MEST Welcomes VC Shannon Grant, Dan Czerwonka of Zipline and Lars Smith of EQI for Guest Lecture Weekend
Another quarter has come to a close, and the MEST community came together for yet another exciting Guest Lecture Weekend. MEST staff, portfolio companies, alumni and guests gathered in Accra from across the world to hear the latest ideas and pitches from MEST Entrepreneurs-in-training (EITs) as they completed the second Capstone Project in their curriculum.
On the weekend of March 16th, 2019, we welcomed three speakers to MEST HQ: Shannon Grant, Founder of Deus Capital and considered by Forbes to be one of the tech investors to watch; Dan Czerwonka, Head of Global Regulatory Affairs at Zipline International who have made more than 10,000 life saving deliveries by drone; and Lars Smith, Director of EQI Foundation. Apart from telling their inspirational stories and offering advice, the Guest lecturers also gave valuable feedback to the business concepts pitched by the class of 2019.
Shannon Grant discussed the Hero’s Journey
Shannon Grant discussed the Hero’s journey which encapsulates hero myth pattern studies popularized by Joseph Campbell. She related the concept to an entrepreneur’s journey.This adventure follows an arc from the land of the familiar to the unfamiliar during which there are transformations and lessons to be learned. She described an entrepreneur’s journey as a perpetual call to adventure.
Grant spoke of how this adventure is filled with many perils which an entrepreneur must navigate. These perils included building out ideas, raising funding and launching products. She made reference to the MEST training program and how, by teaching EITs how to build ideas and let go of them before the next capstone, they’re learning a vital part of the Hero’s journey: transformation. She encouraged them to enjoy the creative process as it was very valuable in entrepreneurship.
Grant spoke about how her own Hero’s journey led her through venture capital to supporting female founders after speaking with female entrepreneurs and realising that there were unique challenges they faced when raising capital. This led her to become an angel investor for female-led businesses. She also pointed to research from Harvard and other authorities which showed that gender diversity had a positive impact on businesses. All this led her to build her investment thesis centered around investing in female-led business and encouraging women to invest in other women.
She ended her presentation with some advice:
- Your network is the number one unwritten rule of success
- Learn from the mistakes of Silicon valley and build your own unique business
- Know your numbers
- Be excellent at follow-up
- Turn your fear into courage
- Know the difference between promotion-based questions and prevention-based questions
- Get your own personal board of advisors
- Start with an idea of what you are passionate about, what you are “encoded for” and what can you be the best in the world at
Dan Czerwonka spoke about embracing imperfection
Dan Czerwonka joined Zipline International, a drone delivery service launched in Rwanda and Ghana which has raised $114.3M in funding, in its early days. Czerwonka walked the EITs through his own progression from working in law in the US, to chasing a career he’s extremely passionate about.
He described his personal search for success and how he went from a small town in Kentucky to studying law at Georgetown University to working for New York’s oldest law firm, Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.
Despite these successes, he wasn’t inspired by his work in law and decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue the film industry. While there he was introduced to the team at Zipline and eventually joined to work on the cutting-edge of life saving innovation.
He said that entrepreneurs should not be afraid of making mistakes and shouldn’t be worried if they don’t have all the answers.
His advice for our EITs:
- Just start; don’t worry about it being perfect because the process matters sometimes even more than the product. Avoid “perfectionist paralysis”.
- Keep trying new ideas to find out what works
- The only mistakes are those from which you learn nothing.
- Embracing imperfection allows us to move faster and identify problems we didn’t even know about yet
- Have strong opinions, loosely held. Do your homework and approach your ideas with conviction but always be willing to change your position because the goal is to take the right steps even if they are someone else’s.
- Be organised about what you learn and do not overcomplicate things
- Being a leader is not about making people believe in you but about making people believe in themselves
Lars Smith’s lessons learned from a long career building businesses in Africa
Smith spoke about lessons learned during his career, which included working for the Danish Development Agency in Tanzania, and working in Kenya on wildlife studies in the Serengeti and other parts using techniques like systematic reconnaissance flights. He also led a business in Somalia, as a technology distributor for NCR, the company credited with inventing the ATM, before he went into teaching at various universities and educational institutions.
His advice for entrepreneurs included:
- Provide the products and services that customers want at prices that they can afford
- Sustainability means your business model must have sustainable cash flows.
- Surprises will always happen in business so you must be able to anticipate what can go wrong.
- Startup teams must be balanced with all the requisite skill sets needed to succeed.
- Do not underestimate the cost of sales and the time it takes to get sales.
MEST Guest lecture weekend was a thoroughly rewarding event with lots of advice shared from the three speakers from their diverse backgrounds and personalities. We are grateful for their insights and feedback to the MEST community. We look forward to the next Guest lecture weekend coming in June!
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