IBM Corp. is placing bets on African countries where it has launched a mentoring program for college students.


The project, called Makocha Minds, using the Swahili word for “teachers,” puts 250 of IBM’s top researchers in regular contact with engineering, math and computing students at universities in 10 sub-Saharan countries: Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Botswana, Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria.


The participants chat mainly by e-mail or phone, but in-person meetings could happen eventually.


The students usually want general guidance on becoming successful or pursuing advanced degrees, rather than help with their homework, said Mark Dean, head of IBM’S Almaden Research Center in Silicon Valley and leader of the project.


Dean said the project lays groundwork for IBM to do business in Africa.

“We believe that Africa is that next emerging opportunity,” he said. “We need to be familiar with different cultures and languages and operations in the African countries.”

Other technology companies have tried strengthening their interactions in Africa, including Google Inc. However, experts in international technology development said IBM’s mentoring program appears unique.