On August 11th, 2018, 51 motivated, self-proclaimed entrepreneurs from 12 African countries arrived in Accra, Ghana, to join the MEST Africa entrepreneurial training program and begin what many alumni consider one of the most challenging and fulfilling years of their lives. These Entrepreneurs-In-Training (EITs, as we call them) made up the MEST Class of 2019.
The MEST training program is a one year, full-time, fully sponsored program in which the class completes a graduate-level course in software development, business, and communications, with a focus on practical implementation. Over 12 months, EITs form cross-cultural teams within their cohort, with the end result oftentimes boasting tech companies with three or four founders from different corners of the continent.
We are thrilled to announce that this year’s class resulted in 11 investments totaling $1.1M, the most in MEST history, in startups spanning from an app that digitizes informal community savings (BezoMoney), to a platform that gives African women access to reproductive healthcare resources (Massira), to a crowdfunding application that helps to build affordable housing (Cofundie).
Graduation weekend, held on August 8–10, 2019, marked the culmination of this year’s program. Three days of events brought together MEST and Meltwater Founder & CEO, Jorn Lyseggen, the MEST team and graduating cohort, the weekend’s guest lecturers, along with members of the global Meltwater sales team, the Meltwater board of directors, MEST alumni, and friends and family of the graduating class.
On Friday, the MEST Incubator in East Legon welcomed two Guest Lecturers to address the graduating class: Chris Lwanga, Senior Partnerships Manager for Microsoft Africa, and David Fuagno, Executive Vice President of Qualtrics.
“Innovation is a birthright of every human being, and opportunity is in your face on the continent,” Chris began his address. “What are we doing to give the youth of Africa the tools to secure their future?”
He answered his own question by diving into how Microsoft and MEST are working both together and in their own right to make technology and business tools and resources more accessible and prevalent on the continent.
David followed with an inspiring talk on his own professional journey. “As an entrepreneur, you’re going to take risks and fail. But, your character is revealed in the tough times, and lessons are pronounced during the setbacks. If you have the opportunity to do it, you have the obligation to pursue it,” he told the room.
Following the Guest Lectures, the EITs took the stage for their company’s final pitch. The founders standing before the audience were nearly unrecognizable compared to who entered the MEST doors just twelve months ago. Poised, prepared, and perhaps most of all, proud, thirteen companies fit their entire year’s work into just a six minute pitch; after each one, came a resounding round of applause from their peers.
The support in the room was tangible, and it seemed obvious to everyone in the room that regardless of the investment results to come in the next few days, the Class of 2019 would walk away from their training year with a lot more than just seed funding. This year’s startups will join 30+ companies currently in incubation as part of the MEST Africa portfolio across Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, and the graduates will join over 400 alumni across the continent.
On Saturday, the EITs and the Meltwater Top 30 joined forces to build teams for a fast-paced sales exercise that got everybody involved. Mixed into groups of two to three, the teams were given one hour to create a pitch for any product or service they wanted, that didn’t already exist.
“The pitching challenge was an incredibly meaningful experience. It was extremely collaborative,” Jess Friedman, a Key Account Manager who came to Accra all the way from Meltwater Austin, Texas, said. “These students have learned such a methodical way to create a business plan, and we got contribute by showcasing our sales abilities.”
Finally, with the afternoon came the long-awaited Graduation ceremony. MEST Founder Jorn Lyssegen kicked off the speeches with his own about the organisation’s driving mission.
“Over the years, I’ve come to realise that entrepreneurship is an important force for good. Software and entrepreneurship both have a very important role to play in the future of Africa,” Jorn said. “Everyone knows that Africa’s population today is more than a billion people. In 20 to 30 years, that will double. If we think about those implications in terms of needs for housing, mouths that need to be fed, the children who need education, the people who need jobs — it’s clear that this continent has a significant undertaking in absorbing that kind of growth, and ensuring that growth is positive.”
“Africa has an enormous amount of talent, of course, because talent sits in people,” he continued. “MEST aims to contribute to software that is home grown, and to ensuring that the wealth creation that happens on the African continent stays on the continent.”
Next, before the 51 graduates’ names were read aloud one-by-one, EITs Abimbola-Kofoworola Oladeji from Nigeria and Chevez Pakiry from South Africa gave eloquent class addresses.
“On the outside, MEST advertises a program that helps you build a software business as an entrepreneur,” Abimbola began. “What you don’t see is the carefully thought out systems of people, a family, a community, an operation all put together to create a success out of you.”
“We came to MEST with the very valid dream of changing the future of Africa,” she continued, “But the truly phenomenal thing we have done is change ourselves. We have woken up every day for the past year with the singular vision to be better than we were the day before. We have interacted with not one, not two, but twelve different African nationalities, cultures, flavors, problems and solutions. Through this, our perception of what we’re capable of achieving has significantly expanded. The potential of what we have created at this cohort blows my mind, and if anything, yesterday is evidence enough. Because of this growth, we have the true capability to create the Africa of our dreams in this generation.”
Following the ceremony, the EITs both literally and figuratively “crossed the bridge” to the MEST Incubator, where many of them will spend their next chapter evolving their companies to grow and scale across the continent, disrupt emerging markets, and eventually, hopefully, take over the world.
Congratulations, Class of 2019. We can’t wait to see what you go on to do!