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At Sensational Foods, an expanding self-service restaurant chain in Lagos serving traditional Nigerian fare, cashiers have perfected the technique of what they call “giraffing” – extending their necks for a full picture of the food on a customers’ plate without leaving their position.

The anecdote forms part of the case study on Sensational Foods – one of two dozen local case studies written specifically for the Enterprise Development Center of Lagos Business School. The school at Pan-African University offers a certificate in entrepreneurial management to classes of around 40 local business owners three times a year.

Three years after graduation, research by the EDC suggests two-thirds of its graduates have increased their workforce significantly; one in five has boosted employee recruitment by 50-100 per cent. Lagos Business School’s certificate course is now being adapted and replicated in Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, and has been used as a framework by Goldman Sachs for its 10,000 Women certificate programme for entrepreneurs in Liberia.

Entrepreneurship education is a crucial lever in helping Nigeria diversify from its dependence on oil production.

Both the World Bank and members of the Global Business School Network have been important contributors to the EDC but its success has been driven largely by its director, Peter “Banky” Bamkole, a graduate of Lagos Business School, which Iese Business School in Spain helped establish almost 20 years ago. After 16 years working in the Nigerian oil industry, then another seven employed by the state-owned water corporation, Mr Bamkole was studying for an MBA when he had the idea of supporting small, local businesses. He set up the centre in 2003 and applied successfully for a World Bank grant of $20,000 to fund some initial research.

“The model of working with small businesses had not been developed in Nigeria,” he says. “We wanted to do much more than training – we wanted to provide services to small businesses while removing the constraints. We wanted an enterprise development centre that could compete with anyone across the globe.”

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation contributed a capacity building fund and through the GBSN, Mr Bamkole and Olayinka David-West, a colleague and lecturer in information systems, toured 20 business schools in Europe and North America with enterprise centres, including Wharton, Babson, IMD and St Gallen. The GBSN schools also supplied professors to help create teaching notes for a practical-oriented curriculum, while a case writer from Darden was assigned to help write the case studies, which have since been registered with the European Case Clearing House.

The result was a “hands-on case study approach” certificate programme delivered in 30 days but spread over five months. Repayment of the course fee of $4,000 is also spread over the five months. Whereas many entrepreneurship programmes are focused on start-ups, the vast majority of students on the EDC certificate course in Lagos have been running their own businesses for at least three months when they enrol.

“It means that we’re teaching people who are already committed to entrepreneurship as a career path,” explains Mr Bamkole.

“That way we can spend all our time improving a business that already exists. And five years on, there is not a sector in which we do not know someone or something that can help each entrepreneur.” Even after the course has ended, Mr Bamkole and his team remain connected to their entrepreneurs, through year-long mentoring relationships, supported with free mobile phones if necessary, to ensure that even the most resource-constrained graduate can benefit.

Much of the entrepreneurship education is aimed at helping students find solutions to the barriers to enterprise in Nigeria, which Mr Bamkole summarises with the acronym Misfit: lack of access to markets, infrastructure, support services, finance, information and technology.

Mr Bamkole says that raising finance in Nigeria is the greatest challenge for entrepreneurs. “Lending procedures require collateral which many of our students simply don’t have.” This is why EDC is one of the African locations piloting Harvard University‘s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab initiative, which is using psychometric testing to predict credit risk with the same accuracy as traditional credit scoring models but without requiring credit history or collateral.

The Nigerian government has asked Lagos Business School to help it roll out 24 similar enterprise centres across the country, while Mr Bamkole, who now sits on the management council of the Pan-African University, has also been invited to introduce entrepreneurship courses for students in all disciplines across the university.

According to Guy Pfeffermann, the GBSN’s chief executive, the success of the EDC is an example of how business schools in developed and developing countries can work together to offer programmes geared to local markets.

“Banky is not an academic and runs this centre like a start-up business without all the kind of academic strictures that might hold it back,” says Mr Pfeffermann.

“We contributed by plugging them into best practice worldwide that they could adapt to their needs,” he adds. “But the information flow has turned out to be two-way, as schools in the developed countries are very keen to learn more about emerging markets.”

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