Introducing the MEST Class of 2020

One year ago, 51 people from 12 African countries came to the MEST campus in Accra, all with diverse backgrounds, but motivated by one central idea: to become the next generation of software entrepreneurs.

Now a year later, we are overjoyed to announce the graduation of the MEST Class of 2019. They have built, scrapped, and rebuilt businesses. They have been told to fail fast, learn, and adapt. They have joined multi-cultural teams, and made friends for life. They have grown and changed, and so have we. They inspire us. They have made us better, challenging us to constantly learn alongside them, creating and innovating. We know the next generation is here, and they are strong. We can’t wait to see what they go on to achieve!

In the end, this class broke some interesting records by becoming the first cohort to produce 11 funded companies — the highest so far in the history of MEST, beating last years record of 7 funded companies. This number represents 85% of the ideas pitched during the final demo day.

As we say goodbye to one cohort, we say “akwaaba” or welcome in Twi, the most widely spoken local language in Ghana, to a new one. Let us introduce you to the MEST Class of 2020. This time around, we’re bringing in 56 amazing individuals who are from 14 different African countries, the highest number of countries in representation so far, up from 12 in 2018.

“I chose to come to MEST so that I can be “baptized in the waters” of the global startup ecosystem. I have eagerly invited myself to seats at the tech table wherever I can this past year, but MEST is an open door for me where I am invited to learn, and fail, safely.”
-Alberta Tsahey, Class of 2020 | Ghana

This year, we also have the privilege of welcoming for the first time ever, entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs) from The Republic of Congo, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Botswana, Uganda, and Benin.

We opened up applications in September last year and spent the next few months after that speaking to different entrepreneurship communities, taking road-trips to some of the top Universities on the continent and overall trying to connect with the incredible talent we found in each of these circles.

All of this led up to our annual recruitment drive which saw us conduct physical interviews in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Accra, Abidjan, and Nairobi, all in the space of 2 weeks!

Here are some other interesting high-level insights about the overall recruitment drive at MEST this year:

  • 4500+ individuals started the application process into MEST (up 78% from 2018)
  • 1187 completed applications reviewed. (up 20% from 2018)
  • 643 aptitude tests taken
  • 231 phone interviews conducted
  • 160 individuals were interviewed in-person across 6 African cities
  • 113 of those candidates made it into a final 1-on-1 interview
  • 56 EITs selected as part of the final Class of 2020

“I chose to be part of the MEST community this year because MEST offers a rich platform full of a dedicated and experienced team to help me build tech solutions for humanity.”
-Anilla Busolo, Class of 2020 | Kenya

MEST 2019 Recruitment Funnel

The recruitment funnel at MEST is split into the following stages:

  • The Application Form: Applications open in the 3rd quarter of each year and close in March the following year. Here, we asked them questions about their background, why they want to get into the program, and what they hope to achieve at the end of it.
  • The Aptitude Test: Qualified applicants from the first stage are invited to take an online aptitude test designed by MEST, that has been tailored to the kind of activities they’ll be engaged in throughout the entire training year.
  • Phone screening: Applicants who pass the test receive an invitation for a telephone interview with a member of the MEST team. During this call, we dig deeper into the applicant’s background and try to connect the dots with what we’ve seen on their application and resume.
  • Interviews: In-person group and individual interviews take place in South Africa in April; and in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Cote d’Ivoire in May each year. After which the final class is selected.

“From the testimonials shared by the EiTs and fellows, I am beyond convinced that MEST is the place for me to get the much needed kick-start to become an entrepreneur and techie who will make our communities better while allowing you the freedom to be your authentic self.”
-Helen Wairagu, Class of 2020 | Kenya

Diving deeper into the recruitment numbers from the funnel, we received applications from 44 different African countries with the top 3 sources being Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya.

At the start of the drive, we set a goal to increase female representation within the final cohort. 20% of the total number of applications we received were submitted by women, and from that pool, we selected 19 of them into the Class of 2020. This number makes up about 35% of the final selection, on a par with our efforts from 2018, which was a record-breaking year as well.

Nationality Heat Map of the MEST Class of 2020
The average age of this year’s cohort sits at 25 years with an average work experience of 2 years. 80.7% of the selected EITs have completed Bachelor’s degrees in various disciplines, with 10.3% completing their Master’s. About 65% of the cohort have a background in technology from college, compared to 21% with business backgrounds.

“After starting several tech startups that ended in failure, I felt like I needed to gain the training necessary for building a successful e-commerce startup in Africa. I look forward to getting knowledge, skills, guidance, and mentorship needed to build a successful global tech company.”
-Clifton Ngugu, Class of 2020 | Zimbabwe

You can find a full breakdown of the cohort and their nationalities below:

Joining MEST Africa’s one year training program isn’t an easy task — after successfully passing an extensive application and interview process, EITs, Entrepreneurs-In-Training, take on a rigorous post-grad curriculum focused on business, tech, and communications. Here is one more comment from one member of the new cohort on why he chose to join the MEST training program this year:

“As the world is increasingly consolidating the fourth industrial revolution, Africa needs its own technologies more than ever. MEST has proven to be the place where I can create strong and unique software companies that aim at solving African problems.”
-Othniel Pilipili, Class of 2020 | DRC

We are very thrilled to welcome the Class of 2020 to the MEST community, and we look forward to the unique and extraordinary ideas and perspectives they will bring as they work together with our experiences fellows and faculty in creating the next globally successful software companies on the continent.

Their year at MEST will undoubtedly be filled with hard work and moments that will test their strength and resilience as entrepreneurs, but we’re excited to take that journey with them and help them on their path towards fulfilling the potential we spotted in them.

The largest Africa-wide technology entrepreneur training program, internal seed fund, and network of hubs offering incubation for startups: www.meltwater.org