As Cairo University launches the powerful hub, FEPS Business Incubator, we've asked 4 young entrepreneurs to look back at their journeys and reveal their most awkward gaffs as they paved the way for their startups to thrive.
As they launch the groundbreaking FEPS Business Incubator - the first startup incubator to be launched by an Egyptian public university - the knowledge powerhouse gathered four Cairene entrepreneurs to look back on their journeys and reflect on funny anecdotes and rookie mistakes they wish they hadn’t made. Leveraging on the power of storytelling to encourage youth, whether they are graduates or students, to join acceleration programmes to turn their ideas into a business model.
“I didn’t even know the meaning of the word entrepreneur; I used to se it everywhere and wondered what it was,” begins the founder of the Egyptian 'Uber for home cleaners,' Gehad Abdullah. Unlike other entrepreneurial ecosystems, where the startup metrics and jargon are engrained in educational curricula, in Egypt and the Middle East, most entrepreneurs learn as they build their ventures. “When approaching investors at first, they’d ask me ‘what’s your barrier to entry’, or ‘what’s your competitive edge’ all these big words and I had no idea what they meant,” she says. Having launched in 2015, Abdullah’s startup Mermaid is reaping huge success, entering the AUC’s V-Lab incubation programme and later on TIEC, and landing massive awards, from the first place at the Orange Startup Cup, and was selected for RiseUp Explore’s trip to Berlin’s Open Tech conference, to an Enpact fellowship.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made is that I did not start when I wanted to start. I wanted to start since 2009; I was exposed to people and ideas online as well as in America and I noticed the huge gap in the market between the household and cleaners - but I started six years later in 2015,” admits the driven hustler, who continued to break boundaries as she partnered with massive startup conferences, from Riseup Summit, to Techne Summit in Alexandria.
“My biggest mistake was definitely not speaking out,” says Shrouk Alaa El Din, the founder of Career 180, an educational platform that has reached over 7,000 students across different governorates in Egypt. “I was reluctant to tell my idea to an investor, because I was afraid they would steal my idea,” says the entrepreneur, who is a graduate of the Cairo University’s FEPS. Today, her platform not only has given online and offline career coaching sessions for graduates in 25 different sessions, but the entrepreneur also won Injaz Women's entrepreneurship competition and will soon be representing Egypt at the Injaz regional competition across 14 countries. But their biggest milestone is yet to come, says the Alaa El Din, as she anticipates a partnership with Cairo-based startup Career Advancers to create the Egypt Career Summit, an event they envision to be the largest educational gathering in the country.
“My first startup obviously failed,” says Seif El Bendary, whose first ventures were, Barsima, an agricultural social startup and sports management startup, The League. “But this downturn was a learning chance for me. I studied politics, I knew nothing about business. I messed up, I learned; it all comes with experience,” says the entrepreneur, who is a graduate of Cairo University’s FEPS and a key player in the Egyptian startup ecosystem, acting as an Entrepreneurship Programme manager at Mercy Corps, to then move on to Injaz Egypt and the massive RiseUp Summit, to land his current position leading the Marketing and Community management efforts at Cairo-based co-working space Urban Station.
“I don’t really regret anything, but I can say that my biggest mistake is that at some point, I’m seeing investments move from here to there, and there I am saying “I’m not ready for an investment right now,” he recalls. “There was another moment, where I was going to partner up with another startup in the agricultural field, and I wasn’t really pushing to move forward. Now, they landed an investment for millions.”
“I was under the assumption that when I was pitching my idea to farmers, they’ll like it and totally be on board with it. But I found that I have to sit down and explain everything to them first, and it took time. If I had asked someone in the field, it would have happened much quicker,” he comments.
“To me, the hardest part at the beginning was collaborating. Nobody understood was doing a partnership meant; nobody wanted to partner,” says Rania Ayman, founder of Entreprenelle, an Arabic-language platform democratising entrepreneurship across Egypt, from Cairo, to smaller cities like Mansoura. Having led her first event in the Egyptian capital, where 350 women received training and workshops on entrepreneurship, the female leader is now leading the launch of the “Ask” series, a flurry of events organised around themes, from fashion, to tech, to e-commerce, creative industries.
“After two years of testing and validating ways of raising entrepreneurship awareness between women, especially in remote governorates, we found out that women are leaning more towards asking questions and engaging personally with the trainer,” she explains, as she anticipates the launch of her second large event, She Can Alexandria in November, followed by She Can Mansoura in December.
“I also had a startup that failed, but that’s what pushed me further to study failure and create the Startup School,” says FEPS Business Incubator’s own Incubation Programme Manager, Ibrahim Mahgoub, as he explains the purpose of their newly launched hybrid for incubation and acceleration services for startups.
“The idea came from the incubator's CEO Dr. Heba Medhat Zaki, as well as Dr. Hala Said, who used to be the Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University and is now Minister of Planning, ” he explains. Striving to help Cairo University students and graduates kick off their projects “on the right foot” and prepare them for a competitive, rapidly changing startup sphere, the incubator accepts applications from startups which have a prototype.
“They don’t need to be a registered business, but they do need to have to functional prototype, as all our deliverables are experiments they make with actual users to gather feedback. Even if it’s a service, they need to prototype the service and test it before they can take it to a commercial stage, explains Mahgoub. From manufacturing, to tourism, energy, and agribusiness, the incubator will work across a range of economic sectors, geared towards boosting the national economy. The five startups entering the incubator will receive a 4-month programme with 50,000 LE each in funding - with no equity - access to working space, mentorship.
Applications are open until November 22nd. For more information and to apply, visit their website.