With the possibility of another semester of online classes on the horizon, many young people are asking themselves if it makes sense to go to college or pursue an advanced degree. While Africa’s future doctors of course need to go to college and medical school, Africa’s future entrepreneurs might be tempted to skip or defer college for a degree from the school of life. They should think twice.
Briter Bridges, a data-driven research company, came out with a new report last week, “Gender & Demographics in Africa’s Green & Digital Transformation.” The report processed survey data from 2701 co/founders & c-level executives from 1904 startups operating across Africa. While all of the companies operated in Africa, 17.7% of the companies in the sample had headquarters outside of the continent.
One of the things that the report looked at was education; where and what the entrepreneurs studied and the highest level of education achieved. Before moving forward with sharing the data, it’s important to note that the report specifically looked at entrepreneurs involved in Africa’s digital transformation. There are +100M entrepreneurs in the formal and informal economy across the continent. If the study were to also include these entrepreneurs in non-tech businesses, the data would break down very differently.
These findings are for the tech industry and in this study of tech entrepreneurs, having at least a bachelor’s degree was significant. In the sample, only 1% of participants had no degree, a license, or a certificate. Around 40% had a bachelor’s degree, 21% had obtained a master’s degree, and an additional 9% had an MBA. 3% of the sample held a PhD.
One of the most interesting findings of the report was that while men were disproportionately represented among founders, the profile of male and female founders are very similar in terms of education.
The founders in the sample achieved their degrees around the world; 41.6% of founders in the sample studied outside of Africa. This can be explained both by African students choosing to study outside of Africa as well as non-African founders studying in their home country. There was little disparity between the genders on the dimension of where the founder studied; 44.6% of females studied outside of Africa as did 41% of males. Business was the most common degree earned outside of Africa at 64.3% of the sample. The top represented schools will come as no surprise. In the United States, MIT, Harvard, and Stanford topped the list. The United Kingdom was the most popular destination in Europe with London School of Economics, The University of Oxford, and The University of Cambridge all making the top 10 list.
Within Africa, universities from countries with more mature entrepreneurial ecosystems took the top spots. University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University in South Africa held the 1st and 5th spots respectively. University of Lagos came in 3rd and the University of Nairobi in 4th, representing the startup powerhouses of Nigeria and Kenya. The only outlier was Makerere University in Uganda. Although it was the 2nd most productive school in educating entrepreneurs, Uganda is not one of the top recipient countries for startup capital.
The report stated that, “even when the technical skills are acquired, however, other factors such as specific location of study can drive advantages in one direction or the other.” Cynthia Wandia, the CEO and Co-Founder of Kwara Limited can see benefits to studying both inside and outside of Africa. “I studied at Yale, so I have a foot on two continents, but then again, it can also be extremely valuable to build networks on the ground,” she told Briter Bridges.
All of the Universities represented in the report are among the best, if not the best, universities within a given country. It therefore doesn’t seem to matter where you study, as long as it is an elite institution. Dario Giuliani, the Founder of Briter Bridges hopes that sharing this data will “ignite some more serious conversation around pushing for better and applied tertiary education across the continent.”
As much as we like to celebrate the college-drop-out who goes on to found a world-changing startup, the data suggests that if you want to do so in Africa, you should keep your nose buried in your books until you get your diploma. With less than 1% of tech-founders on this list having less than a bachelor’s degree, without one, the odds will be against you in a market where starting a company is already so challenging.