Kojo Addae-Mintah wrote a letter to himself in high school promising to build a technology business in ten years. He ended up founding Whirlwind Technologies.
Addae-Mintah earned his first professional qualification in IT in the summer of 2003, at age 15, while in high school.
He had shown an aptitude for ‘all things’ technical since childhood and had often been in trouble for taking apart electronic appliances – vacuum cleaners and video cassette recorders among others, at home. Seeking to channel his son’s technical aptitude and creative energy to more productive use, George Addae-Mintah, his father, placed him in a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) programme to help develop his talents.
Although Addae-Mintah was struggling with school work at the time, he obtained an A+ Certification in Hardware on the STEM programme. He went on to rack up as many IT certifications as he could. In the six years that followed, he got certified in computer networking, security, systems administration, hardware, etc. until he had achieved the highest certifications in each of the professional tracks, 15 in all.
At the age of 16, the precocious geek got a job working for the US Navy and later the Army Research Labs as a computer support specialist on school vacations. This job continued through university as he combined school with work to push his way up from the help desk – installing computers, to senior team lead and senior network engineer.
Addae-Mintah’s parents moved to the US from Ghana when his father enrolled at Howard University to pursue his MBA. Despite living in a foreign land, the Addae-Mintah’s made sure their household remained a Ghanaian household where their children were connected to their Ghanaian culture and values.
The entrepreneurial drive / whirlwind
Kojo’s grandmothers were first to make him aspire to entrepreneurship. Grandma Laryea, his maternal grandmother, who was always making things, foods and the like, to sell in the Ghanaian community in church exposed him to the hustle. She wanted to make money for herself rather than rely on her hosts for everything.
His paternal grandmother had shown him her big grocery shop on a trip to Ghana and had invited him to take anything he wanted. This was the first time he’d met someone who owned their own shop and he was fascinated no end.
In response to the inspiration, he started a video game console sale and repair service in the neighbourhood with his brother, from their savings. They became known as the video game merchants. Addae-Mintah later went on to sell computers which he built himself.
Look for me in the whirlwind
Having aggressively pursued IT professional qualifications, it was increasingly clear to Addae-Mintah that he had peaked professionally. So in 2009, Addae-Mintah switched roles from being an employee to a consultant with his own telecommunications services business - Whirlwind Technologies - with the US Census Bureau as his first client.
The US Census Bureau is a principal agency of the US Federal Statistical System that provides data about population, business and the economy. Addae-Mintah’s first contract was to help design and build an effective telecommunications support infrastructure to help the bureau collect, transmit and store data securely on over 350million Americans. He would go on to design a similar census administration infrastructure for the government of Bangladesh and Kenya at fractional costs.
Addae-Mintah wanted to build a business that would empower users of IT services to fully benefit from available technologies by helping them understand in simple language, how to squeeze the most impact from the technologies available to them. He also wanted to bring disruption to the field. To communicate his promise of excellence and disruptive service, he chose the name ‘Whirlwind’ from one of Marcus Garvey’s most famous speeches titled, ‘look for me in the whirlwind’ – a name that hinted at the changes he wanted to bring and therefore carried a message from a speech that affirmed that black people could excel like any other race, a message that resonates with him and is still relevant in the racially charged US even today.
Whirlwind started with three employees and now has 65 and has grown at a rate of 125 per cent every year for the past three years to an annual revenue of US$10M. With clients across governments and private sectors and in competition with big multi-billion dollar brands such as Lockheed Martin and Accenture, Addae-Mintah’s business is certainly living up to its name and promise.
The EO connection
Addae-Mintah credits the Entrepreneur’s Organisation (EO), an organisation for mentoring entrepreneurs, for the rapid growth of his business because he asserts that his personal development was crucial for the growth of the business.
As board member of the Washington DC Chapter, Addae-Mintah is currently exploring setting up a chapter in Ghana while also looking to explore business opportunities and new ventures and also help others gain access to the US market.
Whatever the next few years hold for Kojo Addae-Mintah, you can count on it that you will find him in the middle of a whirlwind. — GB