Interview with Dr. Thomas Mensah, founder of Silicon Valley Ghana, and global fibre optic pioneer

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Dr Thomas Mensah, founder of Silicon Valley Ghana, is a Ghanaian-American chemical engineer and inventor. His works are in fields relating to the development of fibre optics and nanotechnology. He has 14 patents, seven of which were awarded within a period of six years, and was inducted into the US National Academy of Inventors in 2015.

Could you tell us more about Silicon Valley Ghana?

I launched Silicon Valley Ghana about seven months ago at the Kofi Annan ICT Centre in Accra. The reason we launched there is so that it is a neutral place. We included all the four major universities in Ghana; Kwame Nkrumah University Science and Technology, University of Ghana -Legon, University of Cape Coast and University of Development Studies in Tamale.

We have also just added Ashesi University. All the Vice Chancellors of these universities are on the board of advisory committee.

What are some of the innovations you are bringing to Ghana?

At Silicon Valley of Ghana, we run programmes such as airport Maintenance Reliability Organisation (MRO) at the Kumasi Airport. That MRO is so important because once you have it in place, all the planes in West Africa can come to Kumasi and get inspected; all the parts that need to be replaced can be done here before they fuel and take off, so we can have all the 15 countries in ECOWAS come here just to have maintenance.

Now, the only place all these planes go to get maintance service is in Ethiopia, which is very far. So establishing an MRO here has been one of the important things that we are pushing, including advanced transportation infrastructure like bullet trains or high-speed rail. We have raised half a billion dollars already, and with the support of the Ministry of Aviation, we will be pushing that agenda forward.

The Asantehene, the traditional ruler of the Asante Kingdom has given about 2000 acres of land to toward the project as well.

BOEING, the largest aircraft manufacturer, is collaborating on this MRO project. So, we got to do it, it is very important to provide safety in aviation in Ghana and West Africa.

Silicon Valley Ghana also runs incubator programmes and software development, among many others.

Ghana was recently chosen to host the Google Artificial Intelligence (IA) lab in Africa, what role did you play in that decision?

Within six months after launching Silicon Valley Ghana, we were in competition with Ivory Coast, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya for the location of the Google Artificial Intelligence lab, and because of Silicon Valley of Ghana, the uniqueness and the kind of programmes and projects there, we won that competition. Therefore, Ghana will be the first in Africa to have the Google Artificial Intelligence lab.

To show how important this is, there are five cities with the Google Artificial intelligence lab in the whole world: Paris, France; Tel Aviv in Israel; Zurich in Switzerland ; Silicon Valley of the United States; and now Accra, Ghana. This is going to happen before the end of the year, so, it is very important. AI is going to drive everything we see in technology.

When I built Silicon Valley of Ghana, AI was one of the key programmes, and our goal is to train 300, 000 Senior High School students in software development within the next five year.

I went to some of the best schools in the world, both in Ghana and abroad, before I went to the industry and became one of the foremost inventors in fibre optics. Therefore, we want to do some big things in Ghana: very practical stuff.

The aviation project is going to create 400,000 jobs. That is very huge and this is what Ghana needs. From the building and constructing process, to maintaining and operating it, so many opportunities are going to be created.

Tell us about some of your works?

Well, I am an expert in probably three fields. I am into fibre optics. Actually, I am one of four people who made the internet what it is today because I am one of the pioneers of fibre optics. I am code inventor, and an expert in Nano Technology.

I have a textbook in Nano Technology, used to train PHD students in UK, China, Japan, Australia, the United States and universities all over the world. I have also written other books such as The Right Stuff Comes in Black, Too

I am currently working on an innovation, which I hope will be able to make cell phone batteries last for a whole week, using Nanotechnology

Finally, what impact do you want Silicon Valley Ghana to make on society in the next few years?

I want to see that within the next six years, Silicon Valley Ghana should have led and brought innovation to Ghana in many areas. I want to arm our young people for the future, especially in coding and software development.

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