Egypt’s business heroes

Doaa A. Moneim, Tuesday 5 Sep 2023

Africa’s Business Heroes Competition saw strong participation by Egyptian entrepreneurs this year, reports Doaa A. Moneim from Rwanda

The semi-finals ofAfrica s Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition
The semi-finals ofAfrica s Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition

 

Five Egyptian entrepreneurs made it to the top 20 finalists in the fifth edition of the Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) Prize Competition held over two days in the Rwandan capital of Kigali this week.

One Egyptian entrepreneur, Ayman Bazaraa, CEO and co-founder of Egypt-based education and training services provider Sprints, has been selected in the top 10. He will compete in the grand finale to be held in Kigali next November. 

The top 10 list also includes businesses from different African countries covering a wide range of sectors including healthcare, industry, retail, education and training, fintech, e-commerce, and sustainable energy. 

The finalists are selected after demonstrating that they are visionary entrepreneurs who embody innovation, resilience, growth potential, and impact on Africa. ABH aims at honouring entrepreneurs who are not only building successful businesses, but are also running mission-driven organisations that generate growth for local communities. 

Egyptian entrepreneurs have managed to keep their position among the top 10 winners since the launch of the first edition of the competition in 2019.

In the 2023 edition, five Egyptian entrepreneurs were praised for the innovative solutions they provide not just to the Egyptian market but also to the African and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) markets as well. 

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly, Bazaraa said that a significant share of Africa’s population is made up of young people, representing around 50 per cent of the population, and this represents great potential that Egyptian entrepreneurs must take into consideration for growth and for the benefit of the whole continent.

Sprints is an end-to-end platform dedicated to bridging the tech talent gap, starting from assessing talent, delivering a customised learning journey, and pairing talent with top-paying jobs, with the aim of supporting its alumnis’ career growth. 

The African market can act as a key stimulator for global growth if its capabilities are seized, Bazaraa said. “Mastering tech-related skills is a must, and the huge African population of young people should get access to them to be able to find jobs at a time when artificial intelligence (AI) is threatening traditional jobs,” he added.

Sprints has focused on the Egyptian market with operations enabling it to conduct pilot studies for expansion plans in other African markets including Nigeria and Kenya. Its programmes are available online, which allows young people in other markets to access them.

Another Egyptian contestant, Mohamed Ali, CEO and founder of I Lock, works mainly in electrical safety with a range of products including electrical accessories, multi sockets and cables. 

I Lock, known previously as Power Lock, protects individuals and machines from electrical hazards and creates innovative solutions. Through licensing its patented electrical safety technology, the company is also expanding its global presence and seeking to revolutionise electrical safety.

“The impacts of Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine are the harshest entrepreneurs have had to face over recent years. Yet, we have managed to control the Covid-19 pandemic by adopting a working-from-home model,” Ali told the Weekly.

Ali said that soaring inflation, the weakness of the local currency against the US dollar, and the shortage of dollars in the Egyptian market had been hard for his business.

However, he expects the shortage of dollar liquidity to reflect positively on the Egyptian market as it could push Egyptian entrepreneurs to tap into local products that would contribute to mitigating the pressure.

“It could take a long time until the know-how mechanisms are comprehended and learned, but it will be a significant opportunity for entrepreneurs in various sectors to establish partnerships with big manufacturers to provide them with the components or products they need,” Ali said.

Mohamed Alaa, CEO and co-founder of healthcare services provider Shezlong, also inspired the ABH jury by his innovative business skills. 

Shezlong is an online mental-wellness platform providing comprehensive and affordable healthcare services. The company’s systems and secure data encryption safeguard the quality and reliability of its services. 

“We believe that through innovation mental wellness can be a daily routine for everyone in the region. It means changing people’s lives and saving their lives,” Alaa told the Weekly.

He added that the Shezlong team is working hard on geographical expansion as well as on leveraging advanced technologies, chiefly AI and machine learning, to provide a self-help app for clients.

Another contestant was Omar Hagrass, CEO and co-founder of Trella, a platform that connects shippers to carriers via a digital interface. 

Trella matches specific carriers’ capabilities with shippers’ requirements to provide market-leading reliability and availability at a fraction of the market price. It also allows shippers to track shipments in real time and report key insights on transportation trends and performance. 

“Our business is focusing mainly on transferring commodities 10 per cent more cheaply, and we plan to raise this percentage going forward,” Hagrass said.

 He said there were significant challenges facing the entrepreneurship landscape, mainly the lack of financing, the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, and high interest rates. 

“The soaring inflation, the higher interest rates, and the weakness of the local currency, and the highly active hard currency parallel market, represent serious challenges to entrepreneurs that could erode their businesses growth and expansion plans,” Hagrass said. 

A fifth contestant, Mustafa Hashisha, CEO and co-founder of education and training solutions provider iSpark, said that the Egyptian market was full of potential that entrepreneurs could tap into to start their businesses. 

iSpark provides mainly young people and women with career guidance and developmental opportunities with a focus on career coaching, employment skills, and entrepreneurship education. 

“With reports revealing that an increased number of young people are either unable to make a career decision or want to change career paths, iSpark aims to solve this problem through its human-centred approach to design innovative learning solutions,” Hashisha explained.

He added that his business engages with more than 50 schools, over 30 universities, and over 10 development organisations.

The ABH Prize Competition is a philanthropic initiative launched in 2019 by the Jack Ma Foundation and the Alibaba Foundation. 

The Jack Ma Foundation was created by Alibaba founder Jack Ma to focus on entrepreneurship, education, women’s leadership, medical support, and environmental protection. The Alibaba Foundation, established by the Alibaba Group and its subsidiaries in 2011, aims to promote efficiency in philanthropy using digital technologies.

The competition aims to support and inspire the next generation of African entrepreneurs across all sectors for a more sustainable and inclusive economy in Africa, especially amid the challenges facing the continent.

Over a 10-year period, ABH will recognise 100 African entrepreneurs and commit to allocating grant funding, training programmes, and support for the development of their businesses.


* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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