The Raymond Ackerman Academy (RAA) is an entrepreneurial development program that provides a quality education in entrepreneurship for young people who do not have access to tertiary education business studies. The program offers a five-month, full time program that is run twice a year: from January to June and from July to December. The program is offered in Cape Town at the UCT Graduate School of Business and at the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg (opened in 2009).
Students are recruited through advertising in community papers and partner networks. Alumni play an important role in promoting the Academy, and many candidates hear about the program from previous graduates. RAA receives approximately 120 applications per program and select about 30 students at each campus. The candidates are aged 18-30 years old and they must hold a matriculation certificate. Most of the students come from low socio-economic backgrounds and may not have had a high-quality education. There have been students who come from other African countries (now residents of South Africa), where their schooling may have been interrupted by political or economic instability.
The classes are kept relatively small, which allows for each student to enjoy individual attention where they can be assessed and observed closely while they develop their entrepreneurial, professional, and personal skills. This also allows the RAA team to monitor personal and academic progress and to intervene where necessary, assisting students to overcome any challenges that may be hampering their success while on the program. The course is a registered UCT short course, and there are tests, assignments, and presentations.
There are three main objectives: the students are taught business skills, critical thinking using idea generation with a solution focus, and a fundamental focus on personal development. The "project-based" learning approach and the building of soft skills aims to build the confidence necessary for a future as entrepreneurs or preparing graduates for the workplace.
The course is fulltime Monday to Friday, with a work experience component. The students find their own work placements. There are modules taught by top business school lecturers, as well as testing of ideas and group work. Business idea development is an important component of the program; students are taught techniques that allow them to develop innovative business ideas that are not "copycat" ideas but rather ideas that appeal to the mass market and, in many cases, are solutions to common problems experienced in their communities.
The curriculum is based on business building blocks:
- Introduction to entrepreneurship
- Ideation & innovation
- Developing the individual
- Developing the professional
- Doing business in South Africa
- The four legs of the table (Mr. Ackerman’s business philosophy), which includes lectures on marketing, HR, operations, strategy, business numeracy, and cost accounting
- Business planning & implementation
RAA was selected as 1 of 8 international programs to be part of the Talloires Network - Youth Economic Participation Initiative. Through this initiative, it has established a graduate program with mentors and seed funding to support selected graduates in setting up their own businesses.
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CEI approaches in action
Many candidates hear about the program from previous graduates, who are from the same or similar socio-economic communities.
The academy was established in 2005 at the UCT Graduate School of Business. In 2009 the University of Johannesburg started a class on its Soweto campus.
In 2014 the graduate program was established to incubate the students' entrepreneurial ideas and support them with seed funding and mentoring.
With additional funding, it hopes to open similar units in other universities in South Africa.
Monitoring & Evaluation
The Raymond Ackerman Academy updates its database quarterly, tracking students' employment status and progress in their studies and business. Facebook has become a useful tool to track graduates.
There are assignments and tests throughout the course that track academic progress for accreditation as a tertiary short course.
After the program, 85% of graduates continue their studies, find employment, or set up a business.