Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance's Rome Forum at JCU

“If your dream doesn’t scare you, it is not big enough.”

John Cabot University, the Institute for Entrepreneurship and Competere had the pleasure of hosting the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance’s second annual Rome Forum on Friday, October 11, 2013.

Founded in 2007 by Okendo Lewis Gayle, the Harambe Entrepreneurship Alliance has flourished with associates from thirty-one African countries and the sharpest minds from one-hundred-twenty leading universities around the world. These entrepreneurs capture, inform, and engage Africa’s global intellectual capital with innovation and ventures that promote social change.

The Rome Forum gathered a cross-cultural assembly of leaders with the goal of illustrating how entrepreneurship can meet the needs of marginalized communities across Africa.

The opening remarks of Dr. Mary Merva, Vice President and Dean of Academic Affairs at John Cabot, focused on the importance of initiative and determination, and not to simply wait for government solutions that may not be coming due to lack of fiscal resources or corruption. In Italy as in Africa, opportunities abound for upcoming entrepreneurs to identify social problems and provide creative, feasible solutions.

Okendo Lewis Gayle enlightened the audience about the mind-drain and the cultural perspective entrenched in Africa from centuries of oppression. In 2008, The Economist headlined Africa as a “hopeless continent”. Now, however, the once stifled creativity is coming back as 70% of Africans pursuing higher education abroad return to their home countries. As of 2010, magazines have begun to refer to Africa as “the fastest billion on the market.” A renewed sense of national change for Africa has found momentum through the platform of the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance. Full of wit in his statements, Okendo gave proud introductions to present 9 young entrepreneurs that created products or services fulfilling an array of needs in education, fashion, and the medical field.

Mr. Ukwuani, from Nigeria and armed with a degree from MIT, has bridged a gap of knowledge for his country and his university with the Exposure Robotics League, a five-week summer program exposing secondary school Nigerians to robotics, and educating young minds in creativity and technical problem-solving skills.

Mr. Imende, a University of North Carolina graduate from Kenya, has designed Enzi Footwear, a premium, versatile, casual shoe brand. Enzi Footwear is marketed as 100% African foot-wear using world-class sheepskin leather.

Ms. Moreira, a Cambridge University graduate from South Africa, has launched MoWoza, a simple-to-use mobile e-commerce service that eliminates long and costly logistics, and minimizes corruption with officials.

Ms. Mushavi, a Harvard University graduate from Zimbabwe, empowers HIV-positive women in rural Uganda with Poultry Microentreprises. The women are given a chicken to farm, and in turn they have the ability to make a living income. This initiative studies the impact of economic empowerment on health indicators as well as the outcome of HIV treatment.

Mr. Ly, an MIT graduate from Senegal, assembled True Mobile Africa, a free mobile directory that aims to put 100,000 bottom-of-the-pyramid African professionals on the map within 12 months. It will enable the informal economy of painters, carpenters, hairdressers to advertise and connect with their clients.

Ms. Shah, a City University London graduate from Kenya, broke away from her earlier corporate banking career and created her own fashion label, Maisha Concept in Hong Kong. She has taken a road less traveled to design African-inspired fashion, and has expanded her distribution into Spain.

Ms. Rabana, a University of Cape Town graduate from Botswana, has been recognized by Forbes as one of Africa’s Best Young Entrepreneurs for Rekindle Learning, an educational mobile application that provides school learners with greater personal control and ownership of their learning process.

Mr. Bello, an Oxford University graduate from Nigeria, was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative for his leadership, rendered at the Wennovation Hub, through service consultations to start ups and existing entrepreneurs in areas of administrative, technical, managerial and financial matters.

Lastly, Mr. Milandri, an Oxford University graduate from from South Africa with Italian roots, has improved healthcare in South Africa with the Connected Blood Pressure Solution, which provides a low-cost means for people to remotely record their blood pressure and delivers accurate statistics to inform health care providers.

The students of the John Cabot community were given a chance to relate to the young African entrepreneurs as the attendees mingled during the coffee break. Audience perceptions were defied when the speakers admitted the nervousness they had felt in the presentation of their ventures. Those present were in mutual agreement that it was an eye-opening and enriching networking experience. Kacie Kaneyuki, a visiting student at John Cabot stated, “The event really helped me to see entrepreneurship as a solution to world problems.”

An informal exchange of stories and ideas unfolded as the panel invited open discussion from the audience of the John Cabot community. The discussion of the growing Italian entrepreneurial scene was led by Prof. Silvia Pulino, Director of the John Cabot Institute for Entrepreneurship; Prof. Pietro Paganini, co-founder of Competere; and Mr. Marco Sgroi, a Director of the Board of BAIA Business American Italian Association.

Okendo wrapped the conference up on the note, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”