The sixth edition of the RiseUp Summit in Cairo closed with several announcements, engaging discussions and the inevitable bustle of the Middle East’s most populous city.
Sprawled across the Greek Campus and the nearby American University of Cairo (AUC) campus, 5000 people flocked to hear influential speakers and participate in workshops and learn from insights provided by speakers like Sawari Ventures founder Ahmed Alfi and Wamda’s Fadi Ghandour.
The queues outside every entrance of the Greek Campus on the first day demonstrated the country’s desire for change, to identify a career path away from the bloated public sector.
According to the organisers, attendees came from 41 countries with 260 speakers and 200 investors.
The crowds this year had matured from the typical university graduate looking for inspiration to people with corporate experience, older in age and with more startups on show.
There was also a greater focus on the wider Arab region, with representation from Startup Bahrain, and Palestine’s Re:Coded among others and with three stages running talks and workshops in parallel, several themes emerged over the three days.
Most visible was the stiff competition between the transport technology players, both local and global. Uber and Swvl’s branded buses and Halan’s motorcycles lined the main street in what seemed a literal attempt to dominate the market.
There are almost 25 million people living in the Greater Cairo area and with limited public transport, the city has become a global test-bed for micro-transportation services. Both Careem and Uber chose Cairo as the first city to rollout their bus services, to provide on-demand transportation for a population that cannot afford their single ride-hailing service.
“The lesson is to walk in people’s shoes. Understand your customer. We are trying to make your lives better, not just easier,” said Hadeer Shalaby, director of Careem Bus. “Bus is what we need. Cairo is screaming every day.’
Outside of the GCC, the vast majority of the population remain unbanked, fuelling the need for financial inclusion via technology. The summit this year became a launchpad for two new fintech accelerators, one from Jordan’s Ahli bank and the other from global accelerator Startupbootcamp.
In a panel discussion on fintech, the shift in the relationship between banks and fintech companies was noted.
“Banks are starting to change a little bit. For banks to expand, they will not go in the conventional way. The only way for them is to capitalise on fintech disruptions happening right now,” said Hany Soliman, innovation lab manager at Commercial International Bank (CIB) Egypt. “Banks now want to deal with startups. The challenge is the legal systems.”
Mohamed Okasha, co-founder and managing director at Fawry, an Egypt-based electronic payment network announced the company is investing in startups with plans to integrate them into Fawry’s ecosystem.
“You don’t have to look for banks, you have to look for a solution,” he said. “Cash will not disappear and we have to realise that. Less cash is an objective.”
Judging by the number of events and conferences dedicated to entrepreneurship, there is a sense that startups will save Egypt from its fundamental economic problems. Entrepreneurs are being encouraged to forge their own paths, address infrastructure issues and stimulate the economy. While startups can certainly contribute to these issues, they require support and help from the government beyond lip service.
Several government figures took to the stage including Ghada Wali, minister of social solidarity who signed a protocol for collaboration with Flat6Labs and Rania AlMashat, minister of tourism to encourage and engage with entrepreneurs.
RiseUp also launched its Startup Manifesto, an action plan for entrepreneurship in Egypt, bringing together the ecosystem’s main stakeholders.
According to a survey in the manifesto, the main challenge facing startups according to 38 per cent of the respondents was a lack of talent, followed by lack of data at 14 per cent and funding and regulatory environment both at 12 per cent.
The need for greater collaboration between the main stakeholders was highlighted throughout. Corporates made their presence known as PepsiCo announced the launch of a hackathon with the ministry of solidarity, while IBM launched a cloud service dedicated to startups.
Another recurring theme throughout most of the talks was embracing failure and staying grounded.
In one of the opening talks, Kamran Elahian, founder and chairman of Global Innovation Catalyst said: “I failed, I failed and I failed. What people don’t know is that three of my companies failed, twice I was fired.”
He added, “After 95 meetings, two investors agreed to give me $1.8 million. It wasn’t because I was special, it was because I knew about the magic of failure. Every champion fails and doesn’t give up and learns to improve abilities to move towards the goal of winning.”
Accepting failure as a lesson to learn was the advice of many other speakers.
“It inspired me more than anything. I learned exactly what not to do because I failed miserably. It has helped made me a better investor and advise startups to do better,” said Hassan Haider, a partner at 500 Startups who started out with an online DVD rental business. “Failure in the region is sometimes a stigma but I think it is okay as long as you take the lessons away from that failure.”
For the most part RiseUp is a platform to both encourage and advise startups in the region on raising finance, developing new skills and perhaps most importantly, personal growth.
“Most of the time, it is not about the business. It is about the entrepreneur,” said Youssef Hammad, managing partner at BECO Capital.
Hiring and nurturing the right talent is one of main factors that contribute to the success of a company as several talks focused on the personal qualities and capabilities of entrepreneurs.
“People is the number one aspect that defines a great company. Fundraising is almost a full-time job. This is why it is super important to have a good, trustworthy team keeping the business running,” said Ameer Sherif, chief executive officer and co-founder of Wuzzuf an online jobs portal.
“Venture capitals might not tell you that but they actually care about your soft skills,” said Patrick Riley, chief executive officer of the Global Accelerator Network. He advised entrepreneurs to turn inward and focus on themselves and realise that their values drive their emotions and consequently their behaviour.
RiseUp founder Abdelhameed Sharara closed this year’s summit with the announcement that his company had raised seed funding in a round led by Endure Capital with participation from Enara Capital, 500 Startups and Kamelizer. The round remains open with plans to close by January next year.
With support from some of the biggest players in the ecosystem, next year’s RiseUp will likely impress and inspire once more.