Engineering Entrepreneurship

On the ground with MIT Global Startup Labs

August 2014
I appreciated so much that they focused on customer development from day one. They made us go out and start selling to people so we didn't just create "invisible apps" in our heads... That was great — it made it real for me.— Mbe Khumalo, Founder of Philani SA

I've been lucky enough to have had a multidisciplinary career. From skunkworks at a Fortune 500, to product design at various early-stage startups, I've seen how the technology sausage gets made.

When Bryan Hernandez, Entrepreneurship Lead of the 2014 MIT South Africa program reached out for advice on designing parts of the curriculum, he got more than he bargained for. I happened to be in Africa at the time, and a month later, we were both on the ground, helping guide local entrepreneurs towards their first paying customers.

It was an incredible time. From teaching introverted software engineers how to make cold calls, to organizing "family dinners" between founders and investors, I walked away with a permanent respect and affinity for the people there.

Out of the 40 initial participants, the program gradated eight companies in markets ranging from mining health, to mobile money, to small business point-of-sale systems.

We worked closely with many great people and organizations whose mission is to make South Africa a friendly place for business — Tshimologong Precinct, Sw7, Startup Cherry, JoziHub, and SeedEngine, to name a few. If you're interested in technology and startups in Johannesburg or Cape Town, those are the people to get in touch with.

As for myself, I will definitely be back to SA soon. For the beautiful weather, for the delicious braai, and for the budding startup community that welcomed us with open arms.