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How Western Entrepreneurs Are Supporting Egypt’s Growing Startup Scene

An intensive mentorship program meant to teach Egyptian youth how to turn a simple idea into a viable business in the IT space.
Zachary Sniderman | 20.09.2011
A group of young American and Danish entrepreneurs traveled to Egypt last week for the NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, an intensive mentorship program meant to teach Egyptian youth how to turn a simple idea into a viable business in the IT space.

The sort of “traveling startup accelerator” was organized by the U.S. State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, USAID, the governments of Denmark and Egypt, and entrepreneurship organizations such as the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). The goal was to get young business people to teach a group of Egyptian youth how to turn a simple idea into a viable business in the IT space.

The mostly young delegates included Scott Gerber, founder of the YEC, Alexis Ohanian, cofounder of, and Ryan Allis, cofounder and CEO of iContact, an email marketing company that will also be hosting two of Egyptian teams for a three-week internship in the fall.

At the end of the week-long bootcamp, all 38 Egyptians — representing 19 different business teams — competed for those two iContact internship spots as well as two similar internships in Denmark. The winning companies were Crowdit, a digital collaborative storytelling platform; SuperMama, the iVillage of the Middle East; Inkezny (RescueMe), an iPhone app helping travelers get emergency help in any part of the world; and Bey2ollak, an iPhone app that provides user-generated reports of local traffic conditions.

The bootcamp also led to the creation of a $125,000 investment pool to be distributed by Flat6 Labs, a fund launching this month run by Sawari Ventures, an Egyptian venture capital company.

Mashable had a chance to speak with two of those winning teams and YEC’s Scott Gerber to find out about the entrepreneur scene in Egypt and what lies ahead after the bootcamp. “Two things were very obvious,” Gerber said. “Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Egypt, we just need to solidify the ecosystems. All the pieces are there, they’re just not on the same board yet.”

This seems to be indicative of the Egyptian startup scene. There are highly motivated, highly skilled business people lacking the vibrant infrastructure Americans (and Danes) sometimes take for granted. “There are some small organizations that are trying to do things like startup weekends and bootcamps or three or four months of incubations but it still needs work,” said Zeinab Samir, 29, design director for SuperMama.

It’s a sentiment shared by the co-founders of Bey2ollak. “It’s growing. There’s lot of information and ideas, but actually we still lack the infrastructure for entrepreneurship to grow and gain it’s full potential,” said Mohamed Rafea, 30, of Bey2ollak. “There were lots of people at this bootcamp that we really should have met before.”
Bey2ollak Goes Global

One of the biggest benefits for Bey2ollak was the confidence to scale globally. The traffic-reporting app actually had more than 5,000 signups before it even launched, but will now try expanding to new regions. Meeting similarly-minded entrepreneurs from across the ocean was an inspiration, said Bey2ollak cofounder Gamal El Din Sadek, 23. “What I think I want to call for is more of these events because that’s what makes people open their eyes,” Sadek said. “It’s really life changing. I wish everyone I knew attended this.”

That spirit extended past the classroom, explained Rafea, as mentors and Egyptians shared lunch and dinner, spending time after hours to talk shop and get to know each other. “The interaction was not only about ideas,” Rafea said. “There was this element of friendship that grew between entrepreneurs and delegates and it was inspiring actually.”

Rafea and Sadek are working to expand their company after their internship at iContact in the fall. Rafea was already invited by a community of Egyptian students to give a talk about his experience at the bootcamp and to inspire an even younger generation.
SuperMama Finds Its Voice

SuperMama is looking to inspire both younger and older generations of women. In the U.S., women are used to a plethora of health advice forums and digital communities to assist them through pregnancies and daily health concerns. Not so in Cairo, said Yasmine El-Mehairy: “We don’t have mommy clubs or mommy forums. Usually when women have a question, they call their mother who gives them some advice. Then they call a friend who gives them conflicting advice, then they call their sister who gives them conflicting advice …”

That cultural difference was actually a sticking point for the startup as El-Mehairy and design director Samir had to explain to the delegates why an app offering centralized health information to women wasn’t entering an over-saturated market.

El-Mehairy and Samir will be traveling to Denmark in the fall as winners of the bootcamp competition. “Zeinab had an idea that once we entered this bootcamp we are winners and we aren’t going to stop, and I think that is the right feeling. Validation is also the right word but [winning isn't] just about validation. There was exposure, and not just in Egypt. For example, [Mashable is] talking to us.”

SuperMama is planning to launch in the fall, right around when El-Mehairy and Samir will be in Denmark. They hope that if they can launch their startup remotely, it will help other Egyptian women realize that they too can start working from home.

The NexGen IT bootcamp not only inspired new business ideas in Egypt but cross-cultural friendships and partnerships. The spirit of the international market is one of mutual collaboration and friendly competition. Gerber is hoping that this program will be the first of many international accelerators to connect entrepreneurs in different countries. It’s a spirit shared by the Egyptian youths Gerber only just met. “Many days, two or three days, we sat for three or four hours after the event discussing our ideas,” Sadek said. “We went out several times afterwards, we as Egyptians. We as teams.”
Img of Zachary Sniderman
About the author: Zachary Sniderman

Music, arts, cultural reporter and assistant features editor at mashable.