How Do Universities Affect Entrepreneurship Differently in Developing Countries?
A recent paper by Sothy Khieng, Sidney Mason, and Seakleng Lim identifies how universities and colleges can be influential in developing local entrepreneurship ecosystems. While the paper focuses on entrepreneurship in Cambodia, it offers useful lessons for decision makers working to advance ecosystems in other developing countries. These lessons are described below.
Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Frameworks Need to Reflect the Factors Found in Developing Countries.
Traditional entrepreneurship frameworks that examine the interactions solely between universities, industries, and governments have limited application in developing countries because they ignore the role of developmental partners and foreign assistance, the extent to which resources and knowledge are imported from abroad, and the participation of entrepreneurs in the informal sector (e.g., micro businesses).
Instead, the paper follows a framework developed by Ben Spigel (2017) on the material, social, and cultural attributes that influence an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Local Universities Play a Major Role in Transferring Knowledge to the Private Sector.
Universities that offer students coursework and activities that build their capacity as potential entrepreneurs are responsible for facilitating the transfer of knowledge to the private sector. This includes courses in business training, degree programs focusing on entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary studies that enable innovation. These “material” attributes help strengthen the local ecosystem when students enter the workforce or choose to start their own local companies.
Activities such as internship programs, networking events and business model competitions also have the added benefit of introducing role models who can shift students’ mindsets toward seeing entrepreneurship as a career option. They can also make entrepreneurship more socially acceptable in general, especially in cultures that are more risk averse. The authors caution, however, that these shifts can take time — in one cited study, it took at least 20 years for ecosystems to develop.
Local Decision Makers Should Work to Align Workforce Training with the Needs of the Entrepreneurial Community.
Through interviews with local actors, the authors found that Cambodia has an over-developed talent pool, and there are not enough local jobs for these highly qualified students when they graduate. There are also misalignments between higher education institutions and local employers, where there are not enough graduates to fill occupations with certain skills and too many for occupations that require others.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of programs like incubators and formal partnerships that link universities with entrepreneurship support organizations and members in the private sector to co-develop curriculum and share resources. Even so, the bridges between universities and the larger ecosystem need to be strengthened even further in order to address the misalignment. In the report, the authors highlight opportunities for intermediaries and government to provide further support for entrepreneurs.
The full report can be accessed here.
Contributed by Leah D. Barto.