Grant from U.S. Embassy supports new business, leadership partnership between Indiana, Ethiopia

Indiana University's Office of International Development was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to implement a new program, the Partnership in Business Entrepreneurship and Leadership Transformation, known as PiBELT. This funding will establish new business incubation centers and entrepreneurship curricula at Bahir Dar and Debre Markos universities in Ethiopia, eventually supporting a stronger innovation ecosystem across the country.

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"PiBELT is a tool for poverty reduction, job creation and good governance," said Yibeltal Tarekegn Minwagaw, project co-director at Debre Markos University.

Getahun Yemata, project co-director at Bahir Dar University, said the partnership is not just a business venture but also a cultural exchange.

"The project is anticipated to bring improved awareness among students/trainees and leadership, improved entrepreneurship knowledge and skills, new businesses created, and improved capacity," he said. "Moreover, the collaboration is instrumental to access international experiences, knowledge and skills, and to share cultural and personal experiences and strengthen the link."

The U.S. Department of State offers this funding through the University Partnerships Initiative, which was created in 2019 to strengthen collaboration between the U.S. and Africa. This initiative supports higher education links that expose African students, faculty and administrators to the diversity and innovation on American campuses. IU's PiBELT is at the leading edge of this initiative, designed to transform the capacity of young innovators and entrepreneurs in Ethiopia while also developing administrative and leadership capacities of the two partner universities through local training, exposure visits and mentoring.

"The PiBELT project will pave the way for longer-term engagement and creation of new opportunities for collaboration in Africa," said Hannah Buxbaum, IU's vice president for international affairs.

The PiBELT project will pave the way for longer-term engagement and creation of new opportunities for collaboration in Africa.

Hannah Buxbuam, IU vice president for international affairs

A key part of IU's strategy is to partner locally in Indiana with Ivy Tech Bloomington's Gayle & Bill Cook Center for Entrepreneurship, which will design and deliver in-country pre-acceleration and acceleration workshops on the campuses at Bahir Dar and Debre Markos. Over 12 weeks, young people from the universities and surrounding community will receive training in areas such as business modeling, sales and market analysis, and they will network with business leaders and mentors. Seed funding awards will launch the most promising business ideas.

"Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington is proud to partner with IU to help Ethiopian universities establish entrepreneurial accelerator programming at their campuses," said Jennie Vaughan, chancellor of Ivy Tech Bloomington.

Cook Center for Entrepreneurship Executive Director Steve Bryant agreed.

"This is a great opportunity to help spur innovation and small business development for their communities and promote cultural exchange with small businesses in Indiana and beyond," he said.

The project will facilitate new connections with local and U.S.-based businesses and business leaders for ongoing mentorship and growth of a larger "innovation ecosystem" in Ethiopia. In addition, it will develop the learning modules and "train the trainers" infrastructure necessary for the Ethiopian faculty to continue administering PiBELT activities on an ongoing basis. The PiBELT goal is to create a sustainable, scalable infrastructure that enables IU's Ethiopian partners to continue this work long after the grant ends, and to eventually expand the model to other parts of the country.

"The collaboration will contribute to enhancing IU's global engagement and visibility while contributing to improving business and social entrepreneurship and higher education leadership capacity development at the two Ethiopian universities, enabling the partner institutions to be more responsive to local development challenges," said Teshome Alemneh, IU's associate vice president for international research and development.

Brittaney Hartzer is the director of marketing and communications for the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs.