The Half-Way Point: One EIT's Path to Investment at MEST
Isaac Jumba, MEST EIT from Kenya, Class of 2016
As we begin January 2016, graduation in August will be here before we know it. We’ll be making our final startup investment pitches to MEST founder Jorn Lyseggen, and many other investors from across the world. For us Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs), the grand pinnacle of the MEST program comes at the end of the year when we graduate and have the opportunity to pitch a business for seed investment and begin the journey as a software entrepreneur at the MEST Incubator. But first, let me tell you about the journey thus far.
My name is Isaac Jumba, and I am an EIT at MEST here in Ghana. I am from Kenya, 23 years old and a first born in a family of five siblings. I have a background in Computer Science from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and Accounting from Strathmore University. I was never decided about who I wanted to be in future, but I always imagined myself making a difference in my country.
After completing my university education in December 2014, I organized and conducted several digital marketing training bootcamps for students and businesses, and also served as a Google Student Ambassador in Campus. I used the income from these trainings for my rent, food and other needs. I later got a job with a top tech company in Kenya to work on a health information system project. It is here that I realized what I really wanted for myself: tech entrepreneurship.
Because MEST just launched recruitment efforts in Kenya in 2015, I had not heard of the program, but received an email from a friend who thought it’d be a good fit for me. Going through the email and description of the program, it felt like a prayer had been answered.
I have always wanted to experiment with technology, lead people, run a successful company and use technology to make an impact in my community. This is what exactly MEST gives you.
Before the interviews in Nairobi, we got a chance to interact with Jorn and some of the MEST team at an event at the Nairobi Garage. They gave an overview of what MEST was all about and their vision for Africa. I felt a strong connection to the vision, and I wanted in.
[caption id="attachment_2860" align="aligncenter" width="700"] The MEST Interview Process[/caption]
MEST interviews are the hardest interviews I have ever taken part in (and anyone who has been through them will tell you the same thing!). From a detailed application process, to a business proposal, to the group interviews and to the final 1:1 interviews with Jorn, it was incredibly challenging. I now understand why they peel apart all our layers one by one. It is because they invest in people and people create a culture. At MEST, culture is everything. When you eat, sleep, and breathe with your cohorts, it’s important that we are all passionately working toward the same goal at MEST: to become a globally successful software entrepreneur.
Currently, we have two cohort groups at MEST, with a total of 60 EITs on campus. My class is quite a unique, as we are the first group comprising of entrepreneurs from three countries: Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria (now that’s impact!). Here’s a look at our cohort here.
It’s now been about five months since I joined MEST. Memories still fresh in my mind; from my MEST interview to meeting my fellow EITs on Sunday, 10th August, to our first General Assembly (where every MESter did a self pitch), to the very first class projects and to many more still to come. Here are the few highlights I would love to share, from the first half of my journey at MEST.
The MEST Guest Lecture Weekends (MEST GLW)
Definitely a favorite to many EITs here. During the Guest Lecture Weekend, MEST invites globally successful entrepreneurs, mentors, investors and other influential personalities to share their life and entrepreneurial experiences with us. These are the individuals you would probably not easily meet in a normal occasion; unless you know someone who knows someone who knows someone that knows them (this might take a lifetime.)
In September we had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Andrea Barrica from 500Startups, Toro Orero of DraperDarkFlow and Aaron Fu from NEST VC. The speakers also get to listen to our capstone pitches and provide feedback giving us the real experience of how it would be like during our final newco pitching.
I can say this is the most exciting part of being a MESTer. In summary, we form teams , validate an idea, build a prototype, pitch the product, get really good feedback, leave the idea, form a new team, validate an idea, repeat the process. Sounds crazy and scary, but exciting.
We are always told to “work with as many people as possible” during our time here. This makes us understand the people you intend to work with in our startups since a startup is a marriage among the founders. Not being so religious about your idea makes you creative, innovative, and gives you the ability to spot opportunities in any environment.
Being at MEST exposes you to the very best of the tech events. The Agile Conference in October was an eye opener for me on what agile can do for your startup or business.
The Africa Technology Summit summit hosted by MEST was the highlight of the year for me. The event featured 40 great speakers who shared insights and experiences on E-commerce, Marketplaces, Fintech, Accelerators & Incubators, Media, investing in Africa and the next big thing for Africa was invaluable.
[caption id="attachment_2859" align="aligncenter" width="700"] Africa Tech Summit 2015 hosted by MEST in Accra, Ghana with the continent's most powerful tech players[/caption]
Recently, the Google Reach team spent quality time with us, sharing selflessly resources and information that would help us succeed as entrepreneurs. I learnt some new concepts on storytelling, branding, digital marketing and some best practices.
At MEST, the curriculum is broken up into three areas: comms, tech and business. We develop software products(tech), translate the product into value(business) and then sell the software product to the target customers and potential investors(comms). Here’s a look at what we’ve covered in the last 5 months:
So far at MEST, we have covered a lot more than I did in an entire year at University in my Computer Science classes. From HTML & CSS, to basic Android, to Java and finally to Ruby on Rails.
What I like about the the model is that tech is project based and team based as well. Four hours of sleep is luxury when working on such projects. Our first deliverable was for each of us to develop a personal online web portfolio with focus on the brand you intend to communicate to the rest of the world. Just before our Christmas break, we had teams pitching their real life apps developed on Ruby on Rails. Teams created everything from a secure centralized health records system, an online aptitude test examiner, a plug-n-play interactive FAQs system, a courier service, a web app for sharing dessert recipes and a web app for taking online polls.
Our first task was Bet, Buy & Barter (BBB), to generate as much as possible from 20 Ghanaian Cedis. Team 6 won by having a profit margin of 3870% up from 2400% the previous year. We then covered problem identification and formulation, ideation, customer segmentation, business model generation, sound branding, video pitching, competitive analysis, value proposition and market sizing.
Also everyone’s favourite because of our wonderful comms fellow, Emily. From how you do a self pitch to how you sell your product, we are taken through practical learning on why communication is important for the success of your startup. We have covered things such as building an online presence, team communication, cultural intelligence, giving and receiving feedback, team formation, pitching, presentation skills, pitch deck designs, time management and networking. Many external visitors will tell you that MEST EITs are some of the very best pitchers around, and this is why!
So as we journey on toward graduation, I will continue to savor every second in class and soak up everything I can before the big investment pitch day and graduation in August. Wish us luck and I’ll report back again in August!
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