MEST Women in Tech: Linda Ansong

From the Archives, Wednesday September 3rd 2014

Twenty four year old Linda Ansong is the rare tech entrepreneur who gets just as excited discussing the latest from shoe designers Christian Louboutin and Manolo Blahnik as she does talking about coding, launching new businesses and inspiring the next generation of girls in technology.

A 2014 MEST alumni, Linda is a co-founder of Vestracker, a shipping industry tracking solution that is currently a company in the MEST Incubator and will soon be opening their first European office in Sweden.

MINC Business Development Fellow, Muhammida El Muhajir sat down with Linda to learn more about her background in technology, challenges she deals with as a woman in the industry and her vision for the future.

ME: Before coming to MEST what was your background in tech?

LA: I was always very interested and excelled in math as early as primary school. I also loved sci-fi films

The summer before I entered high school I took a computer course at The Kofi Annan IT Center (AITI). It was basically the foundations of MS Suite. I really enjoyed the course and once I completed high school I enrolled in a 3 month course in software development that included prepping for coding C. I was one of only four students to pass the class.

Upon entering Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, I initially wanted to pursue a career in medicine to become a pediatrician. But I soon realized I loved math more than I did biology and I also hated the sight of blood. So I knew my future would be math related and decided to major in Actuarial Science. Because of my major I wasn’t required to take many computer classes but I was always really excited to learn more coding.

Once I got to MEST I found that many of the girls excelled in UI, the more creative aspects of tech but for me it was the backend. I do well with logic. I picked up Java very quickly. It’s the only program I feel really comfortable with. There are rules and syntax and that makes sense to me.

ME: How and when did you hear about MEST and were there any challenges being one of very few women in your class?

LA: I learned about MEST in my final year at University when they came to one of my classes to recruit. It sounded like an interesting opportunity and I applied. There were over 200 applicants from my school and I was one of only four selected. After graduation from University, I came straight to MEST. There were only 4 women in my class.

One of the major challenges for me in the beginning was that I didn’t have a true background in technology as some of the other students who came with computer science degrees. Sometimes I simply needed more time to grasp a concept and even if it was slowing the class down at times I just wanted to make sure I got it before moving on.

There were also occasional negative comments from some of the male students specifically a guy from my university who even questioned how I made it to MEST!

But primarily my male classmates were very supportive and helped me a lot especially when it came to Java. Some of those guys also now have companies in the Incubator.

ME: What has been your journey as an entrepreneur?

LA: I actually started my first business when I was six years old! My sister and I sold pancakes as a fundraiser for a family friend whose father had recently passed away.

In university, I started a few small business to afford my high end fashion tastes. I sold make-up. That business failed because my friends always bought on credit.  I also started a hair extensions business which turned out to be quite lucrative. I also learned a lot from my parents who are both successful entrepreneurs.

MEST features group centered instruction. You learn to work in groups from day 1 and you end up working with everyone in your class at some point so you learn everyone’s strengths.

I think my current team recognized that I’m a great salesperson. My company is made up of all very strong personalities. There’s the tech guys, the business theory guy and I am the practical business one. I’m also able to listen to everyone’s perspective and present it back to the team in an honest manner.

The idea for our company Vestracker, came from one of the team members who also worked at a freight company. It wasn’t our initial idea. It was a contingency. But another MEST team pitched a company too similar to our first idea and we didn’t have time to come up with something new so luckily we went with Vestracker.

ME: How have things gone so far with Vestracker?

LA: After initially pitching the idea, we moved forward and validated with various sources. We begin to realize just how green the freight forwarding industry was. There are no direct competitors in the industry. Vestracker aggregates cargo tracking data from various shipping lines, providing a one stop platform for all cargo tracking activities. Tracking shipments is a process that is usually very time consuming, costly and stressful for freight forwarders so the need for the service we provide was high but no one else had come up with a solution quite like ours. At this point, we are pioneers in the industry.

We launched officially in May and now currently have 7 international clients and work with clients locally in Ghana. We were lucky to have an advisor who had many contacts in the European shipping industry which will allow for our upcoming expansion to Sweden.

I am a co-founder and Vice President of Sales for Vestracker. I also develop business strategies for the company.

[Tweet "@vestracker Convenience in freight forwarding.No barriers. No burdens. #MESTwomen"]

ME: What has been some of your challenges working in two very male dominated industries, tech and shipping?

LA: (laughing) Of course men hitting on me! I’ve even received marriage proposals and vacation requests. There are male clients who just don’t take me seriously simply because I am a woman.

I try never to be rude even when declining advances and to remain professional. At the end of the day I represent myself as well as my company and I don’t want to disgrace either. I usually tell them I will contact them concerning the dinner proposal or date during my spare time because right now it’s business…which if course never happens.

ME: Tell me about your efforts to encourage young girls to become interested in STEM.

LA: I would often discuss with other girls in my class at MEST the frustration of their being so few women in our classes throughout university and the tech field in general. We thought about what we could do to change that. As a result, we launched STEMbees, a non-profit organisation focused on encouraging and mentoring more young females to pursue their dreams and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. We go to schools to introduce basic STEM concepts, do fun experiments, teach basic coding as well as exercises to build confidence and practical life skills.

We partnered with our first school earlier this year and it was a truly rewarding experience for the girls as well as our team. We will soon begin after-school programs and eventually will build computer and science labs at some of the partner schools.

[caption id="attachment_1973" align="aligncenter" width="300"]
Linda with some of the primary school girls who participated in the STEMbees launch
Linda with some of the primary school girls who participated in the STEMbees launch[/caption]
[Tweet "@STEMbees mentoring girls to pursue their dreams and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math"]

ME: Wow! You are doing some really wonderful work. What’s next on your horizon?

LA: My plate is full right now with Vestracker and STEMbees but in the future I would like to develop a company that merges my love for both technology and fashion. I’m always brainstorming ideas!