Since about November last year I’ve been working as a “MBA Consultant” with an organisation called the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST), based in Accra, Ghana. MEST is a fantastic organisation; they take in young Ghanaian entrepreneurs and train them in software development and business skills for two years. At the end of the two years the students have the chance to take their business ideas in to an incubator where they receive investment, then the opportunity to raise later VC investment.
The selection process is really tough: they receive around 600 applications and the applicants have to do GMAT-like tests, aptitude tests, and a series of interviews before they are admitted to the school. There’s less than 20 students in each year group, which means every successful entrant beat at least 30 others. I think that makes it several times more competitive than getting in to Saïd Business School! So these guys really are some of the brightest young minds in Ghana.
The school was set up as a non-profit organisation by Jorn Lyseggen, the Founder and CEO of San Francisco media-monitoring company Meltwater (which I’m actually visiting in a couple of days). I’d met him at Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford – he’s a pretty cool guy, and especially cool for setting up MEST. I hope that one day I’m in a position to give something back like he is doing.
The MBA Consultants’ role is to provide mentoring to the students as they prepare their business ideas and plans to apply to the incubator. By the time we meet them the students have assembled in to teams and are trying to decide which of many ideas they should concentrate on. We talk with the EITs (Entrepreneurs-in-training) once a week by Skype (if the Internet connection is good enough) and generally discuss their business ideas and try and help them with their business plans. I think the main benefit we bring is giving them a Western perspective – they want to build global, scalable companies and it’s very useful for them to hear what will or won’t work in Europe or the US.
Working with my team has been a great experience. All the teams are working on developing Internet-type companies, so basically every week we talk and brainstorm about cool web applications. I love hearing about fresh web-app ideas, so I’m like a pig in mud doing this. In some ways it’s a bit similar to one of my previous roles when I was responsible for the re-development of PharmaDeals. Whilst (unfortunately) I’m not a developer myself, I’ve got a pretty good technical “appreciation”, so I’m comfortable talking about technical things with my team. If I’m honest, it’s really the sort of thing I would like to do as a job – I guess like a Product Manager role.
Part of the MEST-MBA Consultant arrangement is that Meltwater pays for us to fly out to Accra for a week, to meet our team (and the other teams) and really do some deep-diving in to the business ideas. So last week I went out to Accra. It was an amazing week but seeing as this post is getting a little long, I’ll write about it in a new post.