MEST set for 2016 SA launch, to select Kenyan students next month

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The Ghana-based Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) will continue its expansion across Africa by recruiting students in South Africa next year, a move it thinks could prove a “gamechanger”.

Disrupt Africa reported earlier this week MEST was recruiting Kenyan entrepreneurs for the first time having previously only been active in Ghana and Nigeria, offering selected startups the chance to launch their own software company with potential for seed investment opportunities.

Applications are open until June 1 for the newly-shortened one-year programme, which starts in August, with the whole MEST team set to descend on Nairobi next month to select candidates.

Ursula Tereba, director of sales and strategy for MEST in Ghana, told Disrupt Africa MEST was also planning on recruiting South African entrepreneurs for the first time next year.

“I think that will be a gamechanger, because the space is so dynamic and the network is so dynamic. It is definitely a good space for us to be in,” she said.

For now, however, the team is focused on selecting its first Kenyan entrepreneurs, with founder Jørn Lyseggen also set to be part of the team visiting Kenya.

“The recruitment progress is very rigorous. It is very gradual to make sure we get the creme de la creme,” Tereba said.

Aptitude tests, meet and greets, and informal interviews with MEST entrepreneurs are followed by a more formal group interview led by Lyseggen, something Tereba said is make or break for startups wishing to be selected.

“He’s fantastic at reading people. If you can make it through that you can make it through anything. It is pretty intense,” she said.

She said the decision to shorten the programme had been made as a consequence of wishing to attract a higher calibre of startup and assist with MEST’s expansion.

“We want to change the programme a little bit so it doesn’t seem like a university. It is focused on the accelerator. That will also help us attract a higher standard of candidate,” Tereba said.

“It is definitely the right choice for us as we expand so quickly.”

She said there was now an expectation that students need to bring a lot more than just an idea to the table.

“The majority of the companies come into the programme hungry and want to get their business off the ground. In the last two years the standards have gone through the roof,” she said.

MEST is also planning on expanding the reach of its incubator programme across the continent, with plans for new locations and mentor networks in Nairobi, Lagos, Cape Town and Johannesburg, in addition to the original incubator complex in Accra.

“The idea is that we bring the students into MEST for training and they obtain funding, but then we will partner on the ground to launch multiple incubators across Africa, which will help students determine what market their product is best suited to, and then they can decide what incubator to base themselves out of,” Tereba said.

MEST will be entering into strategic corporate partnerships in each market, with partners assisting its programme entry into the new cities.

The incubator was launched in 2008 and has invested US$15 million into its training, incubation and investment programme since. It recently partnered Samsung in an initiative that aims to provide more opportunities, resources and tools to West African entrepreneurs.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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