One of the youngest speakers at the upcoming Economic Summit and The District CEO, Mazen Helmy, was chosen by Forbes as one of Africa’s most prominent entrepreneurs under 30 in 2014. Helmy founded The District, one of the first co-working spaces in the region, and the largest in Egypt. Additionally, he is the founding partner in various ventures inside and outside of Egypt, across various sectors. Helmy spoke to Daily News Egypt on his participation in the Economic Summit.
What is your motivation in participating in the Economic Summit?
Definitely, it is a great honour being invited to participate and speak at the Economic Summit (Egypt the Future). Being under the same roof with key political and business figures from around the world, I aim to bridge the understanding and the inclusion of small and medium enterprises [SMEs] in the Egyptian market within the investment climate planned for the coming years. Throughout the past years, with The District, we had lots of encounters and activities with many entrepreneurs running micro, small and medium enterprises. Based on our experience and understanding, I hope we can reach an inclusive view and plan between the private sector and public sectors to work together aligned for a shared vision or purpose. Egypt is able to be among the G-20 major economies as a start.
What kind of support can you provide?
As I have mentioned, being an entrepreneur myself and working with SMEs from the Egyptian market, I want to bridge the needs and visions of Egyptian SMEs to be present during the conference and considered.
The whole Egyptian market or ecosystem shall be prepared and ready for the coming years; large corporations, the government, SMEs and financial institutions etc, and we represent part of the whole.
What is your vision for the conference? Will the Summit succeed in achieving its objectives or not?
Almost every idea is good idea, but a good idea is not enough to create impact. The conference is well prepared in terms of the global diversity, logistics, legislation and proposed plans, but to achieve a real positive impact we have to understand this is just the start and that what is after is as important as the conference itself. It is important we have a national shared vision regarding where we want to be by 2020, as the conference is presenting the Egyptian market climate, and the key eight tracks we are targeting include: tourism; renewable energy; transportation; housing; ICT; mining; agriculture; and manufacturing. The challenge is not just attracting investment, but attracting and retaining foreign direct investment, as well as local domestic investment. This means having, in general, a healthy investment climate.
In your opinion, what are the challenges that face Egyptian investments?
We have two types of investment: domestic investment done by Egyptians; and foreign direct investment (FDI). From my point of view, before expecting FDI, we should encourage domestic investments first: if we don’t trust our own country to invest, why should others? In my opinion, I think we have challenges related to starting business, transparency and fairness in some decisions and legislation, centralisation and inflation and currency devaluation problems.
There is something called ease of business index. It includes many factors to consider. From the Egyptian perspective, safety is very important, currency devaluation and inflation, presence of trained, qualified labour and to study well any regulation or decision before announcing it. In addition to this, inclusive involvements for different partners like government, private sectors and NGOs are needed. Randomness is very risky. Any investor should feel safe to invest and increase, in the future, their investment.
What will your speech include in the Summit?
It is still not finally fixed yet, but most probably it will be around SMEs, entrepreneurship and innovation and their roles in the post-Summit phase.
What is The District and its role at the Summit?
The District is a co-working space or community hub for Egyptian and international entrepreneurs working in Egypt, which provides support for the entrepreneurs to build and grow their business by providing access to the physical facilities, educational activities, organising conferences (like our latest one “Xpand: Financial Solutions for Growth), strong network or different stakeholders and market insights.