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Image by Greg Beadle

New MEST Cape Town Incubator offers African launchpad for SA entrepreneurs

South African entrepreneurs looking to launch into the rest of the continent should look no further than the Meltwater Entrepreneur School of Technology (MEST), which last night launched a Cape Town incubator.

Speaking at the launch of MEST Cape Town Incubator, held at the Woodstock Exchange in the city, the organisation’s managing director Aaron Fu (pictured above) says the incubator will among other things, run workshops on cross-border trade — on things such as how startups can build a remote or regional team.

The programme aims to get entrepreneurs and developers from different African countries to work together and to jointly set up startups.

“Our Nigeria general manager (Neku Atawodi), will be coming here shortly to share a little bit around how South African startups can get to Lagos, and not theoretically but really practically what are the next steps,” he said.

The first startups that are expected to take up residency at the incubator in the coming year will include five SA entrepreneurs that are at present taking part in the second cohort of MEST’s 12-month resident programme in Accra, which ends in August next year.

The organisation has been recruiting SA entrepreneurs for the past two years to take part in the programme. So far 60 entrepreneurs in all have passed through the programme.

“We know how sometimes it can be intimidating to go into a new market when you don’t know anyone, when you don’t know how to hire, when you don’t know how to set up a company.

“We want to be able to take that friction away and we want to be able to lubricate trans-Africa startups to really happen, that’s the sort of thing we want to see with this space,” said Fu.

MEST is currently training five South African entrepreneurs in Accra

Added to this startups from the organisation’s other hubs — based in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana and The Ivory Coast — will get the chance to visit and spend time at the Cape Town incubator.

“Next year we will see this space thriving, I hope at least six to seven tech companies coming out of our entrepreneurs-in-training in Accra will come to Cape Town,” said Fu.

He said MEST was founded on the premise that “talent is distributed equally across the world and opportunities are not”. “(It’s an) opportunity to gain access to the right mentors, to the right support the right customers, that isn’t equally distributed,” he said.

“A lot of conversations I’ve had in South Africa have been around why there aren’t more South African startups in Nigeria, in Kenya. Why are all South African startups going to London? Why are they all going to San Francisco? Those are fantastic paths, but it’s really exciting to see South Africans in Accra working with other Africans on product,” he said.

One of these startups — radio content verification platform Qisimah — reckons Fu, will “be the next Google for audio and radio stations”. The startup is based in Accra and includes one South African — Sakhile Xulu.

Don’t give up, Fu tells applicants

Fu gave Ventureburn three exclusive tips on how interested entrepreneurs can make it through MEST’s application process. These he listed as — being persistent, being certain about what you are doing and thirdly, not being afraid to try.

He described the process as a “very long rigorous” one, which starts off with an online application process and ends with a week-long intensive bootcamp. The application process includes visits by MEST representatives to the organisation’s various hubs in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and The Ivory Coast.

In the end Fu says entrepreneurs should not lose heart if they are not selected the first time they try to get into the programme.

“Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t say I’ve never coded in my life, I’ve never started a business before, don’t let these be inhibiting things. If you feel deep down in your heart and soul that building a tech startup in Africa and building a pan-African one is what you should be doing then we’d love to hear from you,” said Fu.

And what does he think of the South African entrepreneurs who are presently taking part in the residents programme in Ghana? “Believe you me, they are building great things with their peers from across the continent,” says Fu.

Read more: MEST launches incubator spaces in Lagos, Cape Town

Featured image: MEST managing director Aaron Fu (credit Greg Beadle)