Monday,20 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)
Monday,20 May, 2019
Issue 1364, (12 - 18 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Supporting tech start-ups

Technology start-ups are getting off the ground in Egypt thanks to specialised support, writes Ameera Fouad

Supporting tech start-ups
Supporting tech start-ups
Al-Ahram Weekly

Some 17 years ago, eight graduates from the Computer Science Department at Alexandria University set out to create their own business, establishing a software company called eSpace that has helped facilitate Egyptian elections since 2011. 

But the success of eSpace did not come without hardships. “When we started our business, we were in our 20s and we had little funding or government support for the emerging IT sector,” Youssef Ali, CEO of eSpace, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Many young people today are trying to follow a similar path. The US magazine Forbes recently said that 350 start-ups had been established in the last couple of years in Egypt in fields such as medicine, energy, computer software, water supplies, agriculture and others. 

However, “Egypt has not reached its full potential yet,” Aly said, adding that the government, the private sector and civil society needed to do more to pave the way to technology companies competing effectively in the global market.

One private-sector attempt to help Egyptian tech start-ups is Techne-Summit, itself a start-up, which acts as a mediator bringing global players in the technology industry to the local scene. Founded in 2015, it organises events at which companies come together to share experiences and partner with possible investors. 

The company also holds an annual round trip to target young entrepreneurs in Upper Egypt, Canal cities and elsewhere where opportunities might be few due to demographic and financial difficulties reaching investors, Mohamed Dallal, co-founder of Techne-Summit, told the Weekly

It also offers a mentorship programme for both investors and start-ups, said Tarek Al-Kadi, co-founder of Techne-Summit. Called the Alexandria Angels Network, the mentorship programme has more than 10 investors in Alexandria. “We provide training-of-trainers and mentorship programmes as we believe all investors need knowledge of how to best invest their money in successful start-ups,” Al-Kadi added.

He spoke of the misconceptions investors and the public could have about start-ups. “People mistakenly believe that start-ups will always remain small businesses that will never grow,” he said, adding that “two of the most renowned start-ups worldwide are Uber and Careem, the ride-hailing services, which began as start-ups and are now large corporations worth billions of dollars.”

Start-ups use innovative ideas to help solve ongoing problems, Faisal Hakki, CEO of OASIS500, told the Weekly. “What we are looking for is how these ideas can turn into a successful prototype and then a worthy service or product,” he added. OASIS500 is a seed investment company which invests capital in exchange for an equity stake in companies and has $108 million worth of investments in the Egyptian and Arab markets. 

“If the start-up is innovative and creative and the team have a good potential to run their own business, we become their partners,” Hakki said. However, it does not go in for more than 10 per cent of the company’s shares, in order to allow the owner to have the upper hand in his or her ownership, he added.

To some young people, the difference between a start-up and a small business can be hard to distinguish. “In start-ups, it is all about innovative ideas to help solve a problem or create new platforms using technology,” Al-Kadi explained.

 He gave the example of Vezeeta, an application used to help people access medical facilities using their smartphones.

The second most important element in start-ups is the team spirit and leadership skills that make every team member have a role and a contribution to make, Al-Kadi added. 

“Getting funds is still a problem for many start-ups,” said Rami Magdi, a marketing executive at Innuva, a company which offers online and technology services. However, it is not the only challenge they are facing. “Branding the product and promoting it is an even bigger challenge,” he said. 

His company has developed an application which enables parents to track their kids on school buses.

“We know as parents ourselves how difficult it can be to know where our children are on their everyday school-bus trips. So the application is designed to help both parents and school drivers avoid all the hustle and bustle,” Magdi added.  

There is support available for tech start-ups from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT). This offers an incubation package to start-ups through its technology and management programmes which target micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. 

“We received support from MCIT, not in the form of funds, but rather in the form of incubation and mentorships programmes. These programmes provide everything small enterprises need, from feasibility studies, to managerial guidance and advice on expanding the business,” Magdi added.   

Women also have their share of start-ups in the Egyptian and Arab market. Gehad Abdallah, founder of MerMaid, is one of these female entrepreneurs. MerMaid is an online platform that connects professional domestic cleaners with customers.

“Any start-up must address market needs,” Abdallah said. “The idea of MerMaid came to me when I realised that all the women I knew were complaining about the lack of efficient domestic help,” she said.

The challenges Gehad faces are the same as those of any other founder when it comes to getting funds and developing a project she hopes will expand to other cities and other countries. 

Being a woman, however, is another challenge. “Sometimes people underestimate your capabilities because you are female,” she said. Nonetheless, she added, “it is about time that people accept that young women are capable of running multi-million-dollar businesses.” 

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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