Class of 2011 Graduation: June 11, 2011

MEST, Thursday June 16th 2011

Dear parents, guests, friends and colleagues, dear entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs), dear class of 2011,

My warmest congratulations on this big day. Standing here today with the class of 2001, the 3rd class of graduates is incredibly moving. MEST is a two year program that has tested you in so many ways. Before you started I warned you about a lot of setbacks and rejections on the way, but you have done it, you have successfully completed the program. My warmest congratulations to every one of you!

A big thank you to the MEST faculty; the Senior faculty Peter Van-Dijk and the teaching fellows Dave, Naveed, Brian, Kyle & Sebastian. Thank you for all your contributions. We would not be here without you. Your legacy and teaching will live on and has contributed to shape the lives of these young Africans. Thank you for all your hard work, you will always be family and dearly remembered here at MEST.

I would also like to thank all the parents and families that have been entrusting their children to us here at MEST. I know that MEST is still a young establishment and I know how important a consideration like this has been for you. Thank you so much for believing in us.

The guests of honors today, class of 2011 EITs (Entrepreneurs-in-Training), I remember two years ago during the last stage of the MEST recruitment, very fond memories. During that interview we found people that deeply moved us and people we developed an instant connection with. We found people with talent, heart, integrity, and a burning passion to leave a mark. Many times during our interviews we heard people say. “I want to do something for my country. I want to make Africa proud”.

And that is really what this day is all about.

We believe that entrepreneurs can contribute to the society and the world by creating jobs, wealth, and progress. We are jointly committed to the mission of creating African role models; role models that can display the talent and savvy of African youth in the global software industry.

Why are we so concerned about role models? Because it is so incredibly powerful. One of the most legendary tennis players of all times is Bjorn Borg. During his reign he dominated the international tennis scene by winning an unprecedented 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles and a total of 77 international titles, among them 5 times Champion of the French Open. The latter has never happened since. Borg was from Sweden, and because of him, Sweden, a small country of less than 9 million people started to produce an incredible array of world-class tennis players regularly winning all of the major global tournaments in addition to rank consistently among the top 3 in international rankings.

That shows the power of role models. We live in a wonderful world and never has individual talent had greater opportunity to change the world.

To create a software company, all you need is a computer costing a few hundred dollars. After that it is all up to you and your imagination, drive, and conviction.

We hope companies being hatched from MEST will inspire generations of young minds in these neighborhoods and beyond. We hope the role models from MEST will help local youth believe in themselves. The belief in their own abilities to start their own companies and the belief in their own ability to successfully compete with anyone else as long as they put their hearts and minds to it.

The statement we want to make here at MEST, the message we want to send to all Africans and the world around us is that talent is talent everywhere and software can be created anywhere. And of course also in Africa!

And one day we hope that the work here at MEST will contribute to inspire a vibrant and internationally successful ICT industry here in Ghana. Here in Africa.

As you are about to embark on the future and all the dreams and ambitions that it entails, I would like to share 4 advises  with you as my personal blessing and best wishes on the way.

Advice #1: Don’t forget what you have learned here at MEST

At MEST you were enrolled in a rigorous program where you, in two full years have received training in programming, the art of software development, making business plans, and entrepreneurship.

All that is well and fine, but the most important learning you have done, the main purpose of this program, has nothing to do with technology or business ideas. MEST was primarily designed to become a learning institution for developing:

  • Perspectives

  • Critical thinking

  • Values and  success principles

My hope is that you will carry this learning with you for the rest of your life. That going forward, you also continue to challenge and develop your perspectives about yourself, your interaction with others, and the world around you.

That you further develop your critical thinking and don’t accept things on face value. Pay little attention to people telling you this and that if it doesn't make sense to you. Trust your own instincts, investigate yourself and understand things at a deeper and more profound level.

I also hope that the values and success principles that you have learned here at MEST will prove indestructible over time and serve you well throughout your life. I will repeat them now for the last time to share them with everybody here and to freshen your memory if  needed:

1. Generosity

In your interaction with people be generous and kind. Give people you meet the benefit of the doubt if they should cross you in any way. Perhaps it is the case that you interpreted them wrong, or that what you hear is not accurate or taken out of context. Be generous and you will never go wrong. It will serve you well in the long run.

2. Positivity

To see the world through a positive lens makes a big difference. You see solutions instead of problems, you see friends and partners instead of competitors. Your frame of mind is in large degree shaping your life, the world you live in and your own destiny.

3. Standards

This is something we have talked about a lot in the program. Live by world-class standards. When you put your name on a project. Why would you not want to make it as close to excellent as you can?.  Why would you ever settle for anything less than spectacular.

Hence our values: Generosity, Positivity, and Standards. Together they can be remembered as G-P-S, and I hope that you can use them to navigate safely in any unknown territory you should travel.

Advice #2: Don’t be obsessed about changing the world today

After being trained here for two years, you are understandably very impatient. You are finally ready to go out there and conquer the world. That is fine and a wonderful gift, but don’t get obsessed about finding the right business idea and getting your company off the ground, right NOW.

Who knows what the right thing is for you. Don’t get obsessed about starting your company now if you don’t have the right idea. It is fine to start out with a job first. Probably even recommendable. Go out in the world and explore life. Get a feel for how things work and what you are really good at.

I believe entrepreneurship is a way to express yourself. An artist paints paintings, a composer creates music, an entrepreneur builds companies. They are all different ways of expressing oneself and making one's voice heard.

You need to find your voice and your take on things. For some it starts right after MEST and they get enrolled into the incubator. For others it takes more time. And that is just fine.

Advice #3: Don’t be afraid of failing

We are often quick to categorize things as a failure or a success. Don’t make that mistake. Things are seldom that simple.

Every “failure” represents learning and very often new opportunities. The world is full of examples of wildly successful companies that have accidentally been born out of previous “failures”.

On the other hand, every “success” takes you one step closer to complacency and messing things up royally.

"Failures are made only by those who fail to dare, not by those who dare to fail."

I think this quote captures the spirit of MEST in a wonderful way. We are setting ourselves very ambitious objectives. We are going to go out there and compete with the smartest and most driven people out there. Of course it is going to be hard, of course there are  going to be setbacks and finally, of course we will go through concerns, doubts, and worries.

To be successful we need to embrace that the road will be challenging. We have to embrace that fact that whil eon the way, we will face failure.

But it doesn't matter, every bump in the road will make us wiser and every setback will make us stronger. We know that what we have set out to do is going to be challenging. And that is why we signed up for it in the first place.

Advice #4: Don’t strive for success, focus on happiness

One of the most important success criteria in life must be your own happiness. Your life is not about the future. What you one time want to accomplish. It is all about today, what happens now.

Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple asks himself everyday: “If this was my last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”. Don’t wait for some future event to make you happy.

Don’t trick yourself in thinking as soon as I get there, I will be OK. Whatever happens, happens now. If you want some pointers as to what to focus on every day, my answer would be that I think the most happy that anyone can be is:

  • doing what you love

  • with people you care about

  • and pursuing a cause that you know are worth while fighting for.

That’s what I have been so fortunate to be doing myself in most of my life. That is how my life is in Meltwater. That is how I have always felt with MEST. And from the bottom of my heart, that is what I wish for every single one of you in whatever you should pursue in life.

  • I hope that you fill find your passion and work with something you truly love.

  • I hope that you will be working with inspiring people that you care deeply for.

  • I hope that whatever you put your heart into you know it is important and a cause worth fighting for.

With that I would ask the class of 2011 to stand up.

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and colleagues from near and afar, I give you the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology Class of 2011!