RiseUp is one of the region's biggest startup events, attracting thousands of participants, giving visitors a glimpse into the Egyptian ecosystem. In light of the pandemic, the organisers took the event online and hosted their first virtual event under the banner of "Got Grit?".
Hosted this weekend, RiseUp at Home attracted over 2000 attendees representing 30 nationalities, including 269 startups, 47 investors, and 105 speakers and topics covered focused on Covid-19, exploring ways in which startups can develop entrepreneurial resilience during turbulent times and how to prepare for similar threats in the future.
“In our virtual Startup Expo, exhibitors customised their own virtual booths and interacted directly with potential clients and investors, while Startup Office Hours allowed participants to book consultancy sessions with industry experts, and Networking Circles gave people the opportunity to meet and interact, sharing ideas and resources on how to overcome current business challenges,” said Abdelhameed Sharara, the founder and CEO of RiseUp.
The virtual event featured four tracks; smart capital, emerging tech, creative culture, tech for humans and people.
“At the time of crisis, disruption brings advancement in the same manner that challenge is being produced,” said Sherif Kamel, Dean of the school of business at the American University in Cairo (AUC). “For the next generation, innovative entrepreneurs are focused on tech-enabled and tech-driven startups that can provide future-proof solutions to help sectors such as transportation, fintechs, healthcare, logistics, education, retailing, agriculture, manufacturing during challenging times. The sky is their limit."
As lockdown forced more business online across the region, it increased the need for online payment options. Kamel further stressed the need to continuously nurture a thriving financial technology (fintech) ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa region (Mena), highlighting the important role that fintech enablers can play in promoting and ultimately achieving financial inclusion.
“In a region like ours with massive informal economies, there’s an opportune moment for financial inclusion. Taking Egypt as an Egypt, where only 14 per cent only of the adult population is banking money," he said.
Impact of Covid-19
During the summit, participant startups told their own stories of resilience during these challenging times.
For Taker, a Saudi Arabia-based software as a service (SaaS) startup that provides an online ordering management platform for restaurants, the pandemic has presented an unprecedented opportunity for food delivery aggregators to obtain a pivotal position in the F&B sector in Saudi Arabia.
“During the lockdown period in Saudi Arabia, we were approached by restaurants looking for professional ordering channels like ours. We saw almost a 500 per cent increase in the number of orders placed through our platform overnight, which was not really expected. Now after the curfew was lifted, the number of orders placed online still is much higher than it was before the pandemic,” said Abdullah ElSaadi, CEO of Taker.
Omar Gabr, founder of Instabug said that the pandemic positively impacted his company, which provides bug and crash reports. “People staying home has increased traffic on our app to almost 80 per cent since March, through applications like Houseparty, Instacart, and 9Gag.” Gabr added, “We recently raised $5 million in May from Accel and Y Combinator."
Another sector that has seen growth is the educational technology (edtech) sector. As a result, edtech startups like Amman-based Abwab and Dubai-based el-mentor claimed to have logged unprecedented uptick in user activity.
“Within the past 6 months, the number of courses attended on our platform doubled, where 42,000 professional development online courses were attended by users, and 500,000 online courses were attended by secondary school students, where they were able to study and prepare for their final exams from the comfort of their home. This was in collaboration with the Ministry of Education in Egypt and sponsored by the National Bank of Egypt,” said Hatem Sallam, partner and chief growth officer at almentor.net.
Meanwhile Mahmoud Ibraim, CEO of Cairo-based furniture marketplace Homzmart, announced that from January to July 2020, and witnessed a 30x increase in monthly average number of users, and 13x growth in sales.
On the other hand many startups in Egypt and the wider region have not had as much luck. Suffering a loss of business, difficulties in fundraising and economies woes that will likely shrink the market further. Ibrahim Manaa, managing director of global markets at Dubai-based Careem said that the company decided to double down on delivery space and e-payment services through its recently-launched super app to make up the ground lost in the ride-hailing space, which had seen an 80 per cent decline in revenues during lockdown. “We were working on launching the super app prior to Covid-19. What happened was that Covid-19 actually accelerated the process of developing and launching it.”
RiseUp at Home proved that oline conferences can be successful, allowing attendees to easily juggle between different sessions, panels and workshops at the same time. But one of RiseUp's main attractions is the atmosphere it manages to create in person. Seeing thousands of people all in one place is one of the biggest visual indicators of the state of entrepreneurship in Egypt.