23 May 2017 21:45 IST

Stanford Seed looks to add zing to SME growth plans

A Stanford programme aims for transformational change in small and medium enterprises

A small and medium enterprise may be beset by typical problems: inability to scale up, and difficulty finding capital, hiring top-draw talent and building skills, among others. What if the SME could benefit from the expertise of the faculty of one of the world’s top business schools, who can provide strategic business skills while trained facilitators work within the company to transform the leadership team and take it to the next level?

An ambitious programme founded by the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies (part of Stanford Graduate School of Business), the Seed Transformation Programme (STP), intends to do just that: help leaders take their business to the next level, create exponential growth and generate new jobs.


The STP was kicked off in West Africa in 2013 and then taken to East Africa. Now Stanford is bringing the programme to India and will operate out of Chennai, where it will set up a regional office. “India has been on our radar for its incredible dynamism. We met with business people and the many alumni we have here. The challenges here are the same we have seen elsewhere in the world, from talent acquisition to skill-building and networking. We believe the model we have addresses these pieces,” says Davis Albohm, Associate Director, Global Operations, Stanford Seed.

Asked how the programme will address issues peculiar to Indian entrepreneurs, Albohm says due diligence has been done and the programme will develop Indian cases that deal with local issues.

Local issues

Locally hired facilitators and business coaches will also be on board the programme, apart from Stanford faculty, to work with SMEs. “We will gather feedback and insight from our first cohort and will be flexible in terms of paying attention to pieces that connect (local issues) and we will make adjustments along the way. It’s a long-term commitment and we will repeat this transformation programme year after year,” he emphasises.

In the one-year programme starting this August, open to founders and senior leaders of SMEs, participants will have to come to Chennai, for four, one-week intensive classroom sessions to be conducted by Stanford faculty at the Infosys campus in Mahindra World City. “We will teach a variety of modules led by Stanford faculty, which will vary from accounting to design thinking, HR practices, marketing; they are designed to be practical, Stanford prides itself on its experiential learning model so we will leverage local practices and local contexts,” explains Albohm.

Apart from the classroom experience, between the immersion weeks, a team of staff, locally hired, will go to the companies and conduct tactical workshops not only for the CEO, but for the entire management team “We try and have an impact beyond the CEO, so that entire team is on board with the transformation we teach. Our facilitators will travel to whatever city and bring pieces of the curriculum inside the company, around its operations, the value chain, marketing and strategy,” he adds.


Leadership labs

The next piece of the STP is on leadership. Some of the feedback from earlier cohorts of participants is that it is fairly lonely to be the CEO of an SME and sometimes hard to find people one can trust to give feedback on challenges. The STP will divide the cohort into smaller groups, called leadership labs, which are facilitated by trained staff. This will meet monthly and will provide an avenue for leaders to get feedback on the challenges they face. “This creates a trust-filled group and is designed to carry on beyond the programme, self-led by our participants,” says Albohm.

At the end of the programme, successful leaders can even apply for a business coach position with the STP, which has coaches from all around the world. These coaches work with SMEs and their leaders for six months and have them stick to the plans. “The CEOs of the SMEs develop a transformational plan through the 12 months they undergo the STP, which is a living, breathing document that charts their growth course. At the end of the programme they present their plan and get feedback from staff and experts and then the coaches come in and work inside the company alongside the CEO and management team to put systems in place to implement the plan,” explains Albohm.

Student programmes

An allied programme, Seed Student Programme, also provides educational opportunities and summer internships at participating companies for students.

According to the Stanford Graduate School of Business’ web site, after Seed’s founding in 2011, the first STP was launched in Accra, Ghana, in 2013 and expanded to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2016. Since then, the programme has trained and mentored 565 entrepreneurs and senior staff members, leading to increased revenue and new job creation throughout the region. In addition, participating companies have raised almost $11 million in funding and 79 per cent have grown their customer base.