UK foreign minister Boris Johnson praises Egypt startups

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UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson praised the creativity and originality of Egypt’s entrepreneurs on Saturday during a networking event at the British Embassy in Cairo.

During his first visit to Cairo as foreign secretary, Johnson met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and his counterpart Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, to discuss the UK’s support of the Egyptian economy, among other issues.

The two-hour networking event was organised by the embassy on the occasion of Johnson’s visit. Entrepreneurs and representatives from various startups gathered to share their experience with other attendees.

Arriving to the embassy in the evening, Johnson highlighted the £1.1 million (US$1.4 million) in funding from the UK that will be provided over the next

Boris Johnson hob nobs at the UK embassy in
Cairo. (Images via Doaa Farid)

three years to support new and existing social startups in Egypt. The fund was announced in December at the Riseup Summit. Johnson spent about half an hour circulating between entrepreneurs to hear their ideas.

UK moves focus to startups

“Today is an important day because it is the first visit of a British foreign minister to Cairo since 2014,” UK ambassador John Casson told Wamda. “We met with the president and Shoukry, but we wanted to do an event for Egypt’s future, which is those entrepreneurs.”

He said Egypt’s economy needed to be transformed to support greater competitiveness and private-sector growth. “The secret of that is entrepreneurs because they work to resolve the problems of others.”

Casson said the embassy still hadn’t released details on
how entrepreneurs could bid for investment from the UK fund.

Startups that do access that money will benefit from funding, training and exposure to an international network of entrepreneurs. During the Riseup Summit Casson called on angel investors to propose areas they’d be happy to cooperate in.

When asked about the number of projects that can benefit from the fund, Casson said: “it depends on the projects that will apply”, adding that the projects should have a social impact, such as education, health, helping marginalised communities and creating jobs.

“The UK has a river of investments in Egypt and we thought this reception should give a chance to Egyptian entrepreneurs to meet big investors.”

Will this lead to new pathways for startups to scale into the UK?

Hopes for a new gateway to the UK

Local entrepreneurs were excited for what they perceived as recognition from the British government.

Riseup partnerships manager Farah AbdelBaki told Wamda that entrepreneurs attending the event wanted to build connections with the UK and global exposure.

“Egyptian entrepreneurs always seek global investments and exposure because foreign investors understand well the entrepreneur ecosystem and the high risk it involves… They did not come here only seeking investments, but also to have the chance to find possible mentors and trainers,” Abdel Baki said.

Cofounder of three-month old Bosta, Mohamed Ezzat, attended the reception. “These types of events further strengthen entrepreneurial projects in the country,” he said. He wanted to see a similar event held by the Egyptian government.

Bosta is a technology-based crowdsourced delivery platform connecting customers and businesses to drivers who can deliver orders. “Bosta now has 100 customers, they vary from business-to-business, and business-to-customer,” he said, and would launch a customer-to customer delivery system in June.

“I am feeling like I am attending Riseup. I saw here almost the majority of startups, investors and venture capitals [in Egypt],” CEO of PayMe Mourad Alashry told Wamda.

Alashry said that they came to the event for networking and to market their platform, which is a mobile payment solution that allows SMEs to collect online payment without having to sign contracts with banks or paying extra fees. “All what they have to do is to create an account on our website and payers can send them money through it,” he said.

Feature image via Doaa Farid.

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