Entrepreneurship Program Launched in New Morocco-Virginia Initiative – Jean R. AbiNader

Virginia Commonwealth University to Partner in Henry Ford Academy in Rabat


Jean R. AbiNader, MATIC
July 20, 2015

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

Jean R. AbiNader, Exec. Dir., Moroccan American Trade and Investment Center

One of the most interesting responses to the need for entrepreneurship training in Morocco was announced last month by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). It will be offering entrepreneurship programs in partnership with the International Institute of Higher Education in Morocco (IIHEM) at the newly established Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy, a project of the Ford Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Ford Motor Co.

The three partners – VCU, IIHEM, and the Ford Fund – have made a long-term commitment to promote entrepreneurship through workshops, exchanges, some infrastructure, and working with stakeholders throughout Morocco. Eventually, the Academy will become a center for networking and connecting alumni and the Moroccan business community.

Jay Markiewicz, the executive director of entrepreneurship programs at VCU, recently returned from his first trip to Morocco and was struck by the cultural diversity in the country and the potential for building a collaborative program with IIHEM that would allow its students to pursue a master’s degree in Richmond. He will take the lead in designing the initial two-day workshops to be delivered in French at IIHEM. The workshops will target what are referred to as second-stage companies, those that have been around for less than three years and can benefit from insights into: articulating their value propositions; understanding customer needs and regulatory and legal issues; and gaining a working knowledge of financing, marketing, branding, and building business plans and models.

Jay is quite excited by the partnership with the Ford Fund, which is building its visibility in the region as the company extends its commercial operations in Africa. Their joint goal with IIHEM is to address economic development needs and make a difference in the economy by promoting a spirit of entrepreneurship and creating an infrastructure, an eco-system, to support entrepreneurism. It is a long term project that will start with the workshops and then develop additional programs as the demand and needs are identified.

Jay says that the response from the Richmond area has been very positive. Already three members of his advisory board have agreed to fund and join a visit with three VCU students to Rabat. He believes that the Richmond area has a great deal to offer to the program in Morocco and in the US. In turn, this will create new opportunities for Virginia companies and students who have not been to Africa to experience Morocco and identify opportunities for study and business.

This is a great human capital investment for Ford Motor Co. as it has opened three sales locations in Morocco and a purchasing office in Tangier, the location of Tangier Automotive City, where more than 100 companies supply the automotive industry in Morocco – the country’s fastest growing export sector. Ford wants to strengthen the local economy, contribute to the development of its private sector, and encourage education that provides skills needed in their industry.

As Ed Grier, dean of the VCU School of Business remarked, “Entrepreneurship plays a critical role in energizing communities and stimulating economies. I have not doubt that the new Henry Ford Entrepreneurship Academy will make a difference in Morocco, and VCU is proud to play a leading role in this exciting venture.” The reciprocal benefit of this relationship was well summarized by Mr. Markiewicz when he said, “I think it speaks highly for our university, for our entrepreneurship education…Anytime you bring positive global press to a piece of Richmond, something so significant as its university, I think that it’s going to open doors – for the university and for Richmond and for the students.”

The new partnership is more than a concept; by the end of November, it will have delivered its first workshops and will have gained some helpful insights into how to make the Academy a fulltime success – for all the partners.


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