Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tasting the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in Ghana

Late last year as we were planning BarCamp Ghana 2009, the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) agreed to host our event for free. I was so excited! I was already a big fan of MEST but this made me love them even more. I knew about MEST when it started operating in Ghana through a good friend, Eyram Akofa Tawia. He had been taken as a Teaching Fellow in 2008. MEST is a training program owned by the Meltwater group founded in Norway in 2001 (a firm that provides Software as a Service solutions to over 15,000 clients worldwide. MEST was their social corporate part which they run as a non-profit. I have learnt about MEST throughout the last few months and wanted to show some appreciation for their helping the BarCamp on my blog.

I once asked one of the main MEST gurus why they chose Ghana as the location for their training program. They said they looked at the globe and Ghana looked like it was in the middle of the world. Simply put. Basically MEST is a two-year training program where students with bachelor degrees are trained in software development and entrepreneurship. The idea is for them to be trained and then partner to form teams to start businesses. If their ideas are great, after graduation, they will be funded by Meltwater's investment arm and incubator. If some teams don't make the cut, they can always reapply or just do something else. Though Eyram wasn't a trainee or what they call EIT (Entrepreneur-In-Training), he was funded to start LetiGames, because he was a special case. MEST held their first graduation in February 2010 and you can learn more about that from this Meltwater.com post.

MEST? Do you mean the Ministry of Environmental Science and Technology? This is what Bernard Avle, the host of one of Africa's best morning shows on radio, said when I mentioned MEST to him as the venue for BarCamp Ghana. A lot of people in Ghana don't know about MEST. I hope our BarCamp gave them more publicity because it definitely brought many people to their campus for the first time. It was cool to find MEST's location on Google Maps. Google has been doing an excellent job mapping Ghana, you should check it sometime. MEST's address is 20 Aluguntugui Street in East Legon, Accra. Aluguntugui Street? Pretty ridiculous huh? Well, another street near to this one is called Banana Street. ROFLMAO. Good thing is, MEST is located near the A&C (not the Accra) shopping Mall in East Legon. MEST has to do some work publicizing what they are doing in Ghana, but with alums, bright students and supporters like me :-D, they'll get there.

The best part about MEST are the facilities they provide for the EITs. The EITs do not pay tuition and they are fed three times a day at the MEST premises. They have free housing in a hostel and a bus that takes them to and fro. They are all given computers and MEST has great learning facilities. You get free education for two years, all your expenses are covered, you enjoy free internet and free food, while you are trained to be an entrepreneur AND you will be funded to start your business if it's great. Can you believe a 'school' like this exists in Ghana? Well, some will claim it's not a school and I will address that in the next paragraph. Think about the benefits! Obviously, Meltwater can't offer this for every Ghanaian and their studying partner so they take in less than 30 students a year. It's very competitive to get into the program and very competitive to stay in it.

So it's not a school. Meltwater calls it a two-year entrepreneurial training program. MEST doesn't provide a degree after the two years. If you are scoring at home, our EIT friends have just spent 2 years learning to be an entrepreneur, going to classes, doing homework, working hard, with no degree to show for their efforts. How do you explain that to your friends? You tell them the 'free things' I mentioned earlier. So this is the dilemma MEST EITs battle with. The program is not easy, so some may fall out and some may have a job opportunity come along that they undertake. And if you graduate and your business is not funded, even more trouble. The MEST model is a work in progress, so some of these kinks have to be ironed out, and you can reapply for funding, etc. Just like a big family. Whether this is a good dilemma to be in is something we can debate, but I think it's a good one. Meltwater provides you tools for you to be successful and you maximise those resources at your disposal.

I don't know if I am allowed to discuss the kinds of businesses coming out of MEST because of intellectual property issues. I am excited about the ones I have heard so far. The graduating team that got funding will be a running a business called - Streemio - which has components of streaming and selling music. From what I heard from Eyram and others, it seems like it has a lot of potential. There are also plans for a conferencing service, amongst others. Eyram's LetiGames is already on the roll, having released its iWarrior game for the iPhone market in October last year. There are even more computer games to come from Eyram and Wesley Kirinya. They were just in San Francisco for the Game Developer Conference which sent them places they never really imagined and will continue to open different doors for them. A full post on Eyram and Leti Games will be coming soon.

I was at the MeltWater head office in San Francisco yesterday and got to talk to some of the MEST employees. I have also spoken with various EITs (some of whom helped organize BarCamp Ghana 2009) and some teaching fellows. I really love the work MEST is doing and hope we can even have more programs like what they have. If you are interested in software, entrepreneurship and business and you are done with university, consider applying to MEST. The deadline is April 18th. You can find more info on the MEST website http://meltwater.org.
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