Rising Up: Egypt's entrepreneurs as important as ever

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The Rise Up Summit, the region’s foremost entrepreneur get-together, closed yesterday on the news of yet another brutal terrorist attack in the city.

Twenty-five Coptic Christians died after a bomb exploded during the Sunday service at St. Mark’s Cathedral in the suburb of Abbasiya, a 15-minute drive from the downtown complex where the entrepreneur festival was held.

While Egypt’s entrepreneur ecosystem is occasionally accused of being a bubble with limited impact on the wider country, at times like this events such as Rise Up are a hopeful counterpoint to ongoing sectarianism, economic pain, and fear.

Rise Up cofounder Abdelhameed Sharara told Wamda it was events like his that could prevent such attacks in future.

“Startups create solutions and jobs, and that’s a big means for fighting terrorism.”

You can do it. Uber's EMEA head Pierre Dimitri. (Image via Rise Up Summit)

The three-day festival gathered in the almost-idyllic grounds of the downtown American University in Cairo campus and the Greek Campus business park, surrounded by a heavy police presence for the duration of the event.

There were marching bands, chill-out beanbag zones, a startup trade fair, an Apple-esque product launch and what was possibly the biggest demo day an Egypt accelerator has ever put on.

Local entrepreneurs were thirsty for knowledge, crowding several workshops. Wamda’s mini Mix N’ Mentor on Sunday also brought a deep level of engagement between entrepreneurs and mentors.

There were a couple of missteps. Organizers were not able to combat the usual wifi problems that plague local tech conferences across the region. A panel addressing the role of media in supporting startups and another discussing women entrepreneurs, were challenged by some attendees.

Jaleesa cofounder Stephanie d’Arc Taylor, who was on the Regional Strategies for Women Entrepreneurs’ Success panel, said conferences like Rise Up needed to make an effort to have women on every panel, instead of having a panel for women.

The women attending Rise Up didn’t need pandering to: pitch coach Bianca Praetorius said she wanted to bring a team of Egyptian women to the major Berlin Tech Open Air next year to teach her compatriots a thing or two about grit.

It wasn't a 50:50 gender split, but at times it seemed close. (Image via Rise Up Summit)

Diving deep into emerging industries

Rise Up had four themes: cleantech, creative industries, fintech and more generally, technology. This allowed talks to dive deeper into key issues.

The event also included talks on film as a business and a ‘startup band’ competition where entrants had 72 hours to build a band and a business plan. he creative industry is an area startup events region-wide are beginning to focus on.

The cleantech track launched two new incubators for entrepreneurs wanting to tackle industrial waste: one is a pre-incubator in partnership with You Think Green Egypt and the other is an incubator in partnership with the Egyptian National Clean Production Center (ENCPC). They will start in January and February 2017 and run for six months.

The fintech track was topped by the 1864 Fintech Accelerator demo day, an extravagant event on Saturday evening.

One company in particular caught people’s attention: Card Switch puts fraud management into the consumer’s hands by allowing card and account owners to switch them on and off, so, for example, parents can give their children an emergency credit card and only turn it on in cases of real emergencies.

Major regional startup competitions chose also to hold their events over and around the weekend. The Arab Mobile Challenge is taking five startups from North and West Africa to the global finals, Ta2eel won just over $3,000 from the Microsoft Startup Competition, and blood donor app La7za won a one-year incubation period at Nahdet ElMahrousa from Hack 4 Egypt.

Alexandria rises

Cairo may finally also have a rival in the region’s most populous country.

Alexandria burst onto Egypt’s startup scene with the Techne Summit earlier this year, but this weekend founder Tarek El Kady launched the Alexandria Angels. The network is made up of local ex-entrepreneurs and is being assisted by the Cairo Angels (although is not officially affiliated with the older angel network), and intends to start making investments in the third quarter of 2017.

They are the first angel network in Alexandria.

“Investment is not the only element,” said El Kady. “Alex Angels will help brilliant young minds with the capital they need… as well as the mentoring needed to succeed.” Already this year Sarah Aziz and Morad Edwar have launched Alex Geeks, an educational, inspirational group to create something for local entrepreneurs to coalesce around.

Return to Africa

Rise Up this year also began a long-held plan to reach out to Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2014 Sharara told Wamda they were thinking of taking the show to Europe and deeper south into Africa.

David van Dijk from the Africa Business Angels Network (ABAN) was scouting for talent, and mobile money firm M-Kopa and Kenyan solar pumping company Future Pumps were both looking for partners and opportunities.

M-Kopa Tanzania managing director David Damberger advised entrepreneurs to consider a problem, consider the tech that could solve that problem, then consider why the problem hadn't been solved yet. That would go a long way to narrowing down a solution to the problem of choice.

Egypt is yet to produce a breakthrough startup from the post-2011 era, to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Sysdsoft, Fawry and Si-Warebut Egyptian startups are looking cheap in terms of investment compared to regional rivals after the devaluation of the pound.

In light of a suffering economy, several entrepreneurs, who wished to remain anonymous for the time being, told Wamda they had secured or were in the process of securing large funding rounds from offshore investors. The investors were offering dollars, rather than Egyptian pounds.

The hype around Rise Up and the possibilities it encapsulates will be measured in upcoming years by the deals made, the success of new incubators and investors, and the progress of the startups which launched or pivoted during the event.

Feature image: judging the startup band competition, via Rise Up Summit.

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