Practical Experience a Must: Student-Run Businesses at ALA

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How do we teach entrepreneurship at ALA? The only way we can: through practical hands-on experience! Student-Run Businesses (SRBs) are major components of our Entrepreneurship Curriculum, which provides students with the creative approach and necessary skills for innovation on the African continent. The SRB program gives students a practical and hands-on insight into the business world as they build, and implement, real models for production and trade.

Participating students embark on the journey from idea to business venture and learn, through experience, that launching a successful business requires careful planning, detailed structures, and time. Members of the ALA Community with particular entrepreneurial flair have found opportunity in almost every aspect of life at the Academy.  A hair salon, shoe repair ‘hospital’, clothes mending service, and school farm are just some of the creative business ideas that add passion and excitement to the fast-growing Student-Run Business program at ALA.

The SRB program kicked off with the ALA Business Challenge, a business ideas competition designed to generate the most innovative and feasible ideas for implementation.  Applicants completed a detailed business concept template that outlined the vision, feasibility, and market potential of their product or service. Twenty-two ideas were submitted in total. All applications were represented by teams, as students put into practice one of ALA’s principles of entrepreneurship: “networked minds are greater than the sum of their parts!”

The next step entailed presentation of the business ideas to an audience. Each team delivered an oral presentation, gave a creative demo of their concept, and answered questions from our panel of ‘investors’. Guest judges included the Entrepreneurship Faculty, ALA Founders, partners the law firm Bowman & Gilfillan, and representatives from TechnoServe. The panel’s role was to determine implementation requirements and the most feasible business ideas.

Student teams pitched their ideas to the panel in an entertaining and lively session. Blindfolded members of the panel sampled the delights of Chanis Cafe; our shoemaker left us in stitches with his ailing shoes; we were wowed by the skill set of the Agric, their presentation and delivery; and our laundry services team generated the longest Q&A session since they were the first team to present financials. In the end, eight teams were awarded business licenses.

The SRB journey will continue with a focus on skill building workshops in key areas such as market research, entrepreneurial finance, and implementation planning. Teams are planning earnestly for launch, administering market surveys and preparing financial projections for funding applications, which will detail a mix of debt and equity. Plans are also underway for building an ALA mall, where the businesses will operate, and for launching an ALA Bank. All teams will have an advisory board in place (comprised of a lawyer, an accountant, and an industry expert) for mentoring, auditing, and reporting purposes.

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