Africans display the highest levels of entrepreneurial intention in the world according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
75% of working-age adults in Africa consider entrepreneurship a good career choice. But support infrastructure and entrepreneurial education in Africa is lacking.
David Harrlley, a recent graduate from IE Business School’s full-time MBA program, has set out to fix this problem. Over the course of his last semester at IE, he founded Think Startup, an online platform which connects Africa-based entrepreneurs with a team of expert advisors and mentors, for free.
Not-for-profit Think Startup also runs on-the-ground workshops to provide training and networking opportunities for budding entrepreneurs in Africa.
Originally from Ghana, David worked for seven years as a mechanical engineer in Canada before relocating to Spain for his MBA.
For David, the biggest barrier to the success of an entrepreneur is not a lack of funding, but a lack of knowledge. He wants to transfer the business knowledge he picked up at Spain’s top business school – ranked eighth in the world by the Financial Times - to new generations of African entrepreneurs.
How did the idea to start Think Startup come about?
IE specializes in training entrepreneurs. By the time I was halfway through the program, I realized I had learned an awful lot. I simultaneously was being exposed to some of the ideas that my friends in Ghana had. While some of them were brilliant, there seemed to be a clear lack of a roadmap.
I have always thought it would be interesting to start a business in Ghana or another African country to help development efforts. At IE, I thought, how could I be even more effective by replicating myself, or rather replicate the knowledge I have gained through the program, through the process of creating a startup?
Where are you at right now? What do you hope to achieve?
We want to contribute to the development of the Startup Ecosystem in Africa, and build a strong brand for ourselves in the area of entrepreneurship training. In order that our team of advisors have a dedication to all startups - not just those with higher potential - we made the decision to run Think Startup as a not-for-profit.
In the long term, we hope to leverage this brand to a profit-making end via partnerships with venture capital firms to provide our training to their clients, or a finder’s fee for successful matches between startups and investors.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to start their own business?
Make sure you are solving a problem, even if it’s a problem customers are not aware that they have yet. Make sure you are passionate about solving this problem, or creating this value, because it never gets easy and you will need that passion.
Build failure into your process. Learn to see failure as not a deviation from the path you’ve set yourself, but a necessary part of the journey, it will hurt a lot less! Fail early and often as they say. When recruiting, recruit slowly, and fire fast. Lastly, I would say start where you are. There isn’t a better day than today, to start in whatever little way.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at IE Business School?
I applied to IE first because they did not require the GMAT exam, just an aptitude test of sorts which you cannot study for. My intention was to then take the GMATs and apply to other schools, but as I went through the admissions process, researched the school, talked to recruiters, attended a masterclass, it became clear that IE was the place for me. What stood out through the admissions process is that IE were interested in more than just grades. They were interested in original thinkers with interesting backgrounds.
What should applicants think about when deciding to do an MBA?
I believe every MBA program has a DNA. They must differentiate themselves somehow, or at least attempt to. Figure out what your DNA is, what you want to achieve after the program, and find a school whose DNA matches yours.
If you can figure out what your profile is, it will shrink that pool of options much faster. I always wanted to work internationally, I value creativity highly, and I value original thought, so that immediately shrunk the pool of schools that I could go to.
People tend to make decisions almost purely on grade requirements and length of program. For such a large investment of money, I tend to think you should be looking for much more than that.
Would you be where you are today without the IE MBA?
Without a doubt, I would not be where I am without the IE MBA. A year and a half ago, I was project-managing the design of mechanical systems for hospitals. Without the teaching and exposure IE provided, I could never have conceived this. It was beyond my vision, way beyond!
IE’s professors, my classmates and the dean have been very supportive in providing advice, encouragement and confidence. The whole program has the entrepreneurship DNA embedded in it. Everything about the program has been foundational to the creation of Think Startup.