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Women-Led Businesses Increase in the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem

Bahia El Sharkawy and Eman Elkoshairy, co-founders of Almakinah

 By Maha ElKadeem

Once a men’s only domain, entrepreneurship has recently swung its doors open to include women in all fields of business, whether it be science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), e-commerce or social entrepreneurship.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Report, 15.6 percent of early stage entrepreneurs were women in 2012 in Egypt compared to 25 percent in 2015. This opens up new opportunities for women to become more engaged in the greater economy and make space for themselves on the innovative and risk-taking table. Not only has their presence become a driving force to a more inclusive economy that equally serves the needs of a bigger population, but it has also allowed for more advancement in fields such as designing, domestic services and other "feminized" jobs. 

In AUC Venture Lab’s Cycle 7, we saw a wave of women entrepreneurs take over from several different fields, each with their own struggles to overcome predisposed stigmas and to fight long enforced stereotypes.

“When hearing about our startup idea, most people instantly love the idea and recognize the need for it in today’s world, but simultaneously think we won’t be capable of managing or carrying it out,” said Eman Elkoshairy, co-founder of Almakinah, a programming boot camp which aims to transform people with no programming experience into production-tier software engineers. “It’s exceedingly difficult to grow in an environment that is both waiting for and wanting you to fail.” Women must overcompensate for being women in the STEM field by becoming excessively assertive and refusing to become trampled over. With the constant struggles and challenges that come with opening up a startup, adding on gender consciousness doesn’t allow much room for success."

With the diminishing investment opportunities in Egypt, finding investors that believe in your startup’s idea and are willing to finance it is already very challenging. Ghada Eltanawy, founder of La Reina, the first online, high-end wedding dress platform said that “when I am pitching my idea to investors, I am repeatedly asked about my personal life, whether or not I’m married or have children, and thus my level of commitment and devotion to my startup is constantly put into question.” Access to venture capital is thus limited by this pervasive bias set forth by societal standards. It becomes progressively more difficult for women to get funding, break into existing industry networks, attract new clients, and be taken seriously. It has left women no space to prove their worth in the business world, despite addressing many market gaps that have been otherwise left untapped by their men counterparts.

“When my clienteles and my workers are predominantly female it’s imperative and an added advantage to be a woman. I am more aware of the needs of my market, and I am able to tap into it much more easily,” said Gehad Abdallah, founder of a domestic services provider, Mermaid. The feminization of many jobs in the informal economy have yet to be organized by profitable business models and tailored to meet the needs of the market. Being both the benefactors and subscribers to these services it seems only natural that they are managed and run by women.

“Society has actually unwittingly left more space for women to be risk takers than men. When they don’t expect us to become bread winners, they have given us less financial responsibilities and more freedom to experiment and tryout and not shy away from failing, which is ideal for any entrepreneur,” Elkoshairy adds. Entrepreneurialism and feminism have joined forces to address the shortcomings of the business world and yield ROIs.

Whether our society recognizes and acknowledges women’s successes or not, women are proven pioneers in their fields, breaking through and changing the staleness of societal expectations.

Leela Aboubakkr, co-founder of Karibu, an outdoor and sporting gears rental company, said “when we first launched our startup we realized we had to transform mindsets. Girls aren’t gear heads and not many are willing to go adventure travelling alone. Because of this we became more gender sensitive in our marketing campaigns, featuring more women scaling heights and camping outdoors. We realized that many girls are willing and eager but are held back by the norms”

Women-led businesses not only tap into market gaps that can only be efficiently addressed by women, but they also revolutionize already existing services and products to serve a larger audience. It’s because of this that women must lean into leading roles, override stigmas and reap the social and professional gains.

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AUC launched AUC Venture Lab (V-Lab) in 2013 which is the first university-based incubator in Egypt. It incubates early-stage and growth-stage startups that are chosen through a selection process that judges the novelty of the idea, the team’s track record and cohesion, scalability and potential for commercialization, as well as the team’s tenacity and commitment to success. Once selected, the startups benefit from training sessions, mentors, student internships and their presence at the AUC School of Business. They also play an active role in the AUC community and Egypt, sharing their entrepreneurial experience with students, faculty members, mentors and investors, as well as a global alumni network.