The Entrepreneurial Guide: A Who's Who of Egypt’s Startup Ecosystem
Ahead of this year's upcoming mammoth Riseup Summit, and in light of Egypt's currently thriving startup ecosystem, Valentina Primo has pooled together your comprehensive guide of the veritable who's who in the entrepreneurial sphere, from accelerators to mentors to crowdfunding platforms.
From million-dollar startup stories such as Supermama and Instabug to smaller enterprises founded by implausibly young entrepreneurs to drive change, Cairo is consolidating its role as an ever-booming hub for the startup world.
With accelerators thriving, online platforms reinventing business, and startup competitions raising the bar of the country’s entrepreneurscape, Egypt’s startup ecosystem is successfully harnessing the potential of an eager, tech-minded generation who does not fear backfire nor wait for orders to effect powerful change.
Ahead of the Riseup Summit, the Middle East’s most sizzling event coming up next December, CairoScene gathered a list of resources for startup founders and entrepreneurs-to-be, to gear up for a game-changing event. From getting funds, to crystallising ideas into a pitch and attending springboarding international events, here are 21 opportunities for changemakers to tap into.
Funding and Mentorship
The startup accelerator behind the success of Egyptian famed Instabug supports emerging startups investing between $30,000 and $40,000 both in seed funding and in in-kind, in exchange for minor equity in the company, “We accept global and local entrepreneurs keen to scale their businesses across our offices in Cairo, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi,” says the company’s spokesperson, Omar Badr.
The procedure to apply, he explains, is simple: entrepreneurs have to fill out an application online to shed some light on their business ideas, which will be screened by the Flat6Labs team to arrange interviews. “In our application filtration, we select innovative ideas with scaleable and clear monetisation strategies; we also look at the character and potential that each team has, checking out their online profiles and what they have achieved,” Badr explains.
The accelerator not only offers seed funding to help startups cover their early expenses, but also four months of top-notch mentorship, training by industry and corporate leaders, and over $300,000 in perks and benefits. The company also has a team of lawyers for legal support, provides office space, and are the Middle East's first and only members of the GAN (Global Accelerator Network), providing outstanding exposure and outreach to our startups.
With an eager attention on tech startups, Cairo Angels is a collective where each member makes individual investment decisions. In the past four years, they have invested over LE 10.5 million in 13 start-ups, including Egyptian up-and-coming El Wafeyat, Instabug, and Iqraaly.
Collectively, their equity investments range from LE 250,000 to LE 1 million per company, and they aim to triple their funding base and deal flow in 2015, with a particular interest in the agricultural, logistics and energy sectors, as well as female entrepreneurs.
A part of a global network that encompasses more than 23 countries, Endeavor focuses on supporting high-impact mature entrepreneurs. A high profile non-profit organization worldwide, its portfolio boasts some of Egypt’s most recognized brands, such as Al Sagheer Salons, Bey2ollak, and Mori Sushi, who were supported by mentors from both the professional, academic and entrepreneurship world.
Endeavor usually has rigorous, multi-step selection process, which usually kicks off with their own screening to identify those entrepreneurs with the best talent and potential for impact; but entrepreneurs can also reach out to them through the application form on their website.
Tapping into the enormous human capital harnessed by Egypt’s youth, INJAZ Egypt works with students and younger entrepreneurs between the ages of 21 and 27. Their startup Egypt program, which opens every year in October, offers acceleration and incubation services to teams of entrepreneurs with an innovative business idea that is profitable, sustainable, and scalable.
“It is never enough to have the best idea in mind: the idea should be translated to a tested prototype; a tangible creation of the idea,” says Injaz’s Senior Project Specialist Nada Nabhan. “We look for growth potential in the teams we choose; in order for a team to be considered for seed capital, the founders should present plans for penetrating markets outside their comfort zones,” she explains. In order to apply, teams cannot have less than 2 members and cannot exceed 5 members.
The non-profit organisation, which has an extended network across Egypt’s schools and universities, has witnessed the birth of some of the country’s youngest social entrepreneurs, such as Recyclobekia, Upfuse and Solarize Egypt, as well as Egypt’s first crowdfunding platform Tennra, a startup that has inaugurated gamified fundraising in the Middle East.
The young founders of Upfuse, a social startup powered by INJAZ Egypt.
Focused on social entrepreneurship, the organisation harnesses sustainable initiatives by supporting the entrepreneurs themselves. Unlike incubators or accelerators, Ashoka offers their fellows a monthly stipend, considered a salary. “The idea is for the entrepreneur to leave their job and be able to focus on their own project,” says the organisation’s Marketing Officer, Sama Singer. “The stipend lasts for three years, although the amount depends on many factors: whether he has a family or not, or the country he is based in,” she explains in an interview with CairoScene.
From Morocco to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Ashoka has supported 80 entrepreneurs through their fellowship programme across 10 countries in the Middle East. Their selection process begins with a nomination that can be effected at any point in time; from that moment until the entrepreneur is selected as a Fellow, candidates go through an extensive series of in-depth interviews, a panel, and a final executive board discussion.
A non-profit organisation that incubates both social enterprises and NGOs, Nahdet El Mahrousa supports social entrepreneurs with the potential to innovate and create impact that is sustainable and serves underprivileged communities. “We leverage the ideas and power of social innovators to tackle the pressing challenges in the communities where we operate,” says the organisation’s Chairperson Loay El-Shawarby.
Their latest incubation round, entitled “Ebda3 Ma7aly”, is focused on projects which revolve around alleviating poverty and improving the livelihood of Egyptians. They are providing the winners with full incubation and access to an intensive training programme designed specifically for startups working with underprivileged communities.
A dynamic enterprise focused on tech and aimed at boosting the entrepreneurial revolution, the accelerator hosts a limited number of digital startups every year, providing mentoring as well as office space and support for creative content design through their digital agency, The Planet.
The company works through six-month acceleration cycles, in which they select two startups at their MVP development stage, each of which receive up to $50,000 in funding from individual investors, both in cash and in-kind services, in exchange for a low equity stake, which spans between 10% and 20%. Delivering a personalised program which is tailor-made to the nature of each business, JuiceLabs’ services range from legal counseling, to hands-on consultation, product development and optimisation, as well as business development and strategy.
A one-year old initiative created by an entrepreneur himself, the Startup School has graduated more than 60 founders in its short existence. “We help idea-phase entrepreneurs reach a product-market fit, providing beginner and advanced level training on prototyping, testing, market research, strategy and pitching,” says the company’s founder, Ibrahim Mahgoub.
Their office, located at Cairo’s promising Almaqarr co-working space, hosts five-class introductory courses at low fees, as well as free monthly classes not only in Almaqarr but also GROOT in Mansoura, and soon in Alexandria. “We also hold a monthly gathering for our graduates to follow up on their progress and exchange experiences,” he says. Entrepreneurs can reach the school through their Facebook page, or directly at Almaqarr.
The Mobaderoon Masr (Pioneers of Egypt) programme leverages on the power of entrepreneurs to expand employment opportunities for youth, and supporting a new cadre of business leaders. Having graduated 1,250 participants, the programme offers technical and financial support to established or startup social entrepreneurs, such as Rehab Eldalil, a photographer who supports Sinai tribes through her project ‘Catherine Exists’.
The program leverages Synergos’ experience in the region, working in close partnership with Egyptian civil society institutions. In 2014, the programme not only supported 250 startup social entrepreneurs, but also helped 2,000 young Egyptians to access internships and training to improve their employment potential.
The first university-based incubator in Egypt, Venture lab was founded in 2013, incubating early-stage and growth-stage startups and capitalising on the American University’s world-class facilities and knowledge base, connecting innovative startups with AUC’s alumni network and fostering a thriving ecosystem of innovation.
Once selected, the startups are offered training sessions, mentors, student internships and courses at the AUC School of Business, as well as LE 20,000 in funding. Entrepreneurs are chosen through a selection process that judges the novelty of the idea, the team’s track record and cohesion, scalability and potential for commercialisation, as well as the team’s tenacity and commitment to success.
After the launch of Zoomaal, the region’s first crowdfunding platform, the trend for entrepreneurs to upload their projects in search for funding has been steadily growing in the region, with success cases such as Palestine’s Bold Knot, a tech startup that successfully raised a staggering 456% of their target. “The secret to a good crowdfunding campaign is to reach out to people’s emotions. And Arabs have an amazing ability for that, connecting with new people, making friends, and establishing and sustaining relationships,” he says.
Co-founders Mohamed Azz and Emily Renny founded Tennra, a platform for gamified crowdfunding.
This year, an Egyptian startup Tennra came into the scene, introducing yet another concept for entrepreneurs to raise funds: Gamified Crowdfuding. Involving private companies in the process as well, the platform offers games where people can live the identity of a sponsoring brand, while supporting an entrepreneur’s project. “It’s a win-win situation. The company gets exposure in an indirect way, and people who are playing are having fun while supporting a project they care about,” says the company’s co-founder Mohamed Ezz.
The epicenter of Cairo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, The Greek Campus is the equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley. Built in the old Greek school, the three buildings that make up this brimming technology and innovation hub host some of Cairo’s most ground-breaking startups, which all meet at two vibrant courtyards where graffiti, bean bags, and sculptures inspire creative minds and help them interact.
Introducing non traditional methods to explore, engage and learn – the campus even has its own fitness studio - the hub has a vibrant atmosphere all year round, hosting conferences, exhibitions, festivals, concerts and events such as GESR Social Innovation Summit 2015. They recently held the Musix Expo, and will soon be once again hosting the inimitable RiseUp Summit.
The Greek Campus is not only the epicentre of the startup ecosystem, but also home to festivals and exhibitions.
With over 150 local and global contributors, Egyptinnovate was launched this year to allow Egypt's youth to have their eyes open to tools, trends, expert opinions, success stories, videos and online courses to obtain the skills and knowledge to start innovating. “Egypt's young talent represents more than 65% of the population. The rise of entrepreneurship and innovation events, accelerators and incubators over the past five years has proven the hunger of Egypt's talent to solve the most pressing social and economic problems,” says EgyptInnovate’s Managing Director at Innovety, Salma El Hariry.
Owned by the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC), managed by Innovety, and developed by Link Development, the online innovation hub “was born to inspire, educate and connect young innovators and entrepreneurs,” she adds.
A social enterprise following a movement that started with Iceaddis in Ethiopia and Icebauhaus in Germany, Icecairo is a green tech innovation hub that offers two main spaces for innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship: the downtown co-working space, which hosts an incredible lab with tools such as 3D printers and laser cutters to create green products and turn them into sustainable business; and an online hub, to maximise collaboration through platforms such as a website, a wiki, a mapping system, an e-learning platform and an e-commerce site.
An initiative funded by the Danish Foreign Ministry and Confederation of Danish Industry, Startup MENA boosts startup ecosystems through organizing premium workshops where entrepreneurs at any stage, whether it is idea stage, scaling business, or acquiring customers can connect with topnotch mentors and investors, sometimes offering events where they can pitch in front of international angels and VCs (Venture Capital investors).
Events and competitions
The Middle East’s top annual event connecting entrepreneurs to local and international investors, media, customers and mentors, Riseup Summit gathers the whole regional entrepreneurship scene, from Morocco to Yemen and Turkey, in one place. Expecting over 3,000 attendees this year, the event will be held on December 12th and 13th, powered by an innovative networking app that will allow attendees to connect with other people at the event, track sessions, interact in real-time with panels, receive alerts, and manage the whole event experience.
“The big message this year is we are going somewhere, we’re about to take off, launch into space or something. That’s why we’re calling this year the Quantum Leap year. And everyone is coming to Cairo, the world is coming to Cairo, because something is happening. Not just startup businesses. It’s bigger. It’s a momentum, a movement," says the RiseUp Summit’s co-founder Con O’Donnel, as he anticipates over 500 top-notch speakers and key players flying to Cairo, from Microsoft to Soundcloud, to attend an event that will host more than 40 workshops, 16 panel discussions, and customised knowledge-sharing sessions for entrepreneurs.
Among the highlights, this must-go event will set up four pitching events for startups (the most thrilling one set in a limousine around Tahrir, with an investor), a crowd-funding campaign for all startups at RiseUp from Tennra, and a live recruitment event throughout the Summit to help talent find the right startup to work in.
The RiseUp Summit 2014
Organised on a yearly basis around May, Egypreneur Forum is a two-day event which focuses on sharing the vision of Egyptian entrepreneurs for their industries by 2025, while at the same time providing a platform for startups, SMEs and industry leaders to connect. The forum aims to be a network where entrepreneurs, investors, consultants and supporters meet to build and strengthen their businesses.
A competition that has proven to be a springboard for some of Egypt’s most successful startup stories, such as Instabug, the initiative was founded in 2005 as one of the 28 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum Global, which promotes entrepreneurship and innovation through mentorship and networking.
Having recently opened their applications for the 2016 edition – which closes on January 4th - the competition targets 21 countries in the Arab region and brings in more than 5,000 applications a year, concluding with monetary prizes that go up to $150,000.
Working closely with universities, the Hult Prize is an initiative that holds competitions in 150 universities across 50 countries, all of them aimed at solving an annual challenge through a social business – which this year, is Crowded Urban Spaces. Those students who do not have access to a Hult Prize event on their campus can make up a team of entrepreneurs and submit a general online application, which is available each autumn on hultprize.org.
“Egypt is part of an exciting pilot program with the Hult Prize. This year, we will be launching the Hult Prize Egypt specifically for students who do not have a Hult Prize event in their university,” says the company’s Director of Operations, Kristen Tyrrell. “This prestigious national-level event will help source top talent from Egypt to participate in the regional events in San Francisco, Boston, London, Dubai and Shanghai.”
Set to take place this year between November 16th and 22nd , the Global Entrepreneurship Week is organised in partnership with Nahdet El Mahrousa, MC Egypt, Ice Cairo, VC4Africa, Cairo University, Nile University, and AUC, among others, with hundreds of initiatives in the pipeline. Among the events, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and its project Decent Jobs for Egypt’s Young People (DJEP) will be organising the Social Entrepreneurship Knowledge Sharing Conference in Gouna, Red Sea Goverorate. The conference will be held on November 18th and will last for two days.
Main photo by Ahmed Najib.
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