Meet the first six startups to graduate from AUC Venture Labs

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In the wake of three years of revolutions and political turmoil, many policymakers- both local and global- have touted entrepreneurship as the solution for stability in the Egyptian economy. Under these circumstances, the American University of Cairo (AUC) has announced its first round of graduates at AUC V-Lab, the first incubator associated with a university in Egypt.

The program, which was launched last July by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation program at AUC's School of Business, started its first cycle last September, aiming to "support Egyptian startups with academic, financial and programmatic advice to help them develop viable projects,” says Ayman Ismail, the program's designer and an Assistant Professor at AUC.

At a final pitch day, graduates debuted various ideas in logistical, technical, industrial, social and media sectors.

  • En2ly is a digital platform that provides transportation and delivery services for small and medium-sized enterprises, to help solve challenges faced by Egypt's internal shipping sector. This team also reached the semifinals during the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition last November.
  • Kasheflabs develops drones to discover landmines in an accurate and simple way, to rid Egypt of its mines, which account for 23% of world's mines. A few days ago, the team won first place in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa competition for technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The company presented a prototype, SDUAV, which can be used to explore areas of rock, mud and ice very quickly.
  • Smart News is an aggregated news that reveals multimedia coverage under four sectors: politics, technology, business and sports. The app also allows users to post their own content in order to revive citizen journalism in Egypt.
  • Mubser is a belt that assists the visually impaired. The Mubser belt was chosen among the best 7 tech products in Africa, and its founder, Khaled Abou Chadi was also chosen as one of the 30 most promising entrepreneurs in Africa in 2014, according to Forbes magazine.
  • AlKottab is a production studio that develops educational cartoon movies and games, especially those with proverbs related to Arab culture, with the goal of spreading harmony among youth. The company's Tahrir Square defense game for Facebook, which spreads a message about the value of freedom, has been downloaded by over 7000 people, as found Omar Elkhafif told Wamda last year
  • El-Shahbander is the first Egyptian marketplace specialized for the textile sector (think Alibaba for textiles). Coinciding with government policy aimed at supporting the sector to grow the local economy, the site is designed to facilitate connection between local suppliers and global vendors. 

Over the past six months, the university has granted graduates several benefits, including access to a network of investors, training with professional experts in marketing, sales and project management, and assistance with their business plans, along with 20000 EGP (~$2800) in financial assistance.

It's not a lot of funding. Although the investment saved AlKottab from closing down, according to co-founder Islam Tharwat, others were not happy with the amount.

However, they are part of a lucky few, having been chosen from over 160 applicants. Criteria for applying include having a real product or prototype, one full-time founder, and a product that is "different from any other product in the Egyptian market,” explains Sherif Shabana, the manager of AUC Venture Lab.   

If graduates succeed during the first round, they can win acceptance to eight more months of incubation; thus far, only Mubser, En2ly and Smart News are proceeding to the second round.

The Venture Labs' next class of startups now include seven instead of six, and the incubator hopes to reach ten, graduating two rounds each year. The larger question looms: can a boost for leading startups bring stability to the the Egyptian economy?  

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