Upper Egypt entrepreneurs demand more attention

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Luxor entrepreneurs hope they will be the lucky recipients of rising international, if not national, attention after the UN launched two startup support programs in March.

United Nation Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) project coordinator Mohamed Soliman told Wamda that Imkan Go would work with people with an idea to kick off their projects, while Imkan Grow would help startups to grow.

“The program offers technical training, marketing, financial and legal advice, networking and investment facilitation to 20 early-stage startups and seven micro and small enterprises,” Soliman said. “We did business mapping and we found out that the agro-industry, renewable energy and waste management sectors have chances to grow in Luxor.”

Boom-time for Upper Egypt?

Upper Egypt has always received less of a focus than the rest of the country from both private and public institutions, but now its growing number of entrepreneurs in southern Egypt are desperate for more attention.

“I had to move to Cairo to get the network I need to kick off my startup project,” Amr Abo Elhassan, cofounder of Creetova, told Wamda.

Abo Elhassan used to live in the Minya governorate, which is around four hours south of Cairo, but he moved to build the network the business needs while his cofounders remain in his hometown.

Creetova, a smart lighting solution that allows users to connect and control their lights through a mobile phone-based application, is a pure tech company. It’s a new sector for Minya whose main industries are real estate contracting and solar energy projects.

“Contracting is the major business there, [but] other startup projects are working in design, software and the coworking space sectors,” Abo Elhassan said.

Similarly, Sun City Energy founder Ahmed Abbas told Wamda he left his hometown Sohag to market his startup and build a network. Sun City provides solar panel systems for farm irrigation, replacing diesel motors.

“Upper Egypt governorates in general have limited entrepreneurial activities and training programs,” Abbas said, adding that his business and team were still headquartered in Sohag.

Abbas said Upper Egypt was affected by the centralization of all events and markets in Cairo. “All the funding rounds, awards and mentoring circles happen in the capital.”

Challenges crippling Upper Egypt projects

“We always go back to our governorates in Upper Egypt to convey what we learnt through our work experience in Cairo,” said Mahmoud El Heeny, an operations intern at Rise Up, who used to live in Minya but moved to the capital for work experience.

El Heeny told Wamda that the entrepreneurial communities in Minya, Beni Suef and Assiut were better than other governorates in that region.

“Going more south, entrepreneurs in Sohag and Qena are facing challenges because the main cities in these governorates are more like villages,” El Heeny said.

Luxor-based entrepreneur Alaa Mohamed Ibrahim, who launched a project to produce feed for animals from sugar cane waste, said that he was being pulled back by red tape. “I can’t even get a business license to operate in Luxor,” he said.

Ibrahim is self-funding his project, which sold 120 tonnes of animal feed in 2016 but does not yet have a name due to business licensing issues.

“I can’t say Upper Egypt governorates are ignored because there is a big interest from the businesses and civil society organizations, but it could be better,” Ibrahim said.

Burning down barriers

The UNIDO project managers broadly agree with El Heeny’s description of where the opportunities lie in Upper Egypt.

Soliman said Luxor locals had suffered from the lack of tourism for over six years. UNIDO has also launched the same project in Qena, with a plan to include Sohag in the coming months.

“We felt youth there need new job opportunities and income, and here came our choice.”

In November UNIDO also launched a training program for technical secondary school teachers in Upper Egypt on entrepreneurship education, with 26 schools.

Feature image via Wikimedia.

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