDHE Kickoff and Train the Trainer initiative earlier this year;
  • The lekgotla preparation – identifying themes on research, learning and teaching, academic entrepreneurship, and best practices; and then training themselves through a kickoff event;
  • The forthcoming Student Entrepreneurs Week; and
  • the EDHE Learning and Teaching Excellence awards, where lecturers submitted a best practice case study of an academic or extracurricular entrepreneurship programme taking place at universities. “We had a fantastic response. The abstracts are being adjudicated, and the best 20 will be invited to submit full case studies. These will go through another round of peer review in partnership with the British Council, where we will select the top three cases and the award will be presented to the top case at the gala evening taking place in November,” she said. They would be publishing the 20 best case studies.

5. CoP for Entrepreneurial Research – research must be impactful and influence policy

Deputy chairperson of this CoP, Dr Makhosazana Faith Vezi-Magigaba (left), Deputy Dean for Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Commerce, Administration and Law at the University of Zululand, said they are very busy researching projects for an EDHE report.

One of these is a baseline study of entrepreneurship at universities. Their study on women in entrepreneurship, which found that women are not that keen to embark on entrepreneurial activities, had led to the birth of EDHE’s project, SWEEP, “because we wanted to encourage women to be part of intrepreneurial activities,” she said.

“I am glad we have deputy vice-chancellors and researchers from various universities here,” she said. “I am challenging them to go back to their universities and identify their research gaps and develop possible research topics for postgraduate studies.”

Some postgraduate students did not know what to research. Institutions needed to guide them towards impactful research. “We need to identify research topics that will influence policy development,” she said, noting that even though South Africa has policies, they fall short when it comes to entrepreneurship and are not always clear.

“Another challenge to all institutions is to identify a space where we can assist students to run successful businesses,” she said. It wasn’t enough to just talk about entrepreneurship. She also implored universities’ partners in industry to extend their assistance to student entrepreneurs, to bolster their business successes while on campus.

“We request everyone in the research space to come and join our community of practice. By doing it together, we will be able to achieve the EDHE goals.” concluded Dr Vezi-Magigaba.

Coming up in 2023

Dr Norah Clarke said in 2023, EDHE would open a second layer of membership “to bring in people from the community, business, industry, public sector, and NPOs (not-for-profit organisations), who want to work with universities in support of entrepreneurship development.”

And with much fanfare, Ms Zana Boshoff, USAf’s Project Manager for Entrepreneurship, announced that the University of the Western Cape (UWC) would be hosting the EDHE Lekgotla 2023.

UWC’s Deputy Vice Chancellor: Academic, Professor Vivienne Lawack (left), said via a pre-recorded video that it would be “a privilege and an honour to host such a prestigious event”.

She said UWC had developed an entrepreneurship development model to address society’s many challenges. They had launched ZoneLearning@UWC, an experiential learning and incubation space, in 2020, inspired by the model developed by Ryerson University in Canada.

“ZoneLearning@UWC equips our students with entrepreneurial skills and develops socially responsive graduates who drive entrepreneurial activities in their communities. Unique to this programme is that the curriculum is embedded in the learning experience. The outcome is a graduate with attributes necessary for a changing world of work in the digital age,” she said.

“It therefore gives me great pleasure to invite EDHE, higher education, our communities, industry leaders and the public and private sector to UWC for the Lekgotla 2023. See you in Cape Town,” said Professor Lawack.

Gillian Anstey is a contract writer for Universities South Africa

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