Karmah El Naggar is the special projects lead at Falak Startups, an accelerator based in Egypt
In February 2020, we were quickly approaching our Cycle 3 Demo Day. At the same time, the Covid-19 pandemic was expanding its reach and quietly infecting our region. Unbeknown to us that all circumstances would change, we had planned a hybrid demo day event allowing stakeholders to form a deeper understanding of our Cycle 3 cohort. We had developed a strong concept to extend the Demo Day experience from a pitch exclusive experience to that closer to an institutional investor roadshow. Then came our work from home order. We were no longer going to be a physical accelerator. This was the time for us to be united as a team, move with decisiveness and agility, and capitalise on our portfolio of tech innovations.
As we continued operating remotely, we had to redirect our strategy and vision for our fund. We started asking ourselves, how can we leverage this time to our benefit and that of our ecosystem? Leveraging the new age of work from home, we started hosting interactive panels with stakeholders near and far. From panel discussions with legal experts from the most popular offshoring destinations to panels with investors from all over the world - we were able to use the digital transformation brought about by Covid-19 to draw the entrepreneurship ecosystem closer. As the cycle was coming to a close, we had to create a digital experience that encompassed the same dynamic energy of a live in-person event without losing the focus of engaging investors for follow-on investments.
The Virtual Stage was conceived to allow investors to access important information on our Cycle 3 cohort. With pre-recorded pitches, teasers, and comprehensive information on the team and the business, we wanted to frame the startups with the global ecosystem in mind. Currently, we are expanding the Virtual Stage to include our entire portfolio. Additional filters for industry, impact, and sector tags, allow investors to have a macro view of the startups. Our core vision is to close the gap between investors and startups.
Knowing that traditionally the average startup investment is made within a 30km distance, Covid-19 has blessed Egyptian startups with the unique ability to connect with smart global investors. With more and more funding becoming available to Egyptian startups, we must be prepared to attract, engage and deal-make with international investors. With Egypt smashing records again in H1 2021 with $124 million deployed capital to startups, having a digital presence that can concisely and effectively communicate the opportunity, model, and team of a startup is core to attracting foreign investment. All material needs to be in both English and Arabic as well as having a digital meet the team feature (whether through LinkedIn profiles or pre-recorded interviews with members). It is our responsibility as ecosystem enablers to facilitate matchmaking between smart capital and progressive opportunities. With this continuing age of tech adoption, our ecosystem can and should grow through all digital channels. As the going gets tough, the tough gets going - and we believe the Egyptian startup community is the toughest in the region.
As the world opens up and travel becomes more accessible, many believe that roadshows and cross-continental meetings will return. But we have learned that the new normal of digital meetings, pitching via Zoom and even investing remotely, can be a resource saver. We invest in technology due to the impact it creates for all users - including but not limited to investors and founders. Adjustments can be painstaking and inconsistent, with network drops and awkward introductions, but they allow for us to move efficiently towards the common goal of growing. While the Virtual Stage is an amazing introduction tool, it is a large investment from the startups’ end. They have to learn how to pitch within a new medium, consistently update their decks and information, and package the team for an international investor. In turn, they miss out on the ability to answer questions directly during their first introduction to an investor. We aren’t looking to erase the face-to-face experience but to enhance it. The Virtual Stage is the first step of a long road to investment.