Originally published on the MEST Africa Blog.
He, so generously, volunteered his time with us, working with 3 MEST Incubated startups on everything from product design, sales, financial projections to partnerships and growth hacking.
Harish got into MEST via the Bains Externship Program. Considering joining a vibrant community and building up young entrepreneurs in Africa? Read on to learn more about Harish’s experience with us and get in touch with us.
Q: Please introduce yourself and share a little about your background.
A: Hi all, I’m Harish Vemuri, from the West Coast of the US. I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio then lived in Oregon and California. Basically I have lived all my life in the US. I’m of Indian descent and my family is from the South of India. I studied Economics at the University of Southern California, and I have a background in Strategy Consulting at Bain and Company – I did that for years before MEST and I’m back to it now.
This background helped me a lot in a role of being a business fellow at the MEST Incubator but I had to adjust, unlearn and learn a lot because I usually work with large companies with approximately 500 employees, and it was intriguing for me to work with startups which are way smaller and dynamic. Startups can change things and still keep the business concept the same. I enjoyed it.
Q: Before MEST, what would you say was the most pivotal or important role of your career?
A: I have only ever had two jobs in my life, and this includes MEST. My first job, consulting at Bains, has shaped and taught me most of what I know now.
Q: What drew you to a role at MEST?
A: The reason I was drawn to the role at MEST was because of a friend, Ablorde, who had his externship with MEST some years back. When he heard that I was interested in the start-up life, especially in developing countries, he connected me to Neal Hansch, we had a discussion and I went forward with the process.
I was focused on the developing world for two reasons. One is the economic opportunity, the gap in the market, first-mover advantage: There’s a lot happening in other continents that haven’t happened in Africa yet. It’s exciting to get in there and be the one to provide something they don’t have. Second reason is: I think there’s more excitement and enthusiasm in technology in Africa because the ecosystem is not yet saturated like in the US.
Q: How long were you an MEST Incubator Fellow and how would you describe your experience to someone who’s never been here?
A: I was a MEST Incubator Fellow for six months. My time at MEST was interesting because I worked with startups and founders from diverse sectors/industries. I was a relationship manager for about 3 startups, and helped them with a myriad of tasks.
At a time, I was involved in redesigning an app, which I had no prior experience in! Working with these driven founders and individuals was a growth experience and an opportunity to make tangible impact. The students, entrepreneurs, and teams are amazing and the Teaching Fellows are super-duper.
Q: 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?
A: Coming here, I thought Ghana will be a soccer fanatic country because I’ve followed the Black Stars (Ghana’s Football team) since 2003. Something else that surprised me was how fast Accra is changing. I travelled to the US in December, halfway through my externship, and when I came back, the city looked so different from what it was, when I left some weeks earlier.
Q: What are your favourite things about living in Ghana?
A: The people. Ghanaians are lovable and welcoming.
Q: What’s your biggest lesson learned at MEST that you’ll take with you as you move on to other things?
A: MEST gives you the ability to build from scratch with people. Never underestimate anyone’s ability to grow just because you met them when they weren’t ready. I also learned to be open to different ways of doing business, and not think there is no one right way of doing things.
Q: Who were some of the most exciting people you met while at MEST/Ghana, and what did you love about them?
A: Most of the people are MEST are special. I loved talking to everyone and it’s hard to pick a few. My fellow Incubator fellows, the Teaching fellows, the entrepreneurs, mostly Bubu from AF Radio and the Trotro traffic team. They are all memorable people.
Q: Please give one word of advice to potential MEST Incubator and Teaching fellows.
A: Hmmm… Advice to fellows:
1. Bring a mosquito repellent.
2. Try to move up quickly in the White House (the Fellows’ House).
3. Find time to go out, out of the MEST community, and meet other people.
Want to join our team for 3 months, 6 months or a year? Contact Celine Duros, Head of Partnerships at MEST.