University of Southern California

'Doubling Up Entrepreneurship' in Cameroon
Marshall MBA Students Team up to Help a Central African City Grow its Economy
July 7, 2011 • by News at Marshall

When you need an entrepreneurial jump-start, ask an MBA.

At least that is how it worked when USC Marshall associate professor Sriram Dasu sought to enable entrepreneurship in low income communities, while creating a healthcare initiative in Kumba, Cameroon, in Central Africa, as part of his work with colleague Yehuda Bassok, a professor in information and operations management.

"Poverty causes poor health," Dasu said. "To get people healthier, you have to increase their ability to pay for their healthcare, which means you have to increase their incomes. If you can grow their income levels, then you can, in a fundamental way, shift their health economics, because you’ve increased their access to medication and clean water and improved their sanitation and diet."

To bolster the business climate in this low-income and semi-urban community, Dasu and Bassok spoke with Kumba’s mayor Ekale Mukete, about "doubling up the entrepreneurship in his town" and the mayor was enthusiastic. "I knew it was a perfect opportunity for MBA students," said Dasu, who upon returning from Cameroon announced the opportunity to his class.

First to step up to the challenge were Shashank Sundareshan, Ayesha Khan and Johnnie Paek and later Rebecca Jones, Alex Abraham, Silvia Paz-Frydman (all MBA ‘12) rounded out the team. "The idea took initial shape in October 2010," said Sundareshan, as the team began to develop entrepreneurial endeavors with Kumba’s mayor and his council and to understand their vision.

"The initial phase was to determine viable markets, whether locally in the Central African region or globally, for resources or products that can be made by local entrepreneurs," said Sundareshan. The team identified soap and some agricultural products as having the most appeal in multiple markets.

"We hope to guide them in understanding what it takes to attack their regional market, but they will take the initiative on developing brands and production lines necessary to do this. On the U.S. front, we have identified niche markets where imports can enter, and will play a primary role in developing a brand identity under which they can distribute products," said Sundareshan.

Funding constraints have kept the team from traveling to Kumba, but Sundareshan, who this summer is interning in supply chain management and cost consulting for the Anklesaria Group in San Diego, hopes to get there over winter break or next summer "if they go live with production and have market avenues for their products in the U.S."

Sundareshan views this first project "as a test case upon which we can further expand our global reach to other developing areas. We are looking to build an institution at Marshall that can replicate this type of consulting work across the world that will continue after we graduate."

"The skills needed to run these projects fall within the skill sets that we want to develop here at Marshall," said Dasu, who noted that this is an entirely student-led endeavor, the type that Dasu hopes to expand to other countries. "This is exciting because it’s a win-win-win," he continued. "It's a win for the entrepreneur because he or she gets support; a win for the students because they get to practice their managerial skills; and a win for the communities because they may get new jobs."

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.