This article is part one of a three-part series focusing on the 2019 MEST Africa Challenge winners.
Back in February, ten top Ghanian startups were chosen to compete to pitch their business ideas as part of the MEST Africa Challenge 2019. Judges selected OZÉ, a platform that equips small business owners with the information to make data-driven decisions to help them grow, as the finalist to represent Ghana.
On June 10, 2019, the final pitch was held at the MEST Africa Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Meghan Mccormick, Co-Founder and CEO of OZÉ, competed against the other finalists from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire, and for the first time ever, three startups were named winners. OZÉ, WayaWaya Ltd (Kenya) and Snode Technologies (South Africa) all received $50,000 in equity investment from MEST Africa and $25,000 of credit from key sponsor Microsoft.
Keep reading to hear more from the OZÉ team about their win and where they hope to go from here.
MEST: Why did you start OZÉ?
OZÉ: We started OZÉ to help small businesses grow. On the continent, there’s a youth unemployment crisis with 11 million youth entering the job market every single year and 60% of them not finding jobs. The only way for them to actually solve unemployment at a large scale is to equip the pre-existing small businesses on the continent to create jobs for the youth.
MEST: What inspired you to compete in the MEST Africa Challenge/Summit?
OZÉ: We wanted to compete in MAS because of especially being a company founded by Americans, being able to embed in the African entrepreneurial ecosystem was really important. We had a relationship with MEST previously by doing some trainings but wanted to immediately become part of the mest family.
MEST: What tips do you have for future contestants?
OZÉ: I think the tips I would have for future contestants would be to wait until you’re ready to take advantage of the opportunity. We chose not to apply to MAC last year because we thought we were a little bit too early and we think we were able to be competitive this year because we have actual paying customers now and growth, if we were to have made it last year we would not have that. And then not this opportunity. So being strategic about when you apply for these types of opportunities is really important.
Nailing your story, part of how OZÉ was able to come home a winner in such a competitive field with people with much more mature businesses was because we were able to communicate why what we’re working on matters and why we think it can change the structure of the African economy and paint that picture. A good story goes a long way especially when you don’t have millions of dollars of revenue.
MEST: How do you intend to use this opportunity to expand?
OZÉ: We are looking to Nigeria as our next market, so knowing that when opening in that market not only do we have relationships with the other company from Nigeria but also a home base – somewhere that we can camp out and meet people and get introductions to other small business owners and startups movers and shakers in the Nigerian ecosystem is the most immediate benefit, that launch pad into Nigeria.
MEST: Why are you excited to join the MEST Portfolio?
OZÉ: We’re excited to join the MEST portfolio because of the long history of MAS in Ghana, not that many early stage investors in Ghana so being able to have one that launched and grew in the same market with the same pattern that we hope to follow (from Ghana and out from there), MEST will be a very beneficial partner for us.
MEST: Why is pan-African expansion the key to Oze’s success?
OZÉ: The 28 million consumers in Ghana are really exciting for a first market, but they’re not a large enough opportunity to attract the type of investment that we need to bring the world class together to build such a transformational product. The youth unemployment is not just a Ghana problem, but a sub-Saharan African market. Attract the type of acapital that we need to be successful in Ghana and eventually beyond Ghana.
MEST: What is next for OZÉ?
OZÉ: We just got our 10,000th registered business, which is really exciting. Right now we’re heads down focusing about moving our financial institution partners from being partners on paper to getting capital into the hands of OZÉ users.
We look forward to welcoming OZÉ to our portfolio and seeing what they go on to do!