CSUN Innovation Incubator to Inspire Entrepreneurship in South Africa
Tim Tiemann has spent a lifetime in the business world, developing and launching new ideas and new businesses for himself and other people.
He brought that know-how to California State University, Northridge in 2017, when he became managing director of the CSUN Innovation Incubator in the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, determined to expand the doors to entrepreneurial opportunities for traditionally underserved students and students of color.
His efforts caught the attention of officials with the U.S. Department of State, who have asked him to bring the ideas behind the CSUN Innovation Incubator to women and underserved populations in South Africa this fall.
“The goal is to work with South Africa’s academic institutions and help lay the foundation so that they can do what we have done at CSUN, which is to encourage those who aren’t being served at the moment, think about how they can fill those gaps and, in the process, start their own businesses or nonprofits,” Tiemann said. “When you are part of a community, particularly a community whose needs are not being met, you know what the gaps are, what the needs are. An incubator is a place where those entrepreneurs willing to meet those needs — whether a product or a service — can find encouragement and support.”
The CSUN Innovation Incubator aims to help students convert their business ideas into marketable products and programs by providing them the opportunity to work alongside established professionals using “lean” startup methods.
Tiemann will work with officials at South African universities this summer over Zoom, to begin sharing the framework for CSUN’s incubator and discuss ways they can adapt it to fit the needs of the students at their institutions. He did something similar with officials at universities in Vietnam a couple years ago.
Incubating new ideas “is what universities do best,” Tiemann said.
“We’re not here as a job center, though some people may see us as such,” he continued. “One of the best things universities do is bring a diverse group of people together for creative collaboration and exploration of new ideas. Entrepreneurship does all of that. But we’re not restricting it to biochemists somewhere with a new drug. We’re expanding it to people who are figuring out new ways, new apps, new products that provide solutions to problems or needs in their communities.”
Tiemann said that most entrepreneurship programs, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere, favor a certain type of person.
“It’s usually, in the U.S., a person with access to resources and wealth,” he said. “And what we typically get are products and services that tend to be focused on those segments of society that they know very well, and ignore the needs of the rest of us. They get the training and support, and that’s where people put their money.
“At the most basic, that decision to limit entrepreneurship ignores hundreds, if not thousands, of opportunities for new products, new services and new business,” he said. “Who best to meet those needs than those people whose needs are being ignored — people of color, women and people from underrepresented, underserved communities. If you give them the training, you open the doors to possibilities, not for just for them, but their communities. And we all benefit in the end.”
Chandra Subramaniam, dean of the Nazarian College, agreed
“We strive to make entrepreneurial training and activities accessible,” Subramaniam said. “Tim has been a leading force in helping us succeed throughout campus and the local community. Having him represent entrepreneurship internationally on behalf of CSUN and the Nazarian College is the ‘cherry on top.’”