Ghanaian incubator the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) has invested US$15 million into its programme since its 2008 inception, with a large proportion of that representing direct equity investments into startups.
MEST was launched in 2008 with backing from the Meltwater Foundation, a non-profit arm of the Meltwater Group, which is headquartered in San Francisco, United States (US) and has 900 employees in 50 offices across the world.
With this funding, MEST provides training, investment and mentoring to aspiring techpreneurs, with the goal of launching and supporting globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs in Africa.
The company initially offers entrepreneurs a fully sponsored two-year, intensive full-time programme, sourcing approximately 30 top graduates from local universities each year. The most promising concepts receive between US$50,000 and US$200,000 in equity investment, after which they transfer to the incubator building and continue to build their startups.
Neal Hansch, managing director of investment and incubation at MEST. told Disrupt Africa the organisation has so far invested in over 20 early-stage companies in industries such as e-commerce, healthcare IT, consumer internet and digital media. These companies include RetailTower, Dropifi, Kudobuzz, SynCommerce, Suba, Beam, meQasa, Nandimobile, AdsBrook, Vestracker, PaySail, PollAfrique, Leti Arts, ClaimSync and Saya.
“We’ve invested over US$15 million into the MEST programme since its inception. Several million of that represents direct equity investments we’ve made into our portfolio of startup companies,” he said.
“Our companies generally fall into one of several categories, all of which are software as a service (SaaS) or mobile application and services. In terms of the markets they are targeting, some are attacking global customers, while increasingly our new startups are pursuing pan-African opportunities.”
Though the flagship campus is in Ghana, MEST is looking to extend its reach to include entrepreneurs from Nigeria, a process which is already underway, as well as the likes of Kenya and South Africa.
Hansch said, “while it takes time”, MEST believed it could become sustainable through returns on investments generated from positive exits.
“This takes time though to invest in and build companies, see success in some and ultimately realise liquidity events,” he said.
“We also charge a nominal – and still highly subsidised – fee to companies within our incubator, to help offset the day-to-day costs of our facilities and full-time staff.”
Hansch said MEST’s goal for 2015 is to continue to expand its reach and visibility across the African continent.
“We’re focused on expanding the size of our programme, countries from which we admit candidates and have incubator activities and formalising strategic partnerships with organisations that are likeminded in supporting tech entrepreneurs and want to access and impact the next generation of startups in Africa.”