It’s small, but there’s a burgeoning start-up culture in Cairo.The International Finance Corporation reported that in 2011, out of 183 economies, Egypt’s “Starting a Business” ranking rose to 18 from 23 in 2010. More than half the Egyptian population is under the age of 30 — and these are the people who leveraged Facebook and Twitter during the revolution. Now they’re starting businesses.
In June, the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program sent a team of American entrepreneurs to survey the start-up scene. The trip, officially called “NextGenIT Boot Camp,” was also sponsored by the Danish and Egyptian governments.
“I thought the start-up culture was nonexistent or remedial,” he says. “I was blown away. Totally wrong.”
He traveled with Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit.com, Jeff Hoffman – Priceline.com, Shama Kabani, CEO of Marketing Zen and Ryan Allis, co-founder and CEO of iContact, an email marketing company.
The group evaluated 38 Egyptian entrepreneurs, with mostly tech (specifically mobile) concepts. “They spanned the gamut in level of acumen,” he says. “We helped them with their business model, ripped their ideas apart, and brought them to a whole new level.”
At the end of the week, there was a business competition.The four winning companies were:
- Bey2ollak – An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo. It already has more than 50,000 subscribers and a partnership with Vodafone — one of the largest mobile phone operators in Egypt.
- Inkezny (translation: rescue me) – An iPhone app enabling travellers to make emergency calls in any location in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals
- Crowdit – A digital collaborative storytelling platform using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online
- SuperMama.me – The iVillage of the Middle East, creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East/North Africa region
The U.S. delegation provided these entrepreneurs with unprecedented access to capital — specifically, a $125,000 fund that be distributed through Flat6 Labs, which is run by Sawari Ventures, one of Egypt’s biggest VC firms.
“For the first time, [these young people] saw that VCs were human,” Gerber says. “The tech startup scene in Egypt started about two years ago. An ecosystem needs to be formed. They are at square one. In a few years, it will be booming.”
High unemployment is part of what led to the uprisings in January — and it still hovers in the double digits — so in a way, he says, these young entrepreneurs feel the responsibility to create jobs with their newfound freedom.
In early January, just a few weeks before the uprisings began, the U.S. State Department sent a separate delegation of entrepreneurs to the area. Then, Sawari Ventures agreed to fund Kngine, a search engine started by two brothers, Ashraf el-Fadeel, 30, and Haytham el-Fadeel, 23, according to the New York Times.
The World Bank projects that economic activity in the Middle East and North Africa will expand by 3.6 per cent in 2011.
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