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Tennra: the Startup Changing the Crowdfunding Game in the Middle East

Taking the successful crowdfunding model that has found loyalty and interest in the MENA region, the team behind Tennra take online innovation to the next level, gamifying the new investment model and putting the fun in funding...

A global catalyst for entrepreneurship and a major resource for young businesses and artists, crowdfunding has become a solid trend in the Middle East, where the Arab Spring uprisings paved the way for an upsurge of young entrepreneurs, thirsty for change.     

The concept is simple: where once stood an omnipotent donor or investor, there is now a crowd pitching in resources to make a project happen while getting a small reward in return. As global platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo sparked the trend and regional initiatives Zoomaal, Eureeca, and Yomken followed, a team of Egyptian entrepreneurs have now stepped up the game and created the Middle East’s first gamified crowdfunding site: Tennra.    

“The idea actually came up while I was doing the military service. I was amazed by the entrepreneurship movement and I would go on Kickstarter to see their ideas, and soon I realised that I had fallen in love with the concept,” says co-founder Mohamed Ezz. It was 2012 and Egypt was witnessing an upsurge of entrepreneurs whose main challenge was to find a source of funding. “So I thought: let’s do this,” he says.

Ezz, an engineer in mechatronics, participated in the Pioneers of Egypt program for entrepreneurs, where he met co-founder Emily Renny. “We wanted to create a Kickstarter designed for Egypt, particularly because people don’t have the same internet concept here. People are not used to paying online in the Middle East, so we needed to increase the pool of funding for entrepreneurs, by not depending only on the crowd. Here’s when we thought of bringing corporates in, through branded games. It’s a win-win situation for them,” Azz says.

 Co-founders Mohamed Azz and Emily Renny

A winner of the Injaz startup competition 2015, Tennra has proved gamification and the Middle East are a perfect match: in its brief existence, four out of five projects succeeded in raising their funding target. As crowdfunding reached a peak in 2014, the team visualises that adding the corporate element will serve to boost crowdfunding, not only adding credibility but also giving supporters a chance to back a project without paying cash money.

“Most crowdfunding sites focus on the projects but leave the crowds aside, and they are actually the main catalysts of change,” says his partner Renny. “We need to tell people that they are the heroes making these projects happen”.

The key concept: gamification

An increasingly powerful way of engaging audience on social media, gamification came as an opportunity for the team of entrepreneurs, as they offer not only a pool of resources for a project but sources an audience for a corporatation. “Gamification basically means taking elements from games to get people motivated,” says Renny. “So what we offer the corporates is not time spent playing the game, but a certain target number of players.”

The company offers branded games, through which players are able to “live the brand’s experience” and what they do. “For a company making cupcakes, for example, the game might be spinning your finger around on a circle, which would be the butter for the cakes; or for a fashion label, we could have different outfits and you have to match them together as fast as possible,” Renny explains. “These are simple casual games that don’t need instructions, but allow you to live the company’s brand without being ‘in your face’ marketing.”

“It’s a win-win situation,” adds Ezz. “The company gets exposure in an indirect way, and people who are playing are having fun while supporting a project they care about.”

Corporates and the Ice-Bucket Challenge

According to Ezz, corporate responses have been “amazing” as companies are eager for the idea to be incorporated in their businesses, not only for their marketing but also their CSR programmes. “It capitalises on everything that is a big trend at the moment,” he says. “There is a big tendency in the Middle East to support entrepreneurship as a way to curve unemployment, creating alternative sources of income. This also relates to the trend of engaging audiences instead of just sticking an ad on a billboard or TV screen,” Renny adds. 

As they confess, the team was inspired by the Ice-Bucket Challenge, a globally viral campaign to raise awareness for ALS that provided marketeers with an insightful lesson on getting the public to know a brand without advertising, engaging more and more people as it goes viral.

“Crowdfunding is based on the idea of lots of people gathering behind a particular project because they want to see it come to life, and that whole movement and spirit is something every corporate wants to latch on to,” says Renny. 

With several more projects in the pipeline, Tennra assesses the credibility and quality of the projects before hosting them on the platform, and obtains 7% of successfully funded projects as part of their revenue stream. “We care about the quality, we want to earn the respect of the crowd, so we choose projects that are progressing and are innovative,” Ezz points out. 

A startup itself, Tennra’s experience crystallises the difficulties new businesses come across in the Middle East, from bureaucracy to lack of funding. “Finding the team is very challenging. If you have a great team and a great idea, you can create a successful startup,” Ezz says. "Synergy is also very important, and I would say we are very lucky to have these five amazing people, all of us with a different background.”

Given the difficulties of registering a company in Egypt and across the Middle East, the entrepreneurs decided to register in the UK, where it only costs 15 British Pounds and it is carried out within 15 minutes.

Aware of the difficulties and the lack of training available in Egypt, Tennra goes beyond crowdfunding and supports entrepreneurs throughout the process of crafting the pitches, coaching them to present their project effectively. “We want to harness the full potential of our platform, and we need to educate them on the potential of the platform,” says Renny.

For artists, entrepreneurs and changemakers eager to pitch their ideas, the platform offers comparative advantages, particularly in the Middle East, where entrepreneurship is on a nascent stage and online payments still lack credibility. “It is a localised project, so we are offering people the chance to pay cash through our system and pay through local entities we partnered with, mainly co-working spaces,” Ezz explains, adding that they will soon include other features to their gamification concept. “We were enlightened with gamification, and we are not stopping here: we are thinking of adding a leader board where people can compete with each other.”

Check out Tennra here: www.tennra.com 


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