Coming soon to a sky near you (if you’re in Egypt) is “Alex
Balloon,” otherwise known as the Alexandria Balloon
To boost tourism in Egypt, a group of students and professors have launched a new startup that aims to redesign hot air balloon flights, to carry not just passengers, but advertising.
With the slogan “Life in the Sky”, the idea is to fly a tourist hot air balloon over Alexandria, starting from the Citadel of Qaitbay to the Montaza Palace, passing over each of the city’s main tourist sites within 30 to 45 minute ride, explains the startup's project manager, Mohammed Shehata.
Wary tourists are still mostly avoiding Egypt, thanks to recent headlines about riots and unrest in the country. Yet Alex Balloon hopes to focus on local tourism. Foreigners will pay $50 for a ride, while Egyptians will only pay 100 Pounds (US $14). By plastering ads and graffiti across popular areas in Alexandria and offering special discounts for university students, the startup hopes to attract university students, Alexandria residents, and maybe a few foreign tourists.
The startup was dreamt up by seven aspiring entrepreneurs from the Alexandria Higher Institute of Engineering and Technology, who took part in the “Enterprise Challenge” competition held by the British Cultural Council's “Skills for Employability” program, in partnership with Injaz Egypt.
From December last year until this March, around 200 students from five universities in Egypt (Alexandria, Almahala, Almatarya, Quaisna and Al-Sahafa) competed in teams that included professors. During the four month competition, they learned how to develop a product, secure funding, build a marketing campaign, craft a pitch, as local business leaders offered training that focused on teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking skills.
Alex Balloon emerged the frontrunner, winning the competition
with its innovative model.
One element that the startup struggled with was keeping down the cost of its balloons; no project in the competition was allowed to exceed a budget of 50,000 EGP (around US $7,500). Yet to avoid paying $29,000 per balloon, the team will simply rent one for $3,000 a month, and run it on gas rather than helium, says team member Dr. Ibrahim Choaib, a professor at Alexandria University.
So far, the founders have self-funded 60% of the project (50,000 EGP, as the competition stipulates), and have relied on loans and external investment to cover the remaining 40%. And after signing agreements with the Citadel of Qaitbay and the authority of Montaza Palace to use their sites as the balloon’s takeoff and landing zones, Alex Balloon is ready for takeoff.
True to the experience of many in Egypt lately, it hasn't gotten off the ground just yet. In the wake of the Luxor hot air balloon crash accident just two months ago, the Egyptian government temporarily suspended all balloon flights in Egypt. To ensure safety, Alex Balloon will hire a maintenance team to ensure that their balloons are up to code and safety measures are in place.
Yet as the flight ban expired last week, Alex Balloon now has the all-clear to take their startup to Alexandria’s skies.