#11 youth
Michael Szymanski

Africa’s Amazing Tech Potential

Believing in young, talented Africans pays off, as the MEST incubator in Ghana shows.

Walk through the halls of this buzzing tech incubator and you'll hear debates about fermium pricing and the latest technology trends. You'll see entrepreneurs heads-down building the latest and coolest apps. But no, this isn't in Silicon Valley: it's the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology's (MEST) Incubator in Accra, Ghana. MEST's mission is to create wealth and jobs in Africa by training and mentoring young Africans to become internationally successful software entrepreneurs.

Thus far, this belief in young, talented Africans has paid off. The MEST Incubator now has four companies in its incubator that are cash-flow positive and a further three that are preparing to raise venture capital. Its entrepreneurs have received international press coverage and awards for their innovations and have gained access to highly selective international accelerators. Beyond building companies, these entrepreneurs have become leaders in developing the tech ecosystem in Ghana and Africa by organizing conferences, hackathons, writing blogs, and mentoring less experienced start-ups. These bright entrepreneurs demonstrate that software is a medium for Africans to achieve great things and prove that they can compete internationally.

Maybe in the near future, Batman will call Anansi to help defuse a bomb.

African superheroes

With access to technology, young Africans are quickly moving away from a continent of content consumers toward that of content creators. Leti Games, for instance, is putting a new twist on Africa's rich history by creating a portfolio of superheroes based on traditional legends. The company is producing a comic and game series for characters such as Anansi (the African spider god), Shaka Zulu (the famous South African King), and Yaa Asantewaa (the Ashanti Queen). Eyram and Wesley, co-founders of Leti Games, are two of the pioneering game developers on the continent. As such, they take their responsibility to build the gaming ecosystem quite seriously, often hiring up to 15 interns during school holidays that they train to write and illustrate comics, code games and apps. Eyram is thinking big. He is hoping that Leti's superheroes will become the continent's Superman. Who knows, maybe in the near future, Batman will call Anansi to help defuse a bomb.

Jobs via mobile app

Africa's population is young and growing. The International Labor Organization estimates that Africa will have 220 million new people enter the workforce in the next seven years. mPawa has created a mobile job matching application for blue collar workers in Ghana. It allows job seekers to quickly and easily create a very basic CV that is stored in the mPawa database. When an employer posts a job, mPawa's matching algorithm determines the most suitable candidate to fill the vacancy. The job seeker is then notified via SMS and prompted to apply for the job. In existence for less than a year, mPawa has already matched hundreds of jobs for dozens of employers and gained recognition as one of Africa's top start-ups in the DEMO Africa event in Kenya.

Competing with Western markets

MEST companies are not only making an impact on the African continent. Companies such as RetailTower are competing on a global level with firms based in Western markets. RetailTower is an e-commerce application that helps more than 10,000 online retailers in the US, Europe, and Australia to promote their stores across leading comparison shopping sites such as Google Shopping and Amazon.

Boosting African talent

Since 2008 MEST has trained over 130 tech entrepreneurs and invested 1.5 million dollars in the 13 companies that have come out its training program. During MEST's two-year training in software entrepreneurship, young university graduates, from all over Ghana, develop the necessary business, technical, and leadership skills to create globally successful software companies. In these two years of Entrepreneurs in Training (EITs) they explore ideas and build their skills in a safe environment before heading out into the rough waters of entrepreneurship.

Talent is spread evenly across the world – but opportunities are not.

The driving idea behind MEST is that talent is spread evenly across the world – but opportunities are not. MEST tries to level the playing field by giving its entrepreneurs access to extra training, seed funding, and international networks. MEST believes that if it can tap into the latent talent that exists in Ghana, these entrepreneurs can compete globally with Silicon Valley or European firms.

MEST is just one relatively small effort to tap into African talent. Imagine if the rest of the continent had access to "a MEST" to help them realize their potential!

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