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Harvard University

Food Systems Live!: Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies

Harvard University via edX


Global food systems in emerging economies were once geared largely towards tourist populations and exports. But, as food security, nutrition concerns, and agricultural sustainability continue to be primary drivers for opportunity in these economies, the focus has shifted; a better understanding of the fundamental dynamics in these countries is therefore needed to solve core problems.

In Food Systems Live!, learners will gather each week with fellow entrepreneurs, both to learn from Harvard faculty and global leaders in the fields of food, agriculture, and nutrition, and to identify opportunities to build scalable solutions for food safety, security, and nutrition in emerging economies. By engaging with peers and experts in real time, learners will be prepared to answer “what’s next?” for the global food and agricultural industry. Specific topics to be covered include supply chain innovations, e-commerce retail platforms, and novel operating models for agriculture.

Each week, learners will engage with asynchronous course content and readings, culminating in a dynamic live webinar discussion. In addition, each learner has the option to participate in a capstone learning experience: developing a business plan week by week. At the end of the course, these plans will be reviewed and critiqued by a panel of highly-qualified experts and business professionals from emerging economies. Judges will vote on the business plans, and those with the newest, most innovative ideas will receive a prize awarded by the Sight and Life Foundation –helping bring their project to life!

The asynchronous course content draws upon existing case studies from Harvard’s Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies course, covering diverse sectors such as health care, commerce and eCommerce, fintech, and infrastructure. The content will focus on specific emerging economies across large geographic regions, such as India and South Asia, China, Africa, and Latin America. Learners will examine real-world case studies, understanding prior attempts to address challenges across emerging markets, identifying points of opportunity for smart entrepreneurial efforts, and proposing and developing their own creative solutions. The course also touches on issues related to financing, scaling operations, branding, management of property rights, and how to appropriately assess progress and social value–all in the context of the fast-growing but institutionally compromised settings of emerging markets.

Food Systems Live!: Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies enables participants to identify innovative, entrepreneurial approaches through online lectures, peer-to-peer learning, and live interactions with global leaders in food systems.


Week 1: Identifying an Opportunity–Institutional Voids
Live Session: Saturday, January 28th 2023

Institutional voids are a defining characteristic of emerging markets. To be an effective entrepreneur, one has to learn to not only find a way around these institutional voids but also render them into opportunities. Week One's sessions will define what is meant by institutional voids, how these voids are prevalent throughout emerging markets, and the ways in which two companies in different African regions and industries effectively turned these voids into opportunities. Ultimately, winning in an emerging market often comes when an entrepreneur builds upon a simple idea, but one that is needed to fill or circumvent a challenging institutional void.

Business Plan Building Commences: At the end of each week, students will apply the lessons learned as a guide to building a solid business plan. The first week, for example, will focus on getting an entrepreneur to think about opportunities available in their region, and get the participant to think about practical and insightful ways to size their market, think about the stakeholders that would be involved in launching their ventures, as well as thinking about what strategic advantages they have that would lead to success.

Week 2: Standardization and Scaling
Live Session: Saturday, February 4th 2023

How does an entrepreneur decide which aspects of a viable business model lend themselves to standardization so that the model can be scaled? Is scale best sought in a particular instance within a country, a region, or continent-wide? Related to this, how does one make the pitch to providers of growth capital? How, if at all, does that pitch differ from that made to attract start-up capital in the first instance? Capital can be obtained from a range of sources, each with its pros and cons.

Week 3: Thinking about Your Brand
Live Session: Saturday, February 18th 2023

In this week, students will focus on building a brand that garners broad-based support and loyalty. Brands communicate intangible promises–trust, integrity, reliability, respect, among others. On a practical note, how can brands be conceived and nurtured in environments where the specialist intermediaries often helpful in building brands are not always available (market research firms, advertising platforms, agencies that value brands)? How should one think of the cost of branding one’s venture? To what extent is the paucity of trusted brands an opportunity rather than a limitation for the astute entrepreneur?

Week 4: Defending your business model from its inception
Live Session: Saturday, March 4th 2023

At the heart of Week Four's learning is the key question: How does an entrepreneur defend their idea? Put another way, how can you protect the results of your creativity? Patenting as a formal protective mechanism is sometimes useful, though for the most part has less utility in emerging markets such as those in Africa, India, or areas of Latin America when compared to mature economies. So how can one think more holistically, by incorporating other barriers to imitation? What are the tradeoffs involved in doing so?

Week 5: Partnerships and Platforms
Live Session: Saturday, March 11th 2023

Students this week will consider multiple platforms–ranging from government-sponsored initiatives to technology and media platforms–that an entrepreneur can tap into as vehicles for success. Indeed, all entrepreneurs should consider actively leveraging such entities. Platforms lower the cost of customer access, allow one to contribute to and benefit from knowledge sharing, and permit the continued reinvention of the business.

Week 6: Launching your Business Venture
Live Session: Saturday, March 25th 2023

The final week will focus on the execution of the business plan. All students participating in the business plan module will submit their final business plan in week six, and chosen for the final, live pitch session in front of a jury of business leaders and experts. The live session will then culminate in a course wrap up where the faculty will offer students a review of the course’s key learnings.

Taught by

Tarun Khanna, Caroline Elkins and Karim Lakhani


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