Egypt’s entrepreneurial youth and the battle for credibility
Entrepreneurial activities are not just the prerogative of those over 21 in hoodies. We’ve spoken before on Wamda about the ‘age’ question when it comes to finding entrepreneurial success, and as we know, it can work both ways.
So, going to the other end of the spectrum and meeting entrepreneurs who are not yet out of high school is interesting - the question ‘what have I been doing with my life?’ constantly popping into one’s brain.
While in Cairo for Wamda’s latest Mix N’ Mentor I got to meet two young men, both under the age of 18, who are already making headway into the entrepreneurial world.
The young ones
One of the youngsters I met in Cairo was 16-year-old Ahmed Gamal (right). He has a startup called Awraq. Realizing that he was always failing at the business end with his web development startups, he created a set of cards that will help any startup organize their business strategy.
Sitting on a session about team building he was keen to get advice on how to delegate the workload amongst his other teen cofounders - a problem that even the entrepreneurs twice his age were facing.
Being taken seriously when one is still largely seen by society as a ‘boy’ is hard though, even in Egypt. When 18-year-old Abdelrahman Kadry (below) was introduced to a famous Saudi businessman by his KSA partner (who incidentally is 50), the businessman was taken aback at Kadry’s youth. “I told him it’s about a person’s mind,” says Kadry, “not their age.”
Kadry, who is now CEO with five employees at his startup Rocking Solutions, and a massive fan of Steve Jobs, told me in a long Facebook chat that before he found success with his web design company he had two business failures. “I was inexperienced and people scammed me,” he said. “Then the next time I just couldn’t get a good team together.” He was then struck by the sudden death of his father in Cairo in 2013.
For a moment there he thought he couldn’t carry on with his work. However come 2014, at the age of 16, he went ahead and founded the company that now has two offices, one in KSA and one in Alexandria. “To date we’ve completed work on about 350 websites,” he said, with clients being a mix of private individuals and agencies.
For 17-year-old Arabiaweb founder Mo’az Mohssen (below), having to convince people of his credibility is an issue. “in my region [Al Minia, Northern Egypt] no one takes me that seriously and they consider the internet as [just for] entertainment.” He told me that in building up his company that creates Arabic content platforms, he had to adapt to that mindset but that in Cairo things are better, with spaces like the GrEEK Campus providing great resources.
So very busy
Of course being a teen isn’t all parties and carefree days, especially if you’re trying to balance growing a business with school commitments - notably, studying.
Kadry is now a student at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport. Having already failed classes in the past, and being forced to re-sit exams over his summer breaks, Kadry is determined this time to not let his studies slip - though he did share the fact that his business takes up most of his time.
Mohssen, a senior in high school, with about 50 clients, first launched a web design agency at the age of 15. “Actually I’m trying to do this [school work] so I will launch the project in the summer so I can focus now on my studying,” he told me.
While Gamal, 16, gets a lot of encouragement from family, school is not so keen. “They say I’m wasting my time,” he told me. However, he did also admit that his entrepreneurial activities were negatively affecting him as a student. “Any achievement far from getting high marks is not respected much,” he said. “Even more, most of them don’t understand what I am doing or what entrepreneurship is.”
Akram Mohamed, a teen not yet 16, says that in being an IGCSE student (an international qualification for 14-16 year olds from Cambridge), he is finding it OK when it comes to balancing work and school life. A cofounder at Awraq he is also the head of an event planning committee for the startup Book Soutor. With others he is working to create a creative community for readers in Egypt.
Growing with the Egyptian ecosystem
Yehia Nabil (left) is 16 and is a cofounder of an incubator called Junior Labs. “We teach school students about code, design and entrepreneurship,” he said. “We invest in students with cutting-edge ideas and help them to build awesome startups.” The determined teenager also works with Microsoft and Google on their academic programs for schools in Egypt.
Attending sessions on fundraising and team building at Cairo Mix N’ Mentor he told me that it was great to be spoken to as a young man. “Meeting new entrepreneurs from many countries, listening to entrepreneurs talking about their startups,” he said. “It would be useful some way in the future […] attending MnM will make the difference to Junior Labs.”
“There are big problems that affect our progress,” said Gamal. He listed the internet, failure to maintain copyrights, online payment problems and the difficulty of legalizing products, as amongst the hindrances affecting the growing entrepreneurship scene in Egypt.
However, Gamal is also positive. His team is relaunching its product with a crowdfunding campaign next month. “The advantages lie in the entrepreneurship ecosystem itself. Being a young entrepreneur helped me in making many connections and getting support from many entrepreneurs.”
Gamal finished our conversation by saying that there are no specific rules or strategies that help others like him. As Mohssen put it: “Maybe it’ll be all societies that will prevent you from doing stuff that you love, so don’t wait on anyone to motivate you. You must be your own motivation.”
Any other teenage entrepreneurs out there? I'd love to hear from you. Just get in touch in the comments section below.