Neal Hansch joins MEST incubator as Managing Director

Steven Loeb · September 17, 2013 · Short URL:

Ghana-based incubator aims to find and nurture talent in Africa

Many entreprenuers and CEOs, most notably Mark Zuckerberg, talk all the time about getting the whole world online. They talk about Asia, specifically China and India. I've also noticed a trend toward the Middle East in recent years too, with companies popping up in countries like Saudi Arabia.

But one region that I have not heard much about, for whatever reason, is Africa.

The Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) is seeking to change that through its incubator program. And now the organization just made a big new hire that will help to put the region on the map.

Neal Hansch, formerly of Rustic Canyon Partners, has been hired as the new Managing Director of the MEST Incubator, it was announced Tuesday.

As per his responsibilities in the new role, Hansch will oversee the entire program, he told me in an interview. That means shaping the overall strategy of the program, as well as sitting on the board of every company that MEST invests in.

"I will be working closely with the entreprenuers to help them define their businesses," he said..

In addition, Hansch says that he will be working with MEST to expand to other regions and markets, specifically other countries in Africa.

Hansch has a lot of experience that he is bringing to his new role, having worked for over fifteen years in venture capital, technology operations and investment banking. Most recently, he spent the last eight years as General Partner with Rustic Canyon Partners, an early-stage focused investment fund with $500 million under management. Before that he was a Corporate Development executive at Macromedia and an investment banker at, Robertson Stephens & Co. And it was his experience in these roes that made him a good fit for MEST.

"I have experience developing companies, working with team, and helping them define themselves from day one," he said. In addition he has experience working overseas, specifically in China and other emerging markets, where he "witnessed the elements in place, and saw how to structure, how to get distribution in new markets."

He has also worked with incubators at Rustic Canyons and he also brings ties to Silicon Valley, a key factor in what MEST is trying to do.

"We think it is important to bridge Africa to Silicon Valley, bringing the best practices in both directions," he said. "Me being based in Silicon Valley is an important part of it."

What is MEST?

MEST, which has been in operation in Ghana since 2008, offers a two year program to what it calls "Entrepreneurs-In-Training (EITs)" in Africa. The program takes 20 to 25 EITs a year, and gives them lessons in such areas as coding, finance, marketing and leadership. 

The entrepreuners must then come up with business idea. If MEST decides to invest in the business, that company will then have access to Meltwater's 50 offices around the world to better leverage themselves into a global company.

So far 13 companies have graduated from MEST, with the company invested between $50,000 and $250,000 in these seed stage start ups for a total of over $1.5 million.

The organization's portfolio includes SaaS companies, e-commerce companies and mobile gaming which Hansch predicts will be very big in Africa in the coming years.

MEST has invested in such companies as Adsbrook, an African internet and mobile Ad Network, Dropifi, a web based messaging platform that was also the first African company to compete in 500 Startups; Leti Games, a developer of single player and massive multi-player online role playing games; and nevaHold, a question and answer site that posts directly to a company’s customer support channel.

The emerging African market

Africa has a lot of talent and resources, Hansch told me. There are a billion people on the continent, and they are starting to see mobile pentratin, mobile banking, and consumer services, but it has mostly been ignored by the V.C. community. 

"There is rising African high tech scene, and a rising middle class," he said. "It is the last truly big emerging market."

As for Ghana, Hansch called it the "golden child of Africa."

"There are 30 million people, and they have never had war or strife. They were a U.K. commonwealth, and they are highly educated. Even geographically they are in a good position; they are a  straight shot from London, New York and Frankfurst and they are English speaking," said Hansch. "They are also the 3rd fastest growing economy."

Africa is an up and coming market, and being able to be on the forefront of this opportunity is "a once in a lifetime opportunity."

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