Egypt: A Mass of People, Innovation and Hope

by mahmoud kaiyal, April 4, 2013

I was speaking to an Egyptian diplomat, wondering about the future of Egypt.

He asked what I thought of Egyptian high-tech.

“It is very promising” I responded. I truly believe it is.

He told me a common Egyptian saying: “When you enter Egypt, you should know that there are a lot like you.” What he meant was that no matter who or what you are, Egypt is big enough to have many people just like you, regardless of whether you are rich, poor, intellectual or business-focused.

Even if you're one of those rare Arab web entrepreneurs, you’ll still find many more in Egypt, as I did. There is something profoundly humbling and optimism-inducing about this, as it speaks to the promise of Arabic language Internet innovation.

As the founder of WebTeb, I was already well aware of Egyptians having many talents; my medical portal startup had already hired content and social media experts from Egypt, who were not cheap (also good news).

Mix n' Mentor 

When I visited Egypt to attend MedHealth Cairo 2013, the annual Arab Hospital Federation conference, I encountered a familiar face: it was Habib Haddad from Wamda, who I have spoken to before, but never face to face. Habib convinced me that I should postpone my flight back home and attend Wamda’s Mix n’ Mentor (MnM) event in Cairo.

I was pleasantly curious. Palestine doesn’t present many opportunities to network with other Arab entrepreneurs. The event was at the Swiss Club Cairo, a mythological Egyptian club, with restaurants, play yards, gardens and a space for culture, education and entertainment. The minute I stepped in, I remembered the Egyptian diplomat’s words, there were a great many young people, from many backgrounds, from Cairo, Giza, Alexandria...  Almost all of them were in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, sitting on bean bags (which reminded me of the weight I need to lose…).

The event itself was well-organized and the whole Wamda team was there, actively engaging entrepreneurs in discussion, seeking their opinions and doubts. Wamda made sure the entrepreneurs were not alone, surrounding them with people from Google, Microsoft, Qualcomm, PayPal and even Mike Butcher from TechCrunch. One thing applies in every culture and language: the unique passionate look of the entrepreneur that continues to excite me.

The sessions were about team building, marketing and the ultimate session: fund raising. Fund raising always looms large in these events, which seems to me to obscure what’s really important: building a great company and a great product. I do agree that funding is a very important issue but I have the feeling that sometimes entrepreneurs treat it as an obstacle by solely focusing on availability of funds, rather than on ideas, product development, global expansion and team building.  

Building the Ecosystem 

I was happy to hear that Wamda intends to have a similar MnM event in Ramallah, Palestine; the topics won’t be much different, and it is encouraging to know that we share more or less the same problems as in Egypt, emphasizing that the Arabic language Internet is a big market with unlimited opportunities.

I’m looking forward to meeting Habib, Nina, Walid, Roland, Fares, and the others in Ramallah. These events are needed to build the tech ecosystem in the region. Funding will come too, once more success stories (like Maktoob) become common, increasing investor appetite.

And to the Egyptian diplomat, I have an answer: the Egyptian future looks very promising. Egypt’s treasure is its people. If the government can make it easier for these great men and women by facilitating investments in Egypt, you’ll get what Egypt deserves- a better life for its people.