The Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (SEED) will open its first regional innovation center in West Africa, a geographic area that holds enormous potential for immediate economic impact.
The launch this July marks a major milestone in implementing SEED's critical strategic elements: on-the-ground training and sustained management support in a region of 300 million people, where nearly 70% of the population live on less than $2.00 per day, and 48% live on less than $1.25 per day.
The purpose of the regional innovation center, located in Accra, Ghana, is to stimulate economic opportunities — including job creation — by scaling high-potential local and regional businesses. The in-country effort will include:
- A sustained physical presence with a training and resource facility.
- A program of continuous coaching by experienced business leaders who will provide hands-on support in preparation for growth and potential new financing.
- Access to experts and investors through local, global, and Stanford networks.
- Research that is rooted in practice and on-the-ground interactions with businesses to help overcome bottlenecks to scaling.
The personal, hands-on approach and continuous coaching will allow SEED to work closely with target businesses and become active participants in change.
SEED was founded in 2011 with an extraordinary gift from Stanford alumnus and venture capitalist Robert King, MBA '60, and his wife Dorothy King, who envisioned an institute dedicated to the practical application of innovation and entrepreneurship to create jobs. In addition to the Kings, SEED's advisory board comprises Nobel laureate and New York University economist A. Michael Spence, former World Bank president and emerging markets private equity investor James Wolfensohn, Acumen Fund CEO Jacqueline Novogratz, and Managing Partner of Omidyar Network Matt Bannick.
Starting July 14, SEED's first cohort of approximately 30 West African businesses will begin a customized program designed to address local needs and management issues to help prepare their enterprises for expansion.
Participating companies, whose revenues range from $150,000 to more than $5 million, apply to the program and are selected by SEED for their potential to scale quickly and create jobs.
"It is our privilege to be able to leverage Stanford's resources and culture of innovation and entrepreneurship through our first on-the-ground program, which will include companies from Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and other West African nations," said SEED Executive Director Tralance Addy, who will be in Accra for the training and the launch event July 18.
SEED faculty, including Stanford Graduate School of Business supply chain expert Hau Lee, the Thoma Professor of Information, Operations and Technology; Stanford entrepreneurial design pioneer James Patell, the Herbert Hoover Professor of Public and Private Management; Collins Dobbs, instructor and leadership coach at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; and Addy will lead a one-week immersion workshop with a custom curriculum that starts with Design Thinking, an approach to problem solving that promotes innovation, and continues with sessions addressing Supply Chain Improvements, Product Innovation, and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Following the initial immersion week, participants will continue their training with two- or three- day workshops, lectures, networking events, and online offerings.
In addition to training, an additional critical aspect of SEED's strategy is to provide continuous business coaching by a team of accomplished volunteers who are based in Accra and work side by side with local and regional businesses.
The first cohort of volunteer SEED coaches includes:
Clinton Etheridge, MBA '74
The first African-American Peace Corps volunteer to serve in Gambia in the 1970s and a 1974 Stanford MBA graduate, Clinton was an entrepreneurial founding father of the California Economic Development Lending Initiative where, for 15 years, he coached, advised, and helped entrepreneurs finance, build, and grow small- to medium-sized businesses all over California to further the organization's mission to "create jobs and promote economic development." During his banking career, in addition to Fortune 500 lending with Security Pacific Bank and asset securitization with Citicorp, Clinton learned African import-export financing as an assistant treasurer with Chase Manhattan Bank's London-based Africa Trade Division.
D. Kweku Fleming, MS '88
Fleming is a design consultant who collaborates with companies and inventors to develop new products and innovations to existing products. Since 1992, he has served in the consumer goods, telecommunications, and construction industries, developing products that range from wireless telephones to designer luggage. Fleming earned an M.S. in mechanical engineering and product design from Stanford University. He has worked with companies such as Walt Disney Imagineering, Embarq, Jet Blue, Alcoa, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Ed Forman, Stanford MBA '79
Ed is an executive with over 30 years of experience leading entrepreneurial ventures in Silicon Valley. His strengths include ideation, strategy development, business modeling, and financial planning. Ed consults to early stage endeavors on strategy and business development. He also provides training and professional seminars in the United States, Chile, and South Africa. Ed has experience leading product development, marketing, business development in early stage business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies offering breakthrough technology-based solutions, including Apple Computer.
Bill Scull, Stanford MBA '81
Bill has more than 20 years of experience growing young technology companies. Bill has a track record of crafting strategy, understanding customer needs, defining product requirements, and developing distribution strategies. Scull served as an executive at ILOG where he and his team helped grow global company revenues from $30 to $80 million; at Sygate he and his team more than tripled sales in two years before an acquisition by Symantec; and at CloudShield he repositioned the firm and helped grow sales 50%. Scull mentored entrepreneurs for three years in the Global Social Benefits Incubator program at Santa Clara University.
Jan Swanberg, Stanford MBA '79
Jan is an expert in marketing strategy, customer analysis, and marketing communications. Her marketing experience ranges from consumer packaged goods to children's learning products to business software. In all cases, she applies initiative, marketing savvy, team leadership, and judgment to solve marketing problems and deliver results. One of her favorite accomplishments includes developing and marketing the Hooked on Phonics brand that made the process of learning to read engaging for children and parents, and won an award from the San Francisco Ad Council.
SEED also supports research by Stanford faculty and PhD students who are working towards the mission of SEED. Current research projects span a wide range of topics and include projects to develop business models for cacao farmers, transition women into business in emerging markets, and boost innovation capacity through public policy changes.
Building on its training and coaching in West Africa, and informed by research, SEED aspires to replicate the West Africa regional center in other developing economies within five years.
By Barbara Buell