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Young entrepreneurs get a boost
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 21 - 10 - 2014

It's a sunny day on the Greek Campus of the American University in Cairo. Colourful information booths and the sound of excited, expectant voices testify to the beginning of this year's RiseUp Summit.
The annual event gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to connect with business. Here, in a relaxed atmosphere, they may find an investor or benefit from the experience of a veteran businessperson on how to deal with a range of projects and start-ups.
The three-day event hosted both start-ups and well-known businessmen, with workshops, discussion panels and keynote speeches allowing knowledge and experience to be shared by both sides.
Abdel-hamed Sharara is the founder of the RiseUp Summit. At the event, he could be seen visiting the many booths, making sure that everything was going as planned.
He has long had a desire to change Egypt's economy by reviving the private sector and “filling the gap between investors, the government, the media and the universities and start-up businesses.” The aim of the summit, Sharara explained, was to act as a platform to bring these stakeholders together.
Sharara is a graduate of the Faculty of Law at Ain Shams University in Cairo.He used the experience he gained from an entrepreneurship programme run by Injaz Egypt, an organisation that helps prepare students to enter the workforce, to fulfil his dreams and set up Egypt's first-ever entrepreneurship summit.
In 2009, Injaz Egypt awarded Sharara with the Best Young Entrepreneur Prize. He was later named as the organisation's programme officer. He left the job when he started his preparations for the first RiseUp Summit.
This year the event included around 2,000 startup projects and 150 investors, drawing many high-profile public figures.
Dave McClure is a funding partner at the organisation 500 Startups. “Writing pay-cheques is what I'm mainly here for,” he said. “I can't find a better way to help entrepreneurs.”
According to McClure, entrepreneurial projects such as those supported at the event can help Egyptian society as it emerges from a period of political instability.
It is important for the country's young entrepreneurs to take chances and for investors to take risks in putting money in projects. Some may succeed, but there will also be failures. McClure said that any new project faces obstacles, and part of his role is to help entrepreneurs navigate them.
“The Egyptian market is one of the fastest-growing markets globally, and it's getting better. It has a lot of opportunities, and there are a lot of chances waiting to be taken advantage of,” McClure said.
The founder of Aramex, Fadi Ghandour, attended the RiseUp Summit. As he said, “Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the three most important markets in the region, yet they often fail to provide entrepreneurs with the help they need to succeed.”
In an inspiring speech, Ghandour told the event participants that government and businessmen alike are not doing enough to support young entrepreneurs.
“It is not only about funding, but also about creating platforms, ensuring political stability, opening markets and guaranteeing low shipping coasts,” he said. “Despite all the challenges, there are some fantastic green shoots.”
Injaz Egypt, for example, is working to support the start-up ideas of university students, helping them to develop their ideas into a successful business and providing seed funds and logistical support.
Nalan Al-Sarraj, 21, is one of the founders of Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG). It is the first and only start-up accelerator in Gaza. She shared her experience of identifying start-ups in Gaza and seeking funds at the summit. “Though we in Gaza are confined within physical borders, we are creating our own free technological world,” Al-Sarraj said.
GSG provides start-ups with seed money and connects them to mentors, trainers, investors, and other resources to help them achieve global growth. An impressive two thirds of all start-ups in Gaza are led by women.
“Gaza has a lot of talent. What that talent needs is support and help,” Al-Sarraj said, adding that due to the Israeli siege the problems had intensified. “Though we have fewer than five hours of electricity a day and have been under air strikes, we have managed to build start-ups in Gaza. But we still need money to keep GSG alive and moving forward.”
Wael Rizk, founder of Rizk Auto, was also at the event. He told the audience that he has a dream that he hopes to achieve one day. Rizk wants to design a carbon-fibre car powered by electricity. He shared his 19-year experience of trying to build one with the audience.
“I wish I'd had someone to tell me what mistakes to avoid back then. I could've saved a lot of time and money. I'm here to be that someone for others,” Rizk said.
“It's hard to find someone willing to invest millions in a project for a long period of time. Hopefully, this summit will make the process easier,” he added.
Many of the start-ups at the event were looking for partnerships, including a company manufacturing 3D scanners, printers that transform 3D designs into solid objects. Ali Hussein, one of the company's founders, said that he has approached the project as a way to provide equipment used for medical purposes.
“We joined the RiseUp Summit as a way of being better known in the marketplace. At the moment we are self-funding, and we need funders to expand the idea,” Hussein said.
The summit gave the attendees a chance to discuss their innovative start-up ideas. Some of the more well-known innovators include the founders of the well-known Bey2ollak, a road guide application, and Educate Me, a non-profit foundation hoping to support education in Egypt.
The RiseUp Summit was first launched on the birthday of the pioneering businessman Talaat Harb. The entrepreneur and industrialist is considered one of the driving forces of Egypt's early industrial era, one hundred years ago. Harb also founded a bank where investors and companies could work together, which is today one of the main aims of the RiseUp Summit.
The writer is a freelance journalist.

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