When one is asked to think of Egypt in these times, the first thought could be related to political instabilities around Tahrir square, sufferings and losses. But this is not the only story in Egypt today. An entrepreneurship ecosystem is rapidly booming, and with it comes a young and eager crowd that is contributing to the future of technology. The proof: Rise Up Egypt, a two day summit that gathered over two thousand entrepreneurs at the GrEEK Campus, a four-minute walk from Tahrir square in Cairo, on November 24 and 25.
Boosting the ecosystem
With the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Week, Abdelhameed Sharara had a vision to bring together entrepreneurs in Egypt he had met over the years. After mentoring at Injaz Egypt he dedicated four months and raised funds from organizations such as Injaz Egypt and Mercy Corps, with support from Con O’Donnell, Moataz Kotb and Mohammad Mansour. Together they managed to receive over 20 sponsors, teamed up with 10 key organizing partners, brought 120 speakers to the event and received help from over 100 volunteers.
Rise Up Egypt celebrated entrepreneurship with “Enspire” talks by Endeavor, “Pitch n’ Mentor” by Wamda, workshops by Flat6Labs, a trade fair by Injaz, pitching events by Cairo Angels, Agg Business Competition by Mercy Corps Egypt, panel discussions and concluding with a Google+ Hangout, both by MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab.
To support himself financially, Sharara sold his car, and moved to reside at the venue for 15 days for more efficiency, isolating himself.
“I was rarely alone as the community of entrepreneurs visited constantly, supporting me despite the shaky situation in the streets,” says Sharara. He recalls a gas bomb falling close by during preparations.
Hala Fadel, Chair of the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab was at the GrEEK campus and said she saw courage, energy and great ideas in Egypt.
“Rise Up Egypt materialized this energy into an event that put these ideas into the spotlight and gave an opportunity to many entrepreneurs from Egypt and beyond to learn and connect,” said Fadel.
The Arab World meets Silicon Valley
A Google+ Hangout connected entrepreneurs in Egypt with Bill Aulet, Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship at MIT, Christopher Schroeder, author of Startup Rising, Elie Khoury, Founder and CEO at Woopra, and Ossama Hassanein, Chairman of the Board at TechWadi. Over two thousand people watched the Hangout; from the “Tech Valley in the heart of Cairo” that is the GrEEK Campus.
Ahmed El Alfi, Chairman of Sawari Ventures, and Founder of the GrEEK campus started-up the space because, “Egypt needs to have a place that is easily accessible to tech startups and entrepreneurs where they can interact with each other, with large tech companies and investors.”
He continues to say that the campus has potential to speed up the pace at which new ideas are being developed into companies, and create an environment where entrepreneurs can share and build on each other’s ideas in the heart of Cairo.
According to El Alfi, the first companies are moving in during the coming 10 days, while the building and the interior spaces are continuing to be renovated. There are plans to add offices, co-working spaces, restaurants, a gym and a nursery.
Rise Up Egypt gained a lot of traction and encouraged entrepreneurs to keep innovating. In light of this, there are future plans to keep the momentum at which the entrepreneurship ecosystem is growing.
“There are more people who believe in Egypt’s potential today,” says Sharara, “I would like to see a Rise Up MENA in the long term.”
Schroeder shares Sharara’s view and says, “I think about the journey of writing my book in the last two years, of all the ups and downs which have obviously happened in the region, and yet entrepreneurship is moving interestingly and wonderfully.”
Egyptian entrepreneur, Bassem Fayek, who is working on building his co-founded educational platform, SkillAcademy, from Cairo finds that despite the absence of an early adopter mindset, there is access to untapped talent and a lot of opportunities.
“The ecosystem is still pretty small but growing at unprecedented rates. It’s unstoppable – irrespective of the surrounding economic, social, regulatory or political situation,” says Fayek.