The rise of Africa’s software entrepreneurs

Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen.
Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen.

Cape Town – A San Francisco-based tech business guru says Africa has the potential to create a new wave of global software entrepreneurs.

Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen told Fin24 in a News24Live interview that software and Africa are going to be a very interesting combination in the future.

“Africa will play a very incredible role in future politics on the global scene,” he said. “As a continent, I think it has a lot of potential.”

He said the economic centre of gravity will need to take into account the large population in Africa as 50% of productive people between the ages 18 and 60 will be in Africa by 2040. “That is an incredible fact,” he said.

In 2008, Lyseggen launched the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (Mest) and the Mest Incubator programme in Ghana, which provides training, investment and mentoring for aspiring technology entrepreneurs. His goal is to create globally successful companies that create wealth and jobs locally in Africa.

Training software entrepreneurs for Africa

“Initially my passion in Africa was purely philanthropic, so we wanted to create a school for software entrepreneurs and help talent,” he said. “Coming to Africa, I realised the incredible potential this continent has.

“Software is an industry where you require very limited upfront investment and all you need is a computer for a few hundred bucks,” he explained. “Software can be written anywhere. All you need is talent, drive, imagination.

“I have been to Africa more than 50 times since 2007 and I see so much talent and I see so many driven people and there is no question in my mind that all the up-and-coming youth in Africa are going to make a big impact also in the software space.”

Sourced from top graduates in Ghana and Nigeria, 30 of the Entrepreneurs-In-Training are selected each year to attend at Mest and receive comprehensive training across the spectrum of skills required to build successful tech businesses, including computer programming, software development, product management, finance, marketing, sales and leadership best practices.

Lyseggen said entrepreneurship is very hard. “It’s very taxing. For many it means you go from hand-to-mouth and you make very little money for many years,” he said.

“For some other people they will start out successfully. If you want to go into entrepreneurship, I think it’s a very good thing and I encourage everyone to do it, … but you need to embrace that it is not going to be a picnic.”

The perfect employee

When recruiting employees to work at Meltwater, Lyseggen said he looks for inspiring people who are ambitious, talented, driven and capable. “But also positive people who are fun to hang around and also have a good heart, good values and good integrity,” he said.

People who have managed to break through at an early age are key to this type of employee. “We have people who are classically trained pianists… [and] others who are exceptional in sport,” he said.

“So, we have national or international champions in swimming, cycling, running, skiing [and] we have three Olympians in the company, we have a world champion fly fisher in the company.

“One time I hired a Chinese girl who was number three in the world in Street Fighter 2 – the game. We believe it says something about who you are. Whatever you put your mind to, you will probably be very successful.”

WATCH: Jørn Lyseggen on starting a tech start-up

WATCH: What Jørn Lyseggen looks for in employees

WATCH: Why Jørn Lyseggen loves Africa

WATCH: All about the entrepreneur school in Ghana (made in 2010)

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