MEST Africa, a pan-African training program, incubator, and seed fund for African entrepreneurs, has announced the appointment of Eric Nsarkoh as a Portfolio Advisor, focused on technology product development. Eric brings a wealth of experience and expertise in Africa’s technology space to the role and will help to strengthen and scale MEST’s portfolio of startups across the continent.
Eric Nsarkoh is a seasoned business executive with over 20 years of experience in leading multinational organizations across Africa. He was recently the Head of Engineering at Stanbic Bank Ghana and has a strong track record of scaling growth and innovation, having held similar leadership roles at Millicom (Tigo Ghana), Airtel Ghana, and MTN.
His expertise in software development, sales, and consumer behavior will be invaluable in supporting MEST Africa’s portfolio of companies. In his new role, Eric will be responsible for advising and supporting these companies to strengthen their product development and scale of technology products and services. He will also work closely with MEST Africa’s portfolio and leadership team, providing guidance on best practices and industry trends.
Founder Jorn Lyseggen expressed his excitement about the appointment, stating, “Eric is an unusually talented engineer as well as a seasoned executive who understands how to bring products to market in Africa. His background in banking and telco will be invaluable support for our portfolio companies as they grow and scale across the continent”
Eric’s appointment comes at a critical time for Africa’s technology sector as the continent is poised for tremendous growth. Eric expressed his excitement about joining MEST Africa and working with the organization’s portfolio companies. “I am thrilled to be joining MEST at this important time in Africa’s development,” he said. “I am excited to be part of an organization that is working to support the next generation of African tech entrepreneurs.”
Overall, Eric’s appointment as MEST Africa’s Portfolio Advisor focused on tech product development is a significant development that underscores the importance of software development in driving innovation and growth in the continent.
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Informal retail is one of the biggest economic sectors representing 50% of official GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, but it is largely under-served. In Ghana, the informal retail sector accounts for 80% of the Ghanaian workforce. Although a burgeoning sector, women in underprivileged communities who form a majority of informal retailers are faced with the challenge of restocking products at high costs and barely having access to credit to run their businesses. Ulric Chekap is the co-founder of Shopa, a MEST portfolio company that is redefining informal retail and revolutionizing how informal retailers access and restock their products. They do this while providing practical solutions to the credit challenges of informal retailers.
In the interview that follows, Ulric Chekap shares what his motivation together with his co-founders has been and shares some insights on the future of informal retail in West Africa.
In less than 2 years, Shopa has conducted over 30, 743+ transactions; reached 3,288 customers and has partnered with over 50 manufacturers and suppliers. Tell us the need in the market Shopa sought out to address and how you have managed to gain such traction over a short period of time.
After spending close to six months researching this space, my co-founders and I realized that about 20 million informal retailers in Africa, mostly women living in underprivileged communities, need to frequently restock products they want to sell at the lowest cost from wholesalers they can rely on. They also needed access to credit to manage restocking and the running of their business. However, they were unable to do so because of:
The extra money required to handle transportation to the open market;
High margins added on products by wholesalers;
Sales lost by closing their shops to go to the market to restock;
And the inability to access credit from microfinance institutions because they were mostly classified as not credit-worthy.
We have been able to gain traction because we have differentiated ourselves from our competitors. The following reasons account for our exponential growth:
We ensure 1–4 hours of delivery time to our customers. While our competitors are doing 24–48 hours.
We give our customers the flexibility to buy in bits (a unit or a portion of a box or carton). This is something our competitors do not do. Hence, we are able to fulfill orders of the equivalent of at least $10. Competitors are usually in the $50 bracket.
We allow our customers to buy now and pay later at the cheapest interest rate on the market.
We are a customer-centric business, with customized answers to their needs.
2. Where do you see Shopa in the next 3–5 years?
In five years, we hope to see Shopa become the biggest tech player in the informal retail sector across West Africa. On the one hand, by assisting informal retailers in obtaining inventory on cash or credit, handling all payment transactions, and acquiring new customers. On the other hand, we also hope to provide relevant and insightful data analytics reports to suppliers and manufacturers to allow them to achieve better growth at efficient costs in their different African markets.
3. Shopa then (when it started) versus what it is now, what are some significant milestones you have achieved?
We have over 3,300 customers just in Accra (Ghana) and we have crossed the bar of a monthly total transaction of $150,000 with an average of 120 orders fulfilled per day.
4. Shopa offers app-based services, how has the digital divide and high cost of internet affected your business and what solutions do you offer to counter that?
The digital divide is real in our market. We are dealing with customers who are not always tech savvy. We are addressing this issue through our sales agents who work on the field with our customers in order to teach them how to use our digital solutions. We have also put in place a multichannel approach for non-tech customers, such as USSD technology, SMS, and phone calls.
5. Who are the most essential people to have on your team in the early stages of building a startup and how do you spot great talent for your team?
For a tech startup, you need three essential people: dreamers, doers and thinkers.
We spot great talent by evaluating their commitment to serve our customers’ needs.
6. What are the fundamental/ key qualities every startup founder/leader should possess or learn
A passion to solve customers’ needs, think down to earth, work hard and smart, and have a high sense of empathy.
7. What excites you about the future of Africa’s retail market and what role will Shopa play in it?
The proliferation of the internet across the continent and the massive adoption of smartphones and new digital means of payment are going to change a lot of things in Africa’s retail market. Shopa intends to seize those opportunities to boost the productivity of a huge number of informal retailers.
8. How has being a MESTer contributed to and prepared you for your entrepreneurship journey?
Being part of a community that is creating opportunities and leaving a legacy for the next generation of entrepreneurs in Africa has made me being a part of the MEST Community worthwhile.
About Ulric Chekap
Ulric obtained a bachelor’s degree in Business Computing at the University of Picardie Jules Verne in France in 2012. He went on to work as a relationship manager at Financial House S.A., a microfinance institution in Cameroon, for 2 years, where he facilitated SME loans.
Later on, he worked for over 4 years in retail sales and wholesale distribution for Diageo Guinness Cameroon S.A.
Ulric is passionate about providing lasting solutions to disadvantaged informal retailers in Ghana and beyond.
https://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/1_HHAeavOMz-AslHrTOYwg2A.webp?time=16854485491000800wisdomhttps://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/logo-mest-color-2.pngwisdom2023-04-10 23:29:282023-04-10 23:32:32How Shopa is taking over Ghana’s informal retail market with empathy & a customer-centric approach
I’m Ammishaddai Ofori, an Innovation Strategist and Business Development Consultant currently based in Accra, Ghana. I graduated from the MEST Training Program in 2015. The program was the first of its kind in the tech space at the time, bridging our traditional academic education with hands-on technology and business experience. MEST played a major role in making me the innovator I am today and through this short article I hope to share this life-changing experience with every young African looking to pursue a career in tech entrepreneurship.
But first, who is Ammishaddai Ofori?
I am a harmony of different skill sets and identities. At this moment in my life I unapologetically identify as a child of God, an innovation strategist, a business development consultant, a spoken word artist, and a creative.
The impact of the MEST Training Program on my professional journey
I am a 21st-century literate because of MEST — I gained the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. My career as an Innovation Strategist and Consultant requires that I am able to learn and understand the different industries my clients operate in. This ability to self-learn was acquired through the MEST culture that imbued a high degree of self-confidence, curiosity, and adaptability.
High-value networking is another skill I picked up from MEST that has significantly contributed to my career growth. The people I have met and worked with — simply from knowing how to communicate value and demonstrate an understanding of different business cultures — were from the skills I learned from my communications and business classes at MEST. Also, the calibre of people I was exposed to during community events and guest lectures at MEST enabled me to hone my networking skills in real-world settings.
Understanding the foundational principles of technology — how it works and how it can be properly used to increase productivity as well as optimize work processes — has been a boon. From actual coding to low-code, no-code applications, I have always had a competitive edge in any and every company I have worked with.
MEST opens doors. In Ghana, Africa, and the rest of the world, a MEST training is rated as an Ivy League-type education. There have been times I have only had to say “I am a product of MEST ’’ and that was it. You are immediately associated with quality, standards, and work ethics that are globally sought after.
The benefits of the MEST Training Program have been infused in many other aspects of my life and continue to shape my professional life, years after my graduation.
So why should you consider MEST at this time?
Oh! Life-changing experiences!
Do it for yourself. For your growth and the opportunities that it will represent. Do it for change — a change in the monotony of life defined by traditional education systems and the expectations from the conservative. Do it if you seek change and become the change you seek.
Also, now is a good time to get into tech entrepreneurship. At Innovation Spark, we have a front-row seat to the butterfly effect of the success stories of tech startups in Africa. It is exciting to see the new companies that are being born from the funding, support, and success stories of the godfathers of the startup scene like Rancard Solution, Softribe and how they are giving birth to amazing startups like Farmerline, Mpharma, Jetstream, GrowForMe and the endless list of third generation startups that are blossoming. The horizon is vast and the opportunities are spilling over. MEST is that place to gain world-class skills beyond technology and prepare you with real-life entrepreneurship experiences to lead and drive innovation in this burgeoning space.
Finally, do it for the vast and dynamic community of MEST that you will become a part of. You will love it.
Would I do anything differently if I were to go back as an entrepreneur-in-training? Nada! Maybe spend more time with the fellows and alumni who were in the incubator. Be more intentional with networking because the MEST community is gold.
Truly, there are so many exciting opportunities and possibilities now because of the platform that technology and entrepreneurship have today. So take a chance on yourself and apply for the MEST Training Program if you desire to make real change in the world today.
Learn more about how you can be a part of the Class of 2024. Recruitment is ongoing.
https://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/1_06VHcVI2hSQjAdHV4S2Rtw.webp?time=168544854910801080wisdomhttps://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/logo-mest-color-2.pngwisdom2023-04-10 23:07:432023-04-10 23:25:563 Skills I Acquired at MEST and What they Mean to me Today – Ammishaddai Ofori, MEST Alum (Class of 2015)
It’s been said that life begins at the end of our comfort zone, and that’s precisely where I found myself in December 2021 when I quit my job in the media industry and took a leap of faith into the exciting and ever-evolving world of tech. I’m Yaw Antwi Owusu, a young and ambitious African with a passion for technology and a deep desire to build a career in the industry.
Join me as I share my journey of taking risks, embracing new opportunities, and surrounding myself with a supportive community that helped me achieve my dreams.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had a passion for technology. I knew transitioning was a risky move, but I also knew that it was what I wanted, and I was determined to make it work.
Tech and More…
Shortly after leaving my media job, I joined MEST Africa’s Training Program, which lasted eight months. During this program, I was able to learn a lot about building a software company.
I wrote my first line of dart code, met business partners, and built lifelong friendships. I also teamed up with others to explore different viable business ideas and build three MVPs, which was a great experience.
It was during the MEST program that I met my co-founders, Somto, Poga, and Philip. Besides building tech solutions and businesses, we embarked on some exciting adventures like walking through the Nkofieho Caves and climbing Mount Afadjato. I had an amazing time through the ups and downs of it all. These experiences brought us closer together and helped us to develop stronger bonds.
We brainstormed ideas for our business, talked to teenagers and parents to validate our ideas, pitched our ideas to investors, and built our product — the Ubadi App. This was an amazing experience, and we learned a lot along the way. Finally, we started and incorporated Ubadi Technologies.
My journey into the tech industry hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it. I’ve learned the importance of taking risks, being open to new opportunities, and surrounding myself with like-minded individuals who can provide support and guidance. I’m excited about what the future holds, and I know that with determination, hard work, and the right mindset, anyone can achieve their dreams.
My team and I are excited to continue making a significant impact in the tech industry after successfully graduating from the MEST Training Program. MEST has been an amazing launchpad into our tech career and we are grateful for all the opportunities that keep coming our way as members of this vibrant community.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story, and I hope it has inspired you to pursue your dreams with passion and determination. Recruitment for the MEST Class of 2024 is ongoing, take a chance on yourself by applying for the program if you desire to build a career in tech and entrepreneurship.
https://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/1_caAU1cmaL48x2-fnxm5ieg.webp?time=168544854914001400wisdomhttps://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/logo-mest-color-2.pngwisdom2023-04-10 23:02:442023-04-10 23:33:31Making a Move from Media to Tech: My MEST Story – By Yaw Antwi Owusu (MEST Alumnus, Class of 2022)
Artificial intelligence, blockchain, and omnichannel platforms are three cutting-edge technologies that are transforming the way businesses around the world operate. While these technologies are still relatively new, trailblazers are already changing the game with their innovative use of these technologies to transform how businesses in Africa can be more efficient and productive.
Here are three female founders and MEST alumni, who are leading the charge in the fields of AI, blockchain, and omnichannel platforms, and are transforming business processes and customer experiences on the continent:
Daniella Darlington: Changing the Marketing Game with AI
Daniella Darlington is a co-founder of Copianto; an AI-backed all-in-one content creation and optimization platform designed for copywriters, marketers, entrepreneurs, and agencies. Her work at Copianto has helped to simplify the content development and creative processes of marketing teams, content developers, and freelancers. This technology is being used by corporates, startups, and advertising agencies in Ghana to improve their brand experience and enhance marketing efforts faster and cheaper than before. But before founding Copianto with her team through the MEST Program, Daniella was pursuing a career in law and now leads the operational aspect of the startup.
2. Mary Okwong: Revolutionizing Careers and Industries with Blockchain and Web3
Mary Okwong is a co-founder of Mowblox, a learning platform that is increasing African participation in the Crypto, Blockchain and Web3 space. Mowblox supports individuals and businesses alike to identify new opportunities and create new economies with blockchain and web3 technologies. Mary leads the team of experts at Mowblox to create engaging educational content and events that introduce individuals to endless career opportunities in the space. Businesses are also supported to explore the various ways they can improve business data, transactions, and customer experiences with blockchain and web3.
Mary is a blockchain enthusiast who is passionate about onboarding the next generation of Africans looking to upskill and grow their career in the blockchain and crypto space.
She has gained first-hand experience in the blockchain space by interacting with protocols on several blockchains, her support for crypto public goods, and her contributions to governance activities in decentralized autonomous organizations (DOAs).
3. Mushrafat Abdulrahman: Transforming Africa’s Retail Industry with Omnichannel Platforms
Mushrafat Abdulrahman is a co-founder of Kamel; a multi-channel commerce solution that enables entrepreneurs in emerging markets to easily start, manage, and grow their businesses across multiple online and offline channels. Multi-channel or omnichannel e-commerce, refers to the integration of multiple channels, such as brick-and-mortar stores, online marketplaces, and social media, into a seamless customer experience. Mushrafat and the Nigerian-based Kamel team are changing what it means to manage a medium to small retail business in Africa by using technology to create seamless and personalized shopping experiences for customers. By integrating multiple channels into one application, Mushrafat and the team at Kamel are enabling retail businesses in Africa to reach customers where they are for increased sales and a personalized shopping experience.
As AI, Blockchain, Web3 and e-commerce continue to grow in importance, more and more African businesses are looking for ways to deploy these technologies to simplify their processes and deliver value to customers. We are proud to see these three women from our Training Program taking the charge and leading the pack to drive these business goals and paving the way for a more advanced and connected future. Join us to celebrate Daniella Darlington, Mary Okwong and Mushrafat Abdulrahman, and all other female founders and females in tech this International Women’s Month!
Over the years, MEST has produced many successful entrepreneurs, and the alumni network continues to grow. Recruitment for the MEST Class of 2024 is ongoing, take a chance on yourself by applying for the program if you desire to build a career in tech and entrepreneurship.
https://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/1_BuBuhNyVBRM4iHG8Sczl4Q.webp?time=16854485496211400wisdomhttps://epx14d.n3cdn1.secureserver.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/logo-mest-color-2.pngwisdom2023-04-10 22:53:162023-04-10 22:56:23Meet Three Female MEST Alumni Transforming how Businesses Operate with AI, Blockchain, and Omnichannel E-Commerce