UB in Africa
Bringing Lessons Back Home
To paraphrase poet-activist Maya Angelou, we are more alike than we are unalike. Three scholars in the Merrick School of Business are embracing those commonalities as they study how lessons from entrepreneurs across the globe may benefit those here at home.
Ven Sriram, professor of marketing and chair of the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship; Tigineh Mersha, professor of management; and David Lingelbach, associate professor of entrepreneurship, are collaborating to conduct research in Africa. In the process, they hope to discover ideas that are translatable to challenges faced by startup founders in Baltimore and other cities.
Africa has not gotten the research attention that it deserves, says Sriram. "African countries are among the fastest-growing in the world, and many are transitioning from government-managed to more private economies. So there are a wealth of opportunities for entrepreneurs,” he explains. "In addition, Africans who have emigrated to the United States, Canada and Europe are going back to their home countries to start businesses, helping to build those economies and provide employment.”
Topics the researchers are exploring include African social enterprises, innovative financing and women entrepreneurs. "Women in Africa often have small businesses, such as producing handcrafts or raising livestock, to help make ends meet," Mersha explains. "Here in the U.S. low wage earners and those whose hours of employment can vary might seek similar supplemental income, such as driving for Uber. So we’re interested to learn more."
The trio’s collaborations are especially fruitful because they represent different business perspectives, says Lingelbach. "We’re a good team because we don’t reinforce each others' biases," he explains. "Ven's specialty area has been marketing, Tigi's business operations and mine is entrepreneurship, especially in emerging economies. And we have concentrated on a variety of countries as well, including Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Senegal, Ghana, Ethiopia and Nigeria."
Individually and collectively the trio has produced a variety of publications and conference presentations. Upcoming projects include a scholarly book series on African entrepreneurship. Plus the team is currently developing the UB Center for the Study of Emerging Market Entrepreneurship (CSEME). CSEME's intended area of focus is entrepreneurship in developing and emerging economies and its potential for application in the U.S. "We are excited to create a new venture to promote and support this research, both here at UB and in collaboration with other institutions,"says Lingelbach.
From New Perspectives
The January Global Field Study trip to Ghana, West Africa, immersed 13 UB students in a new culture as they learned about the challenges of local IT entrepreneurs. A collaboration with the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration (GIMPA), the venture gave students and their GIMPA colleagues opportunities to work together on projects at four digital start-ups in Accra.
The trip was designed by Eusebio Scornavacca , Parsons Professor for Digital Communication, Commerce and Culture in the Merrick School of Business. Addressing cases presented by Ghanaian companies encouraged students to approach problems from new perspectives, Scornavacca says. "We excel at developing real-life case studies in the business school," he explains. "But it was particularly challenging for our students to solve problems in a completely new business environment. We learned so much from our Ghanaian colleagues."
Students' overseas experiences are always valuable, Scornavacca adds, but Africa is one
of the most interesting places to apply their knowledge. "Digital entrepreneurs are thriving
there—countries like Ghana and Kenya are places where you can see simple digital technologies making a huge socio-economic impact. We are definitely going back."