Ashwin is a true believer in networks and entrepreneurs. With a background in Computer Science and Engineering and previous experience working in the innovation team at Honeywell and building tech startups in India (2 exits), Ashwin joined MEST in 2015 as a Technology Teaching Fellow and has since served as the Incubator Manager for MEST Accra, Director of Portfolio Support and finally climbed up the ladder to become the Managing Director of MEST Africa in 2019.
In the midst of the pandemic, Ashwin decided to focus his energy on working with financial communities and solving their challenges. At the end of 2021, Ashwin stepped down from his role as MD of MEST to become Portfolio Advisor to work alongside the founders of the MEST Portfolio whiet trying his hand at a startup!
How did you first get involved working with startups and the accelerator world?
It started in 2013 when I was working with startups in India. My background is in computer science and engineering and I went to a school that was expanding and wanted to scale around the country. I already had some knowledge of the Lean methodology and knew how to position SMEs in that space so I was able to help them with that project. I also worked on the innovation team at Honeywell.
Eventually, I left to work at MEST as a Technology Teaching Fellow and relocated to Ghana. I went on to work as an Incubator Manager and Director of Portfolio Support, before taking on the role of Managing Director. I’m now overseeing a staff of 60 people and a community of 500 as we continue to expand.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your work in the accelerator world?
One of the biggest issues we face has to do with resources. It’s always a challenge to find quality mentors for our founders. There are not enough experts out there that can actually work with startups and help them.
How did BAM impact your confidence as an accelerator manager?
Overall, it was a great experience. I really enjoyed learning alongside other managers from accelerators and incubators around the world. I think I already understood some aspects of the day-to-day running of a program, like cross-collaboration or collecting and analyzing portfolio data, but I really learned a lot from 500. Specifically, how they work with other local partners and enable other organizations to think more sustainably.
What was the most important takeaway from the program that you implemented afterwards?
There are a few things. First off, the culture of the 500 team. It’s a hard thing to teach, but their staff was so helpful. Understanding how you manage data was also really impactful – the entire data modeling setup was amazing. And finally, hearing what different ecosystem players were already doing in the market and then getting to implement some of those best practices after the program.
What advice do you have for other accelerator program managers?
You really need to start off by thinking about the intent of your organization. There are so many organizations out there today interested in funding an accelerator, but do they actually align with your organization? If your intent is rock solid, then understand what the outcomes should be. How do you measure success?