Mfonobong Nsehe, Contributor
Norwegian Software entrepreneur Jorn Lyseggen was in Ghana on Saturday for the 2013 Graduation ceremony of the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), the entrepreneurial school he founded in 2007 to help train young, intelligent Ghanaians to become software entrepreneurs. Since founding the school, 139 students have graduated and 13 companies have been founded by these people. Collectively, these companies now employ over 70 people.
MEST is a tech entrepreneurial school and incubator with an interesting model.
“The idea was to get young graduates from all across Ghana who were passionate about technology and entrepreneurship. We wanted people who were interested in building a company. Our selection criteria was that each of them had to have a first degree from a University or higher institution of learning. Then we put them through rigorous aptitude tests and other screening exercises to get the very best out of the entire lot,” said Lyseggen, who was born in Korea but adopted by a family in Norway and has already sold two companies and taken a third public.
Every year, MEST puts out a call for applications for young, intelligent Ghanaian university graduates who are interested in technology, entrepreneurship and business to apply to the school. MEST receives close to one thousand applications from hopefuls across the country. Lyseggen and his team meticulously review every application and then select no more than 20 exceptional applicants from the pool. On acceptance into the school, the successful applicants, usually referred to as ‘Entrepreneurs in Training’ (EITs) have to go through an intensive, rigorous two-year entrepreneurial training program that blends an MBA-type education with hands-on training in software development in a fast-paced, startup environment. The EITs learn everything from the fundamentals of business management, entrepreneurship and finance to communications and programming. These students are taught by teaching fellows that include business professors, MBA consultants and software geeks, who each bring several years of seasoned experience in the software and tech business in the United States, Europe and Asia. Together these teaching fellows prepare the MEST students for the global markets.
Students at MEST are all compelled to develop software applications that will provide solutions to pressing international problems- applications that must be launched in the global marketplace as real companies. This is the subterranean objective of the intense two-year training. The first year is mainly theory, but in their second year, students must form teams of three or four people and boot-strap their own software start-ups. For their final examinations, the students must present an investor pitch to a committee that includes Jorn Lyseggen, renowned venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. Based on the strength of the commercial viability of the start-up, it’s global appeal and other metrics, the students stand to receive seed funding from $30,000-$200,000 from MEST’s incubator which is conveniently located in the same environment. When the ideas are funded, the newly-formed companies move into the incubator to start business. At the incubator, they get access to office facilities at a small monthly fee.
It’s a model that has worked well so far. Between 2008 and now, the Meltwater Foundation, chaired by Lyseggen, has invested over $1.5 million in these budding businesses. But it’s not just about the money. MEST graduates who receive investment gain instant access to a global network of advisors and mentors- many of whom are friends to MEST.
Prior to the Saturday graduation ceremonies, some of the students pitched their business ideas to a panel for possible funding and a place in the MEST incubator. I had the opportunity to be a part of the investor pitches, and many of the students were eager to share the ideas of their young outfits with me. There were a few decent ideas that I have outlined below and think are worth watching closely.
Last month, Dropifi became the first African start-up to be accepted into 500 Startups, the renowned Silicon Valley-based seed accelerator and investment fund. Dropifi offers an intelligent contact form- a smart widget that helps businesses and companies better analyze, visualize and respond to incoming messages. With Dropifi, companies can view the social media profiles and demographic of message senders and analyze the emotions behind the messages.
Currently in beta, Orgaroo is a web and mobile application that allows event planners and people who coordinate conferences, official meetings, trips and other related activities to seamlessly organize itineraries, manage activities, and keep attendees on track with real-time updates. According to its co-founder Selasi Tsikata, Orgaroo lets organizers import attendees’ email addresses from an address book in less than a second, plan the activities, events and travel information for each attendee, then add them to each person’s calendar.
Afriyage is a new mobile app that offers first-time or regular travelers to Africa personalized travel suggestions based on a traveler’s preferences and interests. MEST graduate and Afriyage co-founder, Agana-Nsiire Agana, describes the app as “your intelligent personal travel assistant in Africa”.
Claimsync is an end-to-end claims processing software that enables hospitals, clinics and other healthcare facilities all over the world to automate patients’ medical records and to process records electronically. Claimsync’s solution allows these healthcare providers to easily prepare medical claims and send electronically to health insurance companies. Claimsync also offers a platform whereby insurance payers can receive medical claims through their online dashboard and easily vet them for payment. With Claimsync, one can also search for patient records by name or membership number.
RetailTower’s e-commerce marketing software allows online merchants to easily list their online stores across all major comparison shopping engines thereby increasing exposure, driving traffic and improving sales. RetailTower submits data feeds of independent online stores to more than 15 shopping engines like Google, Amazon, TheFind, Shopzilla and Pricegrabber. Online merchants can track referral traffic from various shopping engines through RetailTower’s analytics platform. At the moment, RetailTower has over 11,000 merchants and integrates with the leading e-commerce platforms, including Amazon. The firm is even a preferred solutions provider for Amazon Ads.
Trokxi is a mobile and web-based application that provides you with estimated fares for public transportation and destinations around the world thereby allowing you adequately budget for your trip, as well as save money and time. The app also maps the major cities and their transport systems. It is now available only to Ghanaians, so it only maps cities in Ghana, but the founders plan to launch it on a global scale sooner or later.
Richard Brandt, the Ghanaian co-founder of FreelancePro.Me, describes the site as ‘the LinkedIn for freelancers’. FreelancePro.Me is a website that allows freelance writers, programmers and designers to create a professional reputation profile by aggregating their testimonials on multiple freelance sites like odesk, freelancer, elance and LinkedIn on one singular platform. With all their testimonials from multiple job sites aggregated on one channel, freelancers find it easier to promote themselves to prospective clients and secure more jobs.
Founded by Maxwell Donkor, mPawa is a mobile application developed for Africa’s blue collar recruitment sector. mPawa provides companies and individuals with access to a pool of blue collar workers. The app connects employers to blue collar workers such as construction staff, plumbers, mechanics, electricians and the sort. mPawa supports the posting of jobs and then notifies blue collar workers on the availability of new jobs based on geographic location, job preference, wages and other metrics, thereby getting blue collar workers into a centralized location and allowing employers to easily reach them.
Saya has developed a free group messaging application that works on feature phones with internet access. Saya also works on Java, iOS, Android and the Blackberry platforms. The app connects users with their phone contacts and Facebook friends.
Leti Games is a mobile game development company. The arcade and strategy games Leti develop are usually set in traditional African settings complete with African heroes and elements such as elephants, hyenas and other animals, giving the savvy gamer an experience like no other. Leti has thousands of users and their games are available on Apple’s App store for a small fee.
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