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Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in MENA: Breaking Barriers and Advancing Inclusion

Academics, investors and international experts at The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in MENA Breaking Barriers and Advancing Financial Inclusion conference agreed that creating a supportive environment for entrepreneurship is a collective effort.

Sep 25, 2014

“We need the environment, legislation, support, will and passion plus taking all this to the next level,” said Sherif Kamel, dean of the AUC School of Business at the opening of the conference, which was organized by the school, the World Bank and the University of California, Berkeley and held at Moataz Al Alfi Hall at AUC New Cairo.

“The future of Egypt is in its people; they’re the oil of the 21st century and we need to capitalize on that,” Kamel added.

The first day of the conference had four sessions discussing the different aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem from the roles of governments and development organizations to alternative financing and financial inclusion, featuring distinguished speakers in the field.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are at the heart of development, we need to foster the proper ecosystem for high entrepreneurship which will lead to development,” said the managing director of the World Bank Cairo office, Karim Badr, during the first session, “Lessons Learned from Entrepreneurial Ecosystems in Emerging Markets - Role of the Government.” 

”In Egypt, the World Bank is working on accountability, transparency, good governance, improving regulatory ecosystem and capacity building to enterprises,” said Sahar Nasr, lead economist in the World Bank’s Finance and Private Sector Development Department of MENA.

Furthermore, they are in consultation these days with all stakeholders: academia, financial enterprises, entrepreneurs and the government.  “We’re trying to serve people, listen to demands, priorities and address the gap,” she said. 

The Egyptian government founded the Bedaya Centre for Entrepreneurship and SMEs Development in Egypt, which was launched with EGP 134 million capital, in effort of “supporting the visionaries of the country,” said Reem Saady, executive director of Bedaya.  “It’s the responsibility of the government to take risks for entrepreneurs,” she added.

A mean of increasing access to capital for the under-served startups is alternative sources of financing, such as crowdfunding, angel investing, private public partnership funds, which need to be utilized.

“Startups by definition are high risk, crowdfunding is to share this risk,” said Adel Boseli, defining crowd financing as using a collaborative effort to advance a project.

There are three constituencies which need to be worked on for crowd funding to gain momentum, according to Jason Best, co-founder of Crowd Capital Advisers in the United States. These are investors’ protection against fraud, access to capital for entrepreneurship to grow and providing regulatory transparency.

The second day of the conference included workshops on universities role in the development of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, alternative financing and incubators, angel investors, accelerators and venture capital.

With its pillars of entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership, the AUC School of Business is working on developing the ecosystem, specifically through its Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program which works on raising awareness about entrepreneurship as a potential career path, creating a pipeline by which matching people of technical skills with those who commercialize, training and mentorship and the Venture Lab (V-Lab), Egypt’s first university incubator.

The V-Lab offers startups a portfolio of services including training, weekly mentorship sessions, action-plan, access to specific networks of mentors and investors; its objective is to graduate 50 startups in three years.

“The ecosystem is at an infant stage, we need a multiplier effect to develop the knowledge and know-how and understand what works in Egypt,” said Ayman Ismail, Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship.

There is a huge interest in incubators at the moment in Egypt, but they “must be done right,” Ismail noted, adding that “[The entrepreneurs] need to be pressured and not spoiled, no free money is given and no high shares are taken that would turn them into employees.”

During the two days of the conference all stakeholders emphasized that entrepreneurs when presenting their idea to an incubator, angel or investor, must have showed progress and commitment, as founder of Cairo Angels, Hossam Allam emphasized that, “angels and investors are not research and development.”