By Tsegamlak Solomon
Imagine you’re a researcher at a university, working tirelessly on a groundbreaking discovery. You’re passionate about your work, and you know it has the potential to make a real difference in the world. But how do you get your invention out of the lab and into the hands of those who need it?
That’s the question I sought to answer during my recent training for researchers at Jimma University. The training was facilitated by Viktoria Ventures and my topic was focused on “Establishing Spin-off and Startup Companies in Ethiopia.”
While preparing for the training I was struck by the untapped potential of university spinoffs in the country’s innovation landscape. Universities play a crucial role in the dynamic world of innovation and entrepreneurship as hubs of knowledge creation and pioneers of groundbreaking discoveries. While entrepreneurship is gaining traction in Ethiopia, particularly in the capital city, the concept of academic spinoffs – companies born from university research – remains relatively unexplored. Yet, these ventures hold immense promise for Ethiopia’s economic growth and technological advancement.
Intriguingly, with over 40 public universities in Ethiopia, why has there not been a single successful case of research commercialization? The blame is often placed on the regulatory framework, but this misconception overlooks the true underlying factors. In fact, the regulatory framework for higher education is surprisingly progressive compared to the reality on the ground. The Higher Education Proclamation explicitly allows universities to:
- Engage in various internal income-generating activities to support their mission
- Establish independent income-generating enterprises with their own legal personality and business operations
- Formulate income funds, with contributions from the institution’s income-generating enterprises
Despite their immense potential, academic spinoffs remain relatively uncommon in Ethiopia, primarily due to limited awareness of the concept, a lack of dedicated support structures, and, to a lesser extent, regulatory hurdles.
To fully harness the potential of university spinoffs in Ethiopia, a multi-pronged approach is essential:
- Raising Awareness: Disseminate information about the concept of academic spinoffs and their benefits to universities, researchers, and the wider entrepreneurial ecosystem.
- Building Support Structures: Establish dedicated incubators and accelerators specifically tailored to the needs of university spinoffs, providing mentorship, funding, and access to networks.
- Streamlining Regulations: Review and refine existing regulations to ensure they not only open the platform but support and incentivize the development of university spinoffs.
- Enhancing Collaboration: Promote partnerships between universities, industry, and government to create an enabling environment for innovation and entrepreneurship.
By implementing these strategies, I believe we can unlock the untapped potential of university spinoffs, driving economic growth, technological advancement, and societal progress.