Just as they come back from Silicon Valley, five championing entrepreneurs who won the Injaz Startup competition share the secrets behind turning their passion into a thriving business.
They are boxers, petroleum engineers, educators, and passionate marketers who channeled their innermost passions into revenue making projects to change not only their career path, but also the life of others. Despite societal pressure and Egypt’s struggling economy in the post-revolutionary context, these five young hustlers found their way to make a difference while embarking on sustainable ventures.
Their companies are recycling tyres at a massive scale; they are matching skilled trainers with avid learners; bringing tech to the forefront of grocery shopping, and teaching children that every dream can become a reality. In an interview with CairoScene, startup founders Mostafa Hashisha, Mokhtar Osman, Rami Nassar, Amr El Selouky, and Mahmoud Mohsen explain the keys to making a living out of their passion.
“When you have a pain, you feel bad for the people who share the same pain. Especially when you are over it and you look back. You want to tackle the root,” says Mostafa Hashisha, founder of iSpark. His company focuses on one of Egypt’s most pressing developmental challenges: education, a field in which not only is it difficult to disrupt, but also to make a profit. “My biggest passion was sharing knowledge; when I was in university, I used to teach my friends things they never were properly taught,” he explains.
Today, his startup does precisely that. By offering students “career experiences” while they are still in high school, the startup offers guidance and support for youth to outline their own professional path. Since its launch in 2015, the company has worked with over 25 schools, seven universities and 15 companies. The secret to turning such an idealistic dream into an everyday job? Mentorship, he says. “Having someone to turn to is really important. The incubation programme had a lot to do with it,” says the entrepreneur, referring to the Injaz incubation phase he entered last year.
The Injaz Startup Programme, which takes place every year, offers creative university students and graduates between 21 and 30 years old a pre-incubation and an incubation phase, where they can develop their product or service while getting access to startup mentors, investors and accelerators, as well as up to EGP 120,000 seed funding with no equity. The seven winning startups also get the chance to win a trip to Silicon Valley, just like Hashisha did.
“The problem in this country is not just education. By education, we don’t mean people who are illiterate; even those who are educated don’t know how to turn their ideas and abilities into a job. They stay in the comfort zone of a 9-5 job in a multinational. It’s not that hard, but we need to make people more aware of the possibilities,“ he says.
For Mokhtar Osman, whose passion for boxing led him to participate in competitions and tournaments in his university years, finding a career path became a bigger challenge when he suffered from an injury and had to stop competing. But, determined and passionate, he turned his fate around when he created a platform for people like him to teach their skills and find clients online. The startup,
The startup, Tyro, allows tutors for pretty much anything – from music to carpentry, to boxing itself – to meet customers and sell their services. “As a coach, I found it hard to find customers, so it was a good idea for university students and any individual who has a skill they can utilize,” he explains.
Following Injaz’s incubation phase, the company received an EGP 120,000 seed fund by Egypt’s Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC), and won the Upscale startup competition at Alexandria’s Techne Summit 2016. For now, the platform launched the pilot version of its ‘hub’, where a database of instructors will be filtered based on field, price, and experience. “I had the idea, but Injaz helped me validate it. That-s why I entered the competition - because I saw how its cycle was. That, and the experience and exposure we got at Silicon Valley, was crucial,” he says.
“I didn’t have skills to run a company,” says Ramy Nassar, co-founder of GoodSmart. “I was working in advertising agencies. But once you have a certain idea and you are driven, it comes on the way; you learn a lot in the process. You learn from every single mistake you make,” he affirms.
“When I graduated, I dreamed of working for big advertising agencies, but when I finally got there and did that, I realized that I had another dream: to come up with ideas that change people’s lives,” says the entrepreneur, who disrupted the grocery shopping market with his membership-based online supermarket. Launched in 2014, the service closed a partnership with one of the country's largest developers, Sodic.
There is a big smile on Amr El Selouky’s face as he talks about his passion. “My secret passion has always been public speaking. I always wanted to tour the world as a public speaker inspiring youth.” His educational startup, CampUs, started in his university years, while joining student groups and meeting like-minded youngsters. “The business started as a B2C; we started approaching students directly. And I never claim that what started as a startup is now getting millions, but I do say that we know the community. That’s the key behind how we are making profit,” he explains.
Eager to inspire and empower other students to follow their passions, the entrepreneur, however, does not think entrepreneurship is the only answer. “I’m not a big fan of promoting entrepreneurship for the sake of it. You need to be able to know what you want and to have a clear profile for yourself. Some people look at startup and think 'someday I want to be an entrepreneur' but they don’t have a 'why', they don’t want to live the entrepreneurial life or take any risks. If this is the reality, go after if; and if it’s not, you can be an ‘intra-preneur’; at the end of the day it all boils down to how your real impact and value in life,” he says.
For Mahmoud Mohsen, his passion-fueled startup was sparked by a university project. The petroleum engineer had started ReTyre even before graduating, through a competition focused on solid waste management. “As we studied, we discovered that Egypt generates more than 20 million wasted tyres per year, only 10 percent of which are recycled. Ever. We looked for those who were recycling manually, learned from them, and applied a mechanical aspect and launched our business,” explains the 27-year-old entrepreneur.
His startup, Retyre, was officially launched in 2013 and has so far processed nearly 10,000 tons of tyres, which are sold to factories, alternative fuel projects, and steel factories. “We joined Injaz a year after operations, as we had a problem with one of the machines that extract steel and that blocked 50 percent of our revenue stream. I had the skills, but I needed support. And it gave me access to one of the best mentors I had in my life and it was a catalyst, which gives you means to run better and faster."
Injaz's startup Egypt programme is now accepting applications for its 2017 edition, until January 29th. To apply, visit their website.
Photo by @Mo4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Mohammad Mortada.