The Journey to MEST

MEST, Tuesday November 13th 2018

This post was written by MEST EIT Bekithemba Ngulube. Born in Zimbabwe, Beki grew up in Botswana and has spent most of his adult life in South Africa. He studied economics and has experience in Research & Strategy Consulting as well as the Transport, Logistics and Supply Chain industries. He is passionate about Sport and Technology.

Two months and some change after moving to Accra, I thought I would take some time to reflect on how I ended up here. I’ll rewind to a couple of days before the end of last year, on the 29th of December 2017, when I attended my friend's wedding at Cavalli Wine Estate in Cape Town, where I was living before joining Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST).

My seat at the wedding was next to a woman, and what ensued was one of the more enlightening conversations I had had in awhile. Talking to someone you have just met about some of the hopes, dreams, and aspirations you harbor reveals more about who you are and what your current state of mind is than you might realize. What came from that conversation for me was that you will never be 100% ready to pursue your dreams, but you should always be ready to take the leap of faith. This conversation prompted a change of mindset within me.

Heading into the New Year I resolved that I would be more proactive in the pursuit of entrepreneurial opportunities and attend more events within the Silicon Cape ecosystem. In February, I stumbled across an information session on Facebook that was going to be hosted at the MEST Incubator in Cape Town.

First impressions

At that time I had never heard about MEST. I dug a bit deeper into MEST and the stories of the entrepreneurs that had gone through the year-long training program. I headed to the information session knowing a little bit more, and I was greeted by Tobi Lafinhan, MEST’s Recruitment Manager.

The session was hugely insightful. We learned a lot more about MEST, the portfolio companies, the program itself and we also got a preview of what living in Accra was like. We also learned about what separates MEST from other incubators and accelerator programs in that they offer a year long, fully-funded opportunity to learn three core subjects, business, communication and technology. The end goal is readying the Entrepreneur-in-training (EIT) for an opportunity to pitch for funding with fellow co-founders that have also gone through the program.

[caption id="attachment_7519" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Induction day at MEST: Meeting Jørn Lyseggen, the man who has made this opportunity possible for us all[/caption]

What stood out for me was my interactions with Tobi. His outlook on entrepreneurship and his positivity kept me engaged throughout the session. Tobi also spoke of the successes of the MEST portfolio companies and the MEST community which extends beyond Africa, as far as Silicon Valley. The big sell was hearing that a MEST portfolio company, Saya, a cross-platform messaging app, was the first African company to present on the main stage at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Walking out of that session, I knew full well that the time to take the plunge had finally come. If I got accepted into the program, I would jump at the opportunity. I would stop postponing my entrepreneurship dream any further.

I am incredibly grateful for the lessons I learned working in corporate South Africa and the people that I had the good fortune of working with. Not only did they prepare me for the interview process to come, but they have also prepared me for the long road that lies ahead as an entrepreneur.

The journey toward MEST

The MEST interview process was quite thorough, to say the least. Following a successful application, the first step was a short telephone interview with Tobi. The structure of the interview was quite conversational, to get a sense of who I was as an individual, and how well I expressed my personality.

What followed from there was a psychometric test of my basic tech knowledge, English, mathematical, logic, and reasoning skills. I did really well well in the English, mathematical, reasoning and logic sections, but fell flat on the basic tech section, which focused on Google SEO. Up to that point I had very little interaction with this. After getting through the psychometric tests, which I quite enjoyed completing, the next step was a full day in-person interview at the Cape Town Incubator.

The interview was divided into two segments: a group interview in the morning and an individual interview in the afternoon. Progression to the individual interview was not guaranteed and depended on how well I had performed in the group interviews. The group interview looked beyond the skills on my CV and focused on how well I collaborated with my colleagues, a central tenet of the MEST culture.

The individual interviews were probably the most strenuous. Sitting in front of MEST Managing Director Aaron Fu and Accra Director Ashwin Ravichandran was quite a daunting experience given their vast experience and knowledge, however it was one I really enjoyed. They really drilled down on every aspect of my CV to see if I had the mette to withstand the tests that invariably come for any entrepreneur. The questions asked were tough, but they are what makes the MEST program so competitive and worthwhile. On the whole, the experience was fun and equally challenging - a tough balance to find in any interview process.

[caption id="attachment_7520" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Successful candidates from Cape Town: Ulrich Mabou (left), Ropafadzo Musvaire (middle) and Bekithemba Ngulube (right)[/caption]

After the interviews, the waiting game began for that final decision. The joy I felt once I received the confirmation letter that I had been accepted into the program was beyond what I had expected myself. A sign perhaps of just how much I had wanted the opportunity. Despite being in what was a good job, working with some amazing colleagues, the chance to unplug from the matrix as it were, and pursue my dreams was just too alluring.

My biggest takeaway from the whole process, as was recently discussed by myself, Tobi and fellow EITs Chidi Nwaogu, Gloria Clement and Ropafadzo Musvaire in a Yielding Accomplished African Women (YAAW) “Career Booster” webinar, was to always be yourself. Interviews can be stress and anxiety-laden but the best way to navigate them is by staying true to who you are and answering the questions posed to you to the best of your ability. The program has been tough so far, but it is an experience I am relishing.

Applications are now open for the 2020 cohort. Come join me.