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SMU MTEI Teams Focus On Africa

Three students at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax are toiling away on a social venture that could soon help improve education in Africa.

SeeMePly is a nascent company dedicated to simplifying the process of finding and applying to private secondary schools in Africa. Its co-founders, Shawn Simamba from Zambia, Samuel Ayanlaja from Nigeria and Stephanie Winter from the Caribbean island of Antigua, are all enrolled in the master of technology, entrepreneurship and innovation program at Saint Mary’s.

The 16-month graduate program teaches students to start their own businesses, or how to innovate within a large organization. (Disclaimer: The program advertises on Entrevestor.)

What’s interesting about the current cohort is it comprises seven teams, each developing a business, and three of them feature African co-founders who are targeting the African market. By nurturing African entrepreneurs, the Canadian university is helping to bolster the middle-income bracket in Africa, an essential component in the development of emerging economies, and it’s happening through lean startup methods.

“The MTEI program is a powerful enabler for international entrepreneurship, as we see from the rich business models for the African markets that we helped foster within weeks of the students’ arrival in Halifax,” said Dawn Jutla, the professor in charge of the program.

In addition to SeeMePly, the companies include Aspira, an e-commerce platform for crafts, which is being developed by Ahlam Khoury of Ghana, and Your Surest Bus Hub, which is working on a private commuter bus service for Nigeria.

In the case of SeeMePly, co-founders Simamba and Ayanlaja understood customer pain from their own experience in the African school system. A huge percentage of secondary school students in Africa attend private schools — 60 per cent in Lagos, the Nigerian state where they hope to pilot the project.

“We’re developing an online platform to help to streamline the application process for private schools in Africa,” said Winter in an interview.

The current application process is burdensome. Students and their parents must choose from a range of schools and fill in several forms on paper for each. When applying, they have to make a cash down payment, which means going to a bank to withdraw money.

SeeMePly would streamline the process. The platform would provide information on a range of schools. Applications would be standardized and put online. It would allow electronic payments.

What excites Simamba about the project is the prospect of contributing to the African economy, first in Lagos and then in other states and countries. She said she hopes SeeMePly can help showcase excellence in education in Africa.

One day, it could allow people from outside the continent to apply to African schools.

“I think it’s very important for kids to get a good education, and I think it’s important for us as African people to support each other,” she said.

“The education I received in Zambia was really good, and we really want to showcase it. I’d love people from the U.K. or Canada to go there for school.”