From left: Dr Ethel Abe, Dr Thea van der Westhuizen and Dr Andrisha Beharry-Ramraj.

UKZN Scoops Awards at Big Innovation and Entrepreneurship Event in Washington DC

Teamwork by UKZN academics Dr Ethel Abe, Dr Andrisha Beharry-Ramraj and Dr Thea van der Westhuizen, all from the School of Management, IT and Governance (SMIG), recently put UKZN in the limelight at the 6th International Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ICIE).

The conference was hosted by the University of the District of Columbia, Georgetown University and the George Washington University, in Washington DC, in the United States.

Beharry-Ramraj attended the conference to deliver her paper, co-authored with Professor Stephen Migiro and Dr John Amolo, on University Environment and the Entrepreneurial Inclination of Students. The paper was based on her study to determine whether the institutional environment of the university is supportive of individual entrepreneurial intent on the part of students contemplating their own business initiatives. Reportedly, study respondents were broadly affirmative but came out strongly for action to enrich the institutional environment for student entrepreneurship.

Abe’s contribution was a poster presentation on work in progress titled Institutional Dynamics and Entrepreneurial Self-Efficacy for Systemic Entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa. The presentation was prepared in collaboration with School colleagues Professor Ziska Fields and Dr Isaac Abe in a project intended, as Dr Ethel Abe explains, ‘to see how local entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa can be turned into systemic entrepreneurship leading to the development of the sub-region.’

Along with delivering a paper on cultivating risk-taking, innovation and pro-activity among young entrepreneurs, van der Westhuizen was at the conference to give an account of UKZN’s dynamic SHAPE incubator programme (Shifting Hope, Activating Potential Entrepreneurship) for aspirant student entrepreneurs, founded by her in 2014 as an initiative of SMIG and now (2018) going into its third iteration. Her work on SHAPE is based on the research supported by the National Research Foundation of South Africa (Grant Numbers: 107003).

But more was to come. Each year at the annual ICIE Conference submissions are invited for awards to be decided at the conference in three categories: PhD Colloquium, Best Poster Presentation and the Innovative Youth Incubator Award. The UKZN team submitted entries in two of these categories and in each case the UKZN entries won the top awards.

Abe’s poster took the Best Poster Presentation award against a keenly competitive field of 16 contenders from around the world. Assessor on the judges panel Professor Dan Remenyi commented that the presentation brought new clarity to questions that had been in his mind about entrepreneurship in the region, particularly in relation to involvement of Nigerian men. The presentation was particularly commended for graphical, pictorial and theoretical clarity and acuity.

Already on the pre-conference shortlist of finalists for the prestigious Innovative Youth Incubator Award for 2018, and standing out from a global field of 15 entries, UKZN’s SHAPE incubator held its lead and was awarded joint first place in the category “Excellence in reaching out to the community”. One of the features of the award for the SHAPE programme is membership of the International Society for Professional Innovation Management, and another particularly valued outcome is that the account of SHAPE given in the conference presentation will feature in a linked annual book publication that showcases outstanding incubator initiatives for young entrepreneurs around the world. This will be of considerable benefit to SHAPE in that it is both a training initiative and an ongoing research project (a systemic action learning and action research project) exploring a range of issues in the field of youth entrepreneurship.

One feature of the SHAPE project drew particular attention at the conference, pointing up a set of issues somewhat overlooked in ICIE conferences that have more conventionally tended to foreground issues such as financing and viability of innovative technology. This was the crucial emphasis in SHAPE, acutely relevant in South Africa and important elsewhere in the developing world, on fostering, encouraging and refining an entrepreneurial frame of mind and heart in young business aspirants. As expressed in another assessor’s comment from Professor Remenyi, ‘What we are looking for in this competition is stories about how Youth Incubators really make a difference to the lives of young people. And this is what the UKZN Incubator achieved. As one of the students said “Every day I woke up with a great feeling of knowing that I got that chance to shift and activate my potential into action”. We want to see more of this in South Africa and around the world.’

The collective thrust in the UKZN contribution to the ICIE event gave strong testimony to the University’s engagement with the overall field of entrepreneurship in and for South Africa, both in tutelage, encouragement and incubation of future cohorts of young business owners and in extended research into entrepreneurship as a national priority.

Words: David Newmarch