Six months into its revolution, not only has Egypt’s tourism fallen dramatically, its unemployment rate rose from just under 9% to almost 12%, and its GDF fell by 4%. Over half of Egypt’s population is under age 29, and 90% of unemployed Egyptians are under the age of 30, an age bracket that carries a 25% unemployment rate in men and 20% unemployment rate in women.
Yet in a revolution partially started because of unemployment, not all is grim in the world of entrepreneurship. According to a 2011 World Bank report on business in the Arab world, Egypt began making it easier to create a business start-up in 2005, when it eliminated minimum capital requirements, created a private credit bureau and consolidated the registration process. This year alone, Egypt’s “Starting a Business” ranking rose to number 18 out of 183 economies. It held number 23 last year.
“This is an unusual revolution in that it was led by a very educated and economically conversant, forward-looking group of people,” said United States-Egypt Business Council executive director Khush Choksy. “But to secure what they went into Tahrir Square for, there needs to be economic growth, a modern set of thinking, and a more diversified economy.”
“You hear a lot about Facebook and Twitter being used for a revolution, but what does that mean from an entrepreneurial standpoint?” Young Entrepreneur Council founder Scott Gerber asked. “In a nation like Egypt, where you have huge youth unemployment, entrepreneurship boosts the GDP and allows economy to thrive.”
Which is why the U.S. State Department and Danish government recently sent a delegation of young American entrepreneurs to Egypt to run a “traveling start-up accelerator” mentorship program called the NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp. A $125,000 investment pool was also created, which will be distributed by Flat6 Labs, a brand-new fund launched by Egyptian venture capitol company Sawari Ventures.
“The world has learned from Egypt the power of using technology to help achieve dreams,” USAID Director James Bever stated at the boot camp’s opening ceremony. “It is strong leaders like you who will increase economic freedoms for all Egyptians.”
Of the participating 19 Egyptian start-ups that were mentored, four were chosen to intern at an American company or continue the boot camp for three more months in Denmark:
Bey2ollack is a smart phone application and website that reports on road conditions in Cairo, named after an Egyptian expression used when passing on overheard information. “Anyone who lives in Cairo dreads the traffic,” said co-founder Mostafa Elbeltagy. “We have some of the worst traffic conditions of any city and it’s so unpredictable.” Because news coverage of traffic conditions is non-existant, Cairo residents mostly rely on word-of-mouth, so Elbeltagy and four other cousins, all between the ages of 23 and 30, launched Bey2ollak last October to collect word-of-mouth news on traffic and cast it out to a wider net of residents by showing drivers maps of traffic reports from home.
“It’s part of Egyptian culture,” said partner Ali Rafea, “and the app is all-Egyptian.”
“We are lucky that we don’t need the support of anything except good wattage, as opposed to manufacturing goods or opening a store,” said Rafea. “Those kinds of businesses need the support of the government.” He explained, “We were lucky ’cause we didn’t have any costs. The only cost was our time. The difficulty we faced in the beginning, was that we weren’t experts in Blackberry development. But despite that, we managed to develop the app in two weeks.”
Already the app has over 50,000 registered users, 5,000 of which signed up pre-launch, and many more utilize the website without registering. “In the near future, I expect mobiles to play an even bigger role, unlike Internet, mobiles are everywhere in Egypt carried by the poor and the rich,” predicted business partner Gamal ElDin Sadek. They also have a strategic marketing and advertising partnership with Vodafone, one of the largest mobile phone companies in Egypt. “Our vision is to go global,” said Elbeltagy, “and if we are going to do this we will be creating more jobs and helping out the economy.”
“We are proud of what we did in the revolution. It was a spark of hope that we can do better and build a better country. It means a lot to be starting a business at this optimistic time, although we know there are difficult times ahead.”
Read more: #18DaysinEgypt, Ahmed Ellaithy, Ali Rafea, Apps, Arabic, Bey2ollack, business, community, culture, Danish government, denmark, economy, egypt, entrepreneurship, Flat6 Labs, Gamal ElDin Sadek, GDP, Inkezny, leaders, Marwan Roushdy, mentorship, middle east, Mostafa Elbeltagy, NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp, partnership, revolution, Sawari Ventures, start-up, Supermama.me, technology, U.S. State Department, unemployment, USAID, websites. Cairo, Yasmine El-Mehairy, Young Entrepreneur Council, youth, Zeinab Samir
Photo courtesy of BlatantWorld.com via Flickr
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