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Mobile business app OZÉ takes top prize at MIT Accelerate contest

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It's one thing to know your customer, but it's another to have lived alongside them. That's why Meghan McCormick is sure her award-winning mobile business app OZÉ will be successful in western Africa.

"I developed innovative concepts for Fortune 50 companies, and I lived in a mud hut for two years," McCormick, MBA '18, said at the Feb. 20 MIT $100K Accelerate competition, where OZÉ won the $10,000 top prize."You don't often get people who can straddle both of those worlds and see that there is an opportunity here, and how you can go after it."

OZÉ offers digital bookkeeping for small business owners in Ghana. The beta app opens March 1.

OZÉ's roots extend back to 2012 when McCormick was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guinea. Charged with helping West African small businesses perform better, McCormick approached owners asking for them to "show me your data," she said.

But what business owners presented her with were well-worn notebooks and handwritten ledgers.

"If they're keeping records, they're doing so on paper," McCormick said. "So they can't turn data into insights into actions that drive profits. And you can't show up to a bank with a pile of notebooks and get a loan."

OZÉ bridges that gap between notebooks and QuickBooks. A business owner can take a picture of a receipt, or even the product they're selling, set up cash in and cash out notifications (since credit cards are not often used in developing areas), and establish payment plans. That data can then be projected out to a business owner.

"After a year the single most transformational piece of data was their cash balances," McCormick said. "And they're dying to get their hands on this chart where they can see which way it's trending."

McCormick said OZÉ is gaining support, both from business owners, as well as the National Board of Small Scale Industries, a Ghanaian government association.The board said it's ready to put OZÉ in its 175 business advisory centers, McCormick said, "which means we'll have a national reach when we decide we're ready for it."

OZÉ is designed for the Android phone, and McCormick said there are plans to expand to the web, and then iOS. The prize money will go toward customer acquisition and developer talent.

"We built OZÉ to teach you to use it as you start using it," McCormick said. "One thing that makes it unique is we're not throwing a QuickBooks at you. You start just with cash in, cash out. As you master that, we start building in functions such as 'I owe them and they owe me,' budgeting and scenario planning, then financial statements, and then once they're at that level and they're hitting the [key performance indicators] then we'll connect them with investors."

The Feb. 20 Accelerate finale was the culmination of a months-long process to whittle down more than 120 applicants to 20 semifinalists to eight finalists.The overarching $100K competition is divided into Pitch, Accelerate, and Launch contests. The $100,000 grand prize is awarded at the third installment, Launch, which begins this spring. The audience choice award went to the Okoa Project, makers of an ambulance cart that connects to motorcycles, helping to close the gap in medical emergency transportation in developing countries.

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