Ghana-based data science accelerator Blossom Academy trains top students from several West African universities, equipping recent graduates with the necessary skills and resources needed to be a successful data scientist, and then connects them with African tech businesses. Jeph Acheampong, co-founder and CEO, answers our questions.
1. Give us your elevator pitch.
Blossom Academy is the first data science academy established in West Africa. The academy trains and pairs data science talent with tech businesses operating in Africa.
In order to foster sustainable capacity building in data analytics and machine learning, the training programme is founded on three pillars: competitive peer learning, project-based experience, and mentor-based learning.
2. How did you finance your startup?
Prior to founding Blossom Academy, I quit my job on Wall Street and resigned from my role as a founding member of a rotational savings platform based in the United States.
The money saved and lessons learned during my professional experiences were all allocated to making Blossom Academy successful. However, we quickly ran out of cash due to unforeseen costs. We were, however, able to get financial support from friends, which led to significant traction over the last year. Currently, we’re in conversations with a few investors to raise seed capital.
3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?
We will primarily focus on growth in three areas: 1) Refine our curriculum to encompass other valuable skills such as data privacy and cybersecurity; 2) Expand our training programme to Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa based on recent employer surveys; and 3) Pair our graduates to global tech businesses.
4. What risks does your business face?
One risk is our inability to provide quality graduates with relevant data science skills. To mitigate this risk, we first identify the challenges of employer partners before designing our curriculum. Secondly, we incorporate a series of realistic projects into our training programme. For example, if a student is interested in finance, we will connect them to a fintech employer partner throughout the training programme to clean, analyse, and draw meaningful insights from the company’s data, while building a data-driven portfolio. In return, the partner company commits to guaranteeing the student a job interview – if needed.
5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?
We’ve found that ambassador marketing works best for us. We first recruit highly-driven ambassadors in our cities of operation to help generate awareness about our programme. On the employer partnerships front, sharing updates on LinkedIn and referrals from current employer partners has been the most helpful strategy.
6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.
After collaborating with IBM Big Data University to provide courses during our initial recruitment process, we quickly realised the majority of applicants knew very little about data science. However, this did not deter one of our applicants, now a graduate, in the majority pool from going above and beyond. Bridget’s tenacity, coupled with the resources provided by the academy, led her to be recognised at the SC18 conference in Dallas Texas, where she shared the recognition with students from universities such as University of Delaware, Duke University, and Stanford University. She also received a substantial monetary award from Intel for continuous education in data science anywhere in the world. Witnessing this impact has been added motivation to build the future of Africa.
7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learned from it?
During our first year of operations, the training programme was offered at no cost. However, this altruistic approach backfired because some of our students did not take the opportunity seriously. Our instructors spent more time motivating them as opposed to delivering the best training possible. We now realise having students contribute a minimal fee upon acceptance fosters better engagement.
8. In addition to your own industry, name one untapped business opportunity in Africa.
Over the last few months, I’ve widely visited tech startups in East Africa. My observations uncovered a trend where sales professionals, marketers, and early-stage founders find it extremely difficult to reach decision makers, thus wasting precious time and company resources. The current solution today is to leverage relationships to get one’s foot in the door. But what if you are new to a market and not as connected?
I believe this creates an excellent opportunity for a pan-African company database that professionals can leverage to find relevant information on decision makers, such as business email addresses and phone numbers. On the other hand, this creates an added opportunity to leverage an AI-powered vetting and matching process to ensure that decision-makers are provided personalised recommendations on businesses they may find the most value connecting with.