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Starting up in the Middle East

An international competition is aiming to help solve the Middle East and North Africa region’s economic problems through the establishment of start-ups

Ahmed Kotb , Friday 28 Jun 2019
Middle East

“There has been a significant increase in the number of start-ups in Egypt over the last three years,” said Walid Khalil, a managing partner of Endure Capital, an investment firm that supports entrepreneurs.

The government, he added at a press conference in Cairo on Monday, has put forward ambitious initiatives to motivate young people and empower them to become entrepreneurs, building on their education, skills and talents.

Khalil’s comments came at a press conference during which Haider Ghaleb, Singularity University (SU) ambassador in Egypt, also announced the launch of an international competition to found new startups in the region in a bid to assuage its economic problems.

“Egypt is a leader of startups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and has the potential to become a world leader,” Ghaleb said.

Start-ups can transform the economies of many countries for the better, as has happened in China, Khalil added, saying that there were multiple ideas to help make a positive impact both economically and socially, even outside the borders of the country.

“Foreign investors are interested in startups in the MENA region,” Khalil pointed out. They can attract foreign direct investment, increase job opportunities, and add to Gross National Product (GNP), he said, including by building a customer base outside Egypt.

However, there is still a need for better regulation to increase the number of newly established businesses and allow them to grow faster and with more benefit for the economy, he added.

Ghaleb said that Egypt had everything it needed in terms of inventive young minds. What was needed was guidance and mentoring to put them on the right track to starting their own businesses.

He announced that Egypt had been chosen to be the hub of the first-ever Global Impact Challenge competition to pick start-ups with innovative solutions to issues facing the MENA region and having positive impacts on both the economic and social levels.

Singularity University, the organiser of the competition, is a US-based company offering educational programmes and a business incubator.

The competition has already attracted some 220 participants from countries in the region, including Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Egypt, with the latter being at the top of the list with 55 per cent of the participants.

This reflected the rapid growth in start-ups in Egypt, which represented 22 per cent of the total start-up investment in the MENA region, Ghaleb said.

He said the competition was based on presenting new ideas applicable in the fields of healthcare, energy, education, agriculture, transportation and fintech.

Using technology to solve problems in these fields could contribute to generating billions of dollars in profits, he said.

“This can be done in the field of agriculture in Egypt, for example. We need new technologies to be incorporated in the field,” he added.

Ghaleb said that 20 applicants would be chosen to participate in a “boot camp” in the Red Sea resort city of Al-Gouna from 19 to 26 July. With the assistance of SU professors and industry specialists, the camp would integrate tailor-made programmes for start-ups and future-oriented thinkers to enable those present to transform their ideas into tangible impacts on people’s lives, he added.

The participants would prepare for a final event in which they would present their ideas to a panel of judges from SU and professionals across various fields.

At the closing ceremony, the winner would receive a scholarship of $60,000 to join SU’s global start-up programme.

Ghaleb stressed that the winner would need to return to his or her original country after the scholarship ended to establish a business and benefit the local economy.

According to Angel a US Website for start-ups created in 2010, the number of startups in Egypt has reached 664, with an average value of $2.6 million each.

Investment in MENA region startups amounted to $893 million in 2018, a 31 per cent increase from $679 million in 2017, according to Magnitt, an online platform connecting investors, entrepreneurs and businesses.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 June, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Starting up in the Middle East

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