How Ghana’s incubators are learning to supercharge startups

Incubators are finding that theory isn’t enough for startups to learn how to become thriving businesses. They’re learning how to put ideas into practice, with the latest coaching techniques that go beyond the classroom.

The six-month course followed on a theory focussed training that ran last year, this time with a more specialized focus on putting into practice various management tools known such as the Business Model Canvas, Empathy Mapping and Six Hats theory.

The tools may look simple – business model canvas is just nine blocks on a one-page document that explains how a business works. But the process of working through the components forces entrepreneurs to think through what problem their business is trying to solve and how they plan to solve it.

Several tools were developed at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, where trainer Nadine Reichenthal is a lecturer. With decades of experience coaching across Africa, she ran the virtual workshops for ITC’s Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF V) project in Ghana, focused on a simple mission: ‘How can I help you create products and services that people want?’

Her goal was to show four ecosystem support organisations in Ghana how she coaches entrepreneurs, so that they can apply those lessons when they work with startups.

The four tech hubs are among  nine business support organizations that received support from NTF V in 2022. Those hubs in turn work with dozens of startups, training hundreds of people throughout the year to take their businesses to the next level.

‘The training has impacted my life and the life of the startups at the company where I work,’ said Ibrahim Halidu, a business development associate at the Ghana Tech Lab.

‘We learned to help them redefine their problem statement. If we don’t have a clearly defined problem statement, we can’t find a problem solution,’ he said.

In another case, a startup had a plan, but hadn’t thought through who the company was trying to serve.

‘During the programme, we realized he didn’t have a well-defined customer segment. So we helped him define his customer segments,’ Ibrahim said. ‘He was also able to work on his pitch deck again. We were able to give him opportunities even beyond what the ITC follow-up training was meant to pick up.’

Those experiences highlighted another key takeaway from the training — how important it is for startups to talk to their customers.

‘The startups can spend the whole day in the hub. But from Nadine, I learned that they should go out and be with customers, and then come back for more learning, he added. Since the training, he’s already used these new techniques with 10 startups he coaches.

Building entrepreneurship skills

Seth Akumani, head of exploration for the UN Development Progamme Accelerator Lab, also attended, along with representatives of the Eastern Tech Hub and the Agrico Hub.

He has years of experience coaching startups, but said this was the first time he went through a formal training to learn how to apply the concepts from the business tool.

‘The first thing that was a good takeaway, the programme was well grounded in some of the current tools and resources that any business could use,’ he said.

Nadine used a lot of practical examples, and gave one-on-one time to each participant so they could ask individualized questions.

‘As a coach, you need to be confident in what you are bringing to the table. And some of that means being prepared,’ he said. ‘Why are you asking a business to do something? How will that benefit them?’

‘The how is also sometimes a challenge. It’s something a lot of entrepreneurs can use to help them build their business. How do I apply this?’ he added.

The focus on teaching entrepreneurship skills is one way that NTF V helps business support organizations to become multipliers to build strong and vibrant startups.

‘We are going to work on Ghana Tech Lab’s curriculum again,’ Ibrahim said. ‘We are going to add certain things that I learned. It is going to be a paradigm shift to a better way, so that startups can better engage with customers.’

About the project

The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands and the International Trade Centre. The programme supports MSMEs in the digital technologies and agribusiness sectors. Its ambition is two-fold: to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of food systems, partially through digital solutions, and drive the internationalization of tech start-ups and export of IT&BPO companies in selected Sub-Saharan African countries.

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