Accra-based Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) has become a major entrepreneurial hub in Africa, training, supporting and incubating startups in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, probably beyond. In this interview, MEST’s Incubator Managing Director, Neal Hansch tells Appsafrica.com the uniqueness of MEST’s approach to entrepreneurship and their plans for 2016 – Paul Adepoju
Why is MEST in Ghana and not Nigeria or elsewhere?
This is due to a lot of factors that you could expect – everything from security, stability, environment, government, economy, English language, education and talent level, bigger market, time zone, and direct flight. These and several other factors were the reasons why we decided that Ghana will be the home base for MEST initially. We have expanded to training entrepreneurs from Kenya and Nigeria, and that will continue over time. Everywhere we go, we train entrepreneurs and have an incubator arrangement because we want to support them when they graduate. We knew we can’t do all of these at once in every major African city – Lagos, Nairobi, South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana. That’s why we decided to use Ghana as the base for MEST.
To what extent does MEST recommend market for its entrepreneurs?
Every company we invest in we want them to be pan-African then scale global. A handful of our entrepreneurs are based in Ghana and their clientele is made up of those in North America and Europe. The companies that are focused on businesses in Africa may start in Ghana but pretty quickly we attach them to a bigger partner. So the question is the orientation for the entrepreneurs – is it a pan-Africa orientation or a global orientation? And that depends on the kinds of products we are talking about. There is always an initial markets and we decide how quickly they can target other markets, but the ultimate goal in pan-African or global.
Why is MEST appearing not to be passionately and aggressively pursuing the Nigerian market?
We are. Interswitch is our partner that allowed us to bring in some Nigerian trainees. If we can get resources to train more entrepreneurs, we will do that. It’s a matter of resources. We are partnering with like minded organizations and we are also managing our resources. We are partnering with organizations who are interested in working with startups – organizations like Samsung and Vodafone. It’s a matter of having resources. What we do is expensive and takes a long time to adequately train. But we will love to have 200 Nigerian entrepreneurs in our programme; also entrepreneurs from Kenya. But we will need extra facilities and resources. If we can do that, we will continue to spread across the continent and expand our capacity. It also includes investing – providing seed capital – because we train, we provide capital investment and education team.
Does this mean a MEST Lagos campus is not on the list presently?
In Lagos, we want to have an incubator presence there to support MEST graduates from Nigeria when they return to the country to start building their businesses. There is a wide difference between training and incubation.
What is the focus of MEST in 2016?
We have three focuses in 2016. One is completing the training and graduating another set of entrepreneurs, secondarily will be getting our locations in Lagos and Nairobi established and ready to go for the incoming graduates, and third which we recently announced is the launch of MEST venture partners which is our associated venture fund which will starting out in the first half of 2016.
Will the focus of the venture fund just be on investing only in MEST-trained entrepreneurs/startups?
Through the venture fund, investors would be able to invest in entrepreneurs from all over Africa and from companies that have come through the mentoring programme. They will invest in the best entrepreneurs in the markets that we are most delighted about. Benefitting startups don’t have to come through MEST training programme. We will be interested in all the best portfolio companies in Africa.
Appsafrica Advisory develops strategies and drives expansion for companies entering or expanding in Sub-Saharan Africa. We are a private advisory service providing expert insight, business development and implementation assistance for mobile web and technology ventures.