Incubator Fellow, Vineet Kumar, looks back on his time working with us at MEST

by on Monday, February 27th, 2017, filed under IdeasIncubator

Vineet Kumar, one of our most loved Incubator Fellows, leaves MEST this March after a year-long contract with us supporting our tech entrepreneurs and companies.

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Originally from India, an avid traveler and startup enthusiast, Vineet threw himself heartily into his work here – building up our entrepreneurs and community with enthusiasm. It is with hearts a little sad that we say goodbye as he now continues on in his life journey.

Scroll on to read a recap of our farewell interview with Vineet and get a sense of what’s like to work with us at MEST.

Please introduce yourself and share a little about your background.

My name is Vineet. I currently work at the MEST Incubator as a Product Management Fellow. Prior to MEST, I worked for one of the top 3 e-commerce firms in India, Snapdeal.com as an Associate Product Manager. I also hold an MBA from IIM Calcutta where I specialized in Marketing and Strategy. I grew up in the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore. I did my Masters in the Cultural Capital of India, Kolkata and have worked for a year in the National Capital, New Delhi. I am an avid traveler and have travelled across most parts of India and a fair amount of Ghana as well. I am passionate about entrepreneurship and enjoy working with a diverse group of people solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

Before MEST, what would you say was the most pivotal or important role of your career?

Before MEST, the most important role in my career was working for Snapdeal as an Associate Product Manager. Snapdeal is a fast-growing company with a start-up culture and a fast-paced work life. Here I worked with multiple teams such as Brand Stores and Search, on aspects such as product strategy and product design. I interacted with business, tech and design teams and coordinating with these teams and managing their expectations was a deeply fulfilling experience.

What drew you to a role at MEST?

I have always been passionate about the start-up space and have wanted to work with many entrepreneurs as an advisor. I think entrepreneurs are a special breed with lots of motivation and an innate ability to maintain calm regardless of the circumstances. When I heard about this role in Ghana, I knew this will be the perfect next step for my career. The prospects of living in a faraway land, in a developing environment working with multiple technology startups was exciting and I jumped at the opportunity and applied. After multiple rounds of interview, when I got selected, I packed my bags and flew to Ghana.

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Dinner with Mr. Todd at Afrikiko

How long were you an MEST Incubator Fellow and how would you describe your experience to someone who’s never been here?

I worked at the MEST Incubator for one year. It has been a truly incredible experience. I worked with multiple technology startups helping them with various aspects such as strategy, digital marketing, product design, user experience etc. I also had the opportunity to interact with multiple students at the MEST School as a mentor. The students are from four different countries in Africa and it is amazing how much we can learn from their perspective and a lot of times, as a mentor I was also actively learning from these students. I really enjoyed the diverse group both at the school and the incubator. Looking at the cultural differences and working with this set of amazing people who are passionate about changing the world has been a truly fulfilling experience. Apart from that, I enjoyed interacting and entertaining the various guests that we have on a regular basis. I have interacted with guests from Facebook, Google, SAP etc. We have also had the privilege of hosting some talented advisors who worked for our startups for a brief period pro-bono. I cherish the opportunity of meeting them and learning from them.

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Dinner with the MEST team at Veda, an Indian restaurant

Did you have any misconceptions coming to Ghana that you found to be completely false or what surprised you the most about Ghana and/or Ghanaians?

Yes, I did have many misconceptions. My friends back in India were surprised I chose to move to Ghana. They thought I was crazy. I myself felt probably Ghana is not safe, maybe I should stay indoors after dark. I also expected stark poverty, because that has always been the portrayal by media for Africa in general. But when I arrived here I was pleasantly surprised. Ghana was a lot more developed especially in terms of infrastructure. People were extremely warm and friendly and I could feel the positive vibe right from the moment my flight landed in Accra. And safety has never ever been a concern. In fact, I feel safe to walk on the streets at any time any day, maybe even safer than I feel in other countries.

What are your favorite things about living in Ghana?

I love the people in Ghana. They are just so friendly and make you feel at ease instantly. I am an avid traveler and wherever I go in Ghana, I have always met the best and kindest people. And fortunately, Ghana has not disappointed me when it comes to travel. It is so beautiful and has everything from some lovely beaches like Busua, great historical places like Cape Coast, natural crater lakes such as Lake Bosomtwe and some good hikes and jungles in the Eastern Region. The food was initially something I struggled with. But over time I have begun to enjoy the Banku with pepper and some Tilapia of course. Accra being a very dynamic and growing city, has a lot of expats and volunteers who work here. I have met lots of wonderful people from different nationalities when I go clubbing, dining or traveling. Ghana is a really peaceful country and it is very safe. I never knew I would fall in love with Africa, but after an year of living here including my 2 week trip to Kenya during the Christmas break, I am totally in love with this continent and would love to spend many more years living, working and travelling in Africa.

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Traveling to the Volta region with the MEST fellows

What’s your biggest lesson learned at MEST that you’ll take with you as you move on to other things?

I learnt that with a contagious passion and a positive attitude, anything in life can be achieved. I have learnt that the most important thing is to be a good person and work towards a cause you are passionate about, and things will eventually work out for you. I have been inspired by the people who toil day and night to make things happen and the enthusiasm they show every single day is incredible. I am also deeply inspired by the students at the school who sacrifice a year of their lives to be here and take part in the rigor and give it their best. I know the future is Africa and I know for certain every single one at MEST will create a great impact wherever they go and through whatever they choose to pursue.

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Cooked Indian food for the EITs

Who were some of the most exciting people you met while at MEST/Ghana, and what did you love about them?

I met a lot of wonderful people while at MEST/Ghana and choosing between them is certainly hard, but I am going to try. One of my favorite people during my stay here is Harish Vemuri. He is a consultant from Bain who volunteered at MEST for 6 months. We became really close friends and he also happened to be my roommate. I loved his passion and energy, and his ability to form connections with people so easily. I loved the fact that he was working pro bono for six months to make a difference. I observed how in spite of multiple challenges he faced while living here, he was able to deal with them and not complain much. There is a lot that I learnt from him.

Recently, I had the opportunity to work with Kurt Davis who spent a week volunteering and helping our companies with strategy. It was a great experience working with him and we also travelled together over the weekend. He is super passionate about travel but he was also volunteering whilst he travelled the continent and it was wonderful to observe someone working to make a difference while they follow their passion.

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Travelling with Kurt to Wli

Please give one word of advice to potential MEST Incubator and Teaching fellows.

Africa is a place that will change you. It will change the way you see the world and how you look at life. Come here with an open mind. The way things work in Africa can be completely different from the way it works in Silicon Valley or other parts of the world. Respect the entrepreneurs and always listen to them before offering any advice. They are looking for someone who understands them, resonates with them and is able to guide them but for all that to happen it is very important you are open to them and to receiving feedback from them on what works and what doesn’t.

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We, at MEST Africa, thank you, Vineet, for your genuine love and selflessness. We wish you all the best.