Innovation through exchange: African start-up founders collaborate with KU students

Five female start-up founders from Africa are working on their sustainable business models with KU business administration students this semester. The aim of the project is to make their companies more efficient. The participating start-ups want to improve healthcare and food production in the Global South. The founders from Africa received an award from the Bayer Foundation, which includes prize money and the opportunity for professional exchange. Prof. Dr. Andre Habisch, Dean of the Ingolstadt School of Management (WFI), established contact between the founders and the KU students through his honorary position as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Bayer Foundation.

Daisy Isiaho engages in lively discussions with students: The co-founder and senior product manager of the virtual African hospital Zuri Health is a guest at the KU to work on her business model together with KU students. As one of the winners of the Bayer Foundation's Women Empowerment Award, she has been invited to Ingolstadt to work with students as part of a course that allows both sides to benefit from each other’s knowledge. Together, they want to enrich society with their ideas for solutions.

With Zuri Health, Isiaho succeeds in providing "affordable and accessible healthcare solutions for people living in underserved African communities". Patients throughout sub-Saharan Africa can use a mobile app, a website and a short messaging service to chat with doctors, book laboratory tests and diagnostic examinations or have medical staff visit them at home. The Bayer Foundation's Women Empowerment Award honors precisely this kind of commitment, explains Dr. Eva Wack. She is Managing Director of the Ingolstadt Social Impact Start-Up Academy (SISTAC) which is the link between the Bayer Foundation, the participating universities and the founders. "The award honors female founders –i.e. explicitly women – in the global South who have established an impact start-up. It is about companies that aim to improve the living conditions of people in their own country or in other countries." With the award, the founders not only receive funding to drive their company forward, but also valuable support to analyze and improve their strategies through the project with the students.

SISTAC project

For Isiaho and the start-up Zuri Health, which she co-founded, the time in Ingolstadt offers great added value: Through the exchange with the students, she shares her perspective as a young female founder operating in Africa. "We can work together and innovate to create the basis for a sustainable cooperation for the future."

Florence Niyigena also benefits from her visit to Ingolstadt: She is responsible for operations at IRIBA Water Group Ltd and is also one of the founders who want to improve their business model with the help of students as part of the KU course. Together, they brainstorm ways for increasing efficiency of the start-up company that focuses on providing innovative, safe and affordable water solutions for private households and municipalities.

For the students, working with the female founders means gaining a first insight into the world of entrepreneurship, as Stephanie Ott, a business administration Master's student specializing in entrepreneurship and innovation, says: "I believe that this is great preparation for my future career as an entrepreneur." Working with people from different cultures and backgrounds prepares her for her future career and is a change from other seminars and lectures at the university.

SISTAC project

Students can decide for themselves which founder they would like to work with, allowing them to set their own individual focus. Florian Thoma, a business administration Master's student specializing in market-oriented corporate management, says: "We matched really well with the founder right from the start, we got on really well. The topic is very exciting because we can actually have a social impact. We help farmers in remote regions of Africa to avoid the problem of corruption in financing and to obtain bank loans more easily so that they can operate their farms."

With this action learning format, students can learn from practice which business models are possible, what the challenges of entrepreneurship are and how these can be overcome. Therefore, Professor Habisch believes it is important that the participants not only develop ideas, but also test them: "This must be done with the relevant target groups that they identify – so that a consolidated concept can be handed over to the founder." With this strategy, Habisch and SISTAC have jointly realized more than 80 projects in seminars and Master's theses. "They aimed to expand business models, improve marketing and communication and accelerate the growth of start-ups. This has created jobs, cared for patients and enabled small farmers to receive higher prices for their products", explains Wack.

The model is now to be made available to other universities and companies: Together with the Bayer Foundation, André Habisch and Eva Wack have cultivated intensive contacts in the USA, Malaysia and China and they were successful: Jennifer Merritt Faria, Senior Director of Academic Affairs at the Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, took part in the Ingolstadt boot camp for female founders and students. For her, the format means being able to train students in partnership with the KU, SISTAC and the Bayer Foundation in such a way that they are "the next generation of people who will drive change".