Accessible Business Incubators – Hubs for SDG Realization!

Author: Mateja Olujic - Former CYFI Entrepreneurship Intern

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve as a vision of the future world which we would like to develop as a global community. In order to do that, we need to combat universal problems, of which poverty, economic underdevelopment and lack of education are extremely important. As the future of the world rests on children and youth, the social and economic well-being of young populations should be a top priority in the implementation of the sustainable development goals.

A key element of youth well-being is stimulating entrepreneurship. This blog post will focus on business incubators as an effective way of fostering youth entrepreneurship and advancing economic citizenship around the world. This concept started in two of the most entrepreneurial societies in the world, the United States and the United Kingdom, but many other countries have started to adopt this method to support their national economic development policies.

According to the National Business Incubation Association , there are more than 7,000 incubation programs worldwide today, out of which more than 600 are funded by United Nations Industrial Development Organization and InfoDev. Most of business incubators act as non-profit organizations, some are also for-profit as sponsored by successful big companies that get returns on shareholder investments. Some additional incubators come in mixed-forms through various forms of partnerships. Usually they provide resources such as cheap shared office space, utilities, networking connections and mentorship from experienced individuals. They can also be virtual like the Ye! Community , a global online platform for young entrepreneurs initiated by CYFI and providing country guides on starting a business, a support community, online coaching and access to funding.

How do business incubators contribute to the implementation and achievement of the SDGs?

SDG4 (inclusive quality education for all and promotion of lifelong learning) aims to increase the number of youth (and adults) who have relevant skills for employment and entrepreneurship. Although, education systems vary dramatically in different countries, many of them lack capacities for supporting practical work which would enhance students’ chances in setting up their own business. Even in most developed countries, tuition fees for universities and educational programs are very high so going straight to starting up a business might seem like a more logical move. Professors can teach classroom subjects, but rising youth unemployment and entrepreneurial failures shows that there is a need for better methods, tools and services which would turn ideas into feasible business plans and practices. Latest statistics by the International Labour Organization show the rate of overall global youth unemployment is 12.6 (as of 2013), but trends and realities vary depending on the region of the world. The ILO projects that youth unemployment will rise up to 12.8 by the year of 2018.

Unstable volatile environments, where failed economic ventures are most visible, make young people de-motivated and discouraged, and can result a passive or inactive mode of not being either employed, in education or training. Organizations such as SPARK , a CYFI network partner, focus on combining higher education with entrepreneurship in post-conflict societies by providing trainings, developing curriculums, organizing a youth academy for entrepreneurs, setting up business plan competitions and so on. However, business coaching through incubation programs could be used as an alternative method to standard educational curriculums in schools which are not doing enough to create jobs and businesses. By guiding them on operational aspects of business, incubators provide mentorship which is tailored to particular sectors or specific business concepts.

SDG8 (promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all) should ensure that sufficient amount of capital is invested in programs as a part of development oriented policies that support productive activities, job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and growth of SMEs. Due to limited available resources business incubators usually undergo a selection process of applicants which are chosen based on their idea or business plan feasibility. However, these limitations should be addressed, by creating more incentives and subsidies (from governments, multinational companies, SMEs, schools and universities) in order to make them more accessible for lower-income communities. A global strategy for youth employment should also merge business incubation programs with operational and educational processes which would enable young people to start sustainable enterprises.

Expanding opportunities for youth-led startups with global programs & partnerships!

SDG17 implies revitalizations of global partnerships for sustainable development. For today’s world, globalized and interconnected more than ever, this might be the most important goal in advancing and achieving the SDGs. CYFI network partner Impact Hub , part innovation lab, part business incubator, and part community center, is contributing to entrepreneurial capacity building in less developed parts of the world. Impact Hub was founded in London in 2005 and currently operates in more than 69 countries over 5 continents. The fact that it is growing world-wide, and soon opening additional 23 hubs, not only shows the need for incubation and acceleration programs but also validates its success.

Business incubators can serve as a means for meeting socioeconomic policy needs, but the business environment, as well as the entrepreneurial culture, is very different in regions such as Africa or Asia in comparison to North America and Europe. Powered by the incentive from the European Union through the Ye! Boost program (Erasmus+ programme), CYFI is creating international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity building in Ghana, Kenya and the Philippines. This program will indirectly affect national plans to advance youth entrepreneurship, in line with the SDGs. It provides the opportunity for young people, aged 16 to 30, who are running a social enterprise from any sector to participate in a competition in order to get 1-week intensive training at Impact Hub Amsterdam, as well as to participate in a pitching event. Another key partner of the Ye! Boost implementation is the GSBI Network, which provides structured programs for social entrepreneurs which help them develop their business plans, validate, launch and, ultimately, scale an enterprise.

Building on existing initiatives, and creating new projects which will allocate financial resources from highly developed societies towards less developed ones, is critical for eradicating poverty, spreading knowledge and expertise, developing and creating jobs. Academic teachers, business people, political leaders and, of course, youth, all acknowledge that there is a significant skills mismatch when it comes to education and real labor market needs. Educational systems and business incubation/acceleration models should be in constant reform and adaptation to a rapidly changing global environment. More youth around the world should be provided with accessible programs that combine both education, on-the-job training and incubation of business enterprises, as part of the SDG goals. There are already numerous programs existing and operating, most of them in Europe and North America, but they should be better targeted to particular underserved countries and regions, so a bigger impact can be achieved.

Mateja Olujic, a 24 year old former CYFI Entrepreneurship Intern from Zagreb, Croatia. Mateja has a Master's degree in International Relations and a Bachelor's in Political Science. During her 5-month stay at CYFI, she was coordinating the Ye! Boost Program for young entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya and the Philippines as well as the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs business exchange programme. This blog is the ninth in a series of summer blog articles related to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and are authored by youth interns at Child & Youth Finance International. Join the discussion on social media by following @ChildFinance and using the hashtag #cyfiyouth
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Tuesday, 19 November 2019