The American University in Cairo celebrated the graduation of the AUC Venture Lab’s first cycle entrepreneurs on Thursday.
The Venture Lab programme, sponsored by the Arab African International Bank and real estate development company SODIC, gives seven teams of entrepreneurs EGP 20,000 grants, working space at AUC and four months of business training. At the lab’s conclusion, teams pitch their ideas to an audience of businessmen with the hope of finding investors.
A number of prominent Egyptian businessmen, including Ahmed Badrawi, managing director of real estate development company SODIC, attended the first cycle’s showcase.
“As an Egyptian company, SODIC is committed to helping the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Badrawi said. Start-ups “play a key role in the growth of the economy, bringing innovative ideas to the market and creating jobs. Egypt is the land of opportunity for entrepreneurs today.”
Ayman Ismail, assistant professor and Abdul Latif Jameel endowed chair of entrepreneurship, said Venture Lab was the university’s latest effort to encourage entrepreneurs, foster innovation and fill existing gaps in the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt. “Our aim is to capitalise on AUC’s intellectual capital and world-class resources, select a few high-potential innovation startups and help transform these teams into scalable companies,” he said.
Sherif Kamel, dean of the school of business, said more that 58% of Egyptians are under the age of 25, which means encouraging youth development is crucial.
“I don’t think we can run out of ideas, and if those ideas can be translated into products and services, the economy will be in much better shape,” Kamel said. “Innovation and entrepreneurship are a key driver for competitiveness of the Egyptian economy, and for creating jobs and accelerating inclusive economic growth.”
One of the start-up companies that presented at the showcase was Mubser, which provides cutting-edge technologies to the visually impaired around the world. The company’s first project was the Sensify, a bracelet and Bluetooth headset that works in coordination with a smartphone. The gadget identifies obstacles in front of the user and notifies him or her through vibrations.
The Mubser team was named one of the 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa in 2014. The company also won first place in the information and communications technology track at the Idea to Product competition in Brazil.
Kashef Labs Company, also presented. The company, initiated by Mohamed Gouda and Ahmed Hassan, recent graduates from Menofia University, developed unmanned air vehicles that detect land mines.
Kashef Labs’ product hovers one metre above sand and rock while screening underground surfaces for mines. The product won several awards from different countries.
“Egypt alone contributes 23% of all landmines in the world; therefore there us a very big market need for this type of product,” Gouda said.
Gouda said the presence of land mines in the Western Desert is hindering development in the area.
Other start-ups at the fair included Smart News, which is a multi-platform content application that provides personalised local and international news from different media outlets, as well as citizen journalism. Alkottab, a company that developed interactive and educational games and cartoons, also presented.
On the sidelines of the event, Badrawi told the Daily News Egypt that he knows “the struggles and difficulties,” of entrepreneurship, but also knows “the importance”.
“With the challenges we have today in Egypt, if we don’t promote entrepreneurship, we’re not going to overcome these challenges,” he said.
SODIC has committed to supporting three cycles of Venture Lab. Badrawi said the company is very proud to see the first of these cycles “come through and is looking forward to the next two.”
Neither AUC nor the sponsoring parties acquire equity if a project is picked up by an investor.
The new four-month round starts this month.