By: Nada Adel Sobhi
Editor-in-Chief of HR Revolution Middle East
“Being an entrepreneur is the most difficult start.”
On Monday, 29th of February, 2015, the Strategic Marketing and Entrepreneurship Center (SMEC) affiliated to the Arab Academy for Science and Technology (AAST) hosted the first seminar in The Founders series.
The event saw the founders of five startups across Egypt discuss their projects, how they brought them to light, the difficulties they faced, some of which were quite funny, and answered questions from the audience which was mostly comprised of AAST students. Some of the entrepreneurs gave presentations on how to manage a startup or a project or giving information about their own work.
The Academy also presented an award to one of its own, Ahmed Negm, whose application received Second Best World Application, three days before the event.
The Founders were:
- Mohamed Nagy of AlMaqarr Co-Working Space
- Ahmed Shaaban of Simplex
- Ahmed Ashraf of NAS Trends
- Ahmed El Sherbiny of byBike
- Ahmed Negm, co-founder of Raye7 app
The event began with Dr. Wael Desouky, head of strategic marketing at SMEC, who discussed startups, entrepreneurship and learning from failures.
“You have to fail six times to perhaps make it at the seventh [attempt]”, he told the audience, highlighting that launching a startup isn’t easy and that is does not begin by merely adding a person’s title as the CEO or Founder of something on a business card.
Dr. Desouky stated that having received University of the Year in 2015, AAST still had many programs and projects to be launched in the future.
He also noted that “being an entrepreneur is the most difficult start.”
- AlMaqarr Co-Working Space
A graduate of the Alsun Ain Shams, English Department, Muhammed Nagy was the first entrepreneur to discuss launching his startup.
Nagy explained what a co-working space is and why there was a need for it. He said that people often resort to cafes to do extra work or on weekends; they often need a white board, internet, food, a space to sit and so on.
Started in September 2012, AlMaqarr co-working space is fully-equipped with all these requirements, he said, adding that it is not just for working alone but for building a community, developing better thinking, innovation and collaboration. It has a meeting room area, shared office space, a study area, workshop venue for freelancers and space to hold small events.
Nagy highlighted what he described as “The Power of CO” in his community: collaboration, cooperation, coordination…etc, which provides entrepreneurs with help through AlMaqarr’s connections and investors.
He then gave a presentation on co-working spaces, what they need, how they function, global numbers and the working ecosystem, which includes the aspects that help a project to either succeed or fail.
He added that there was no fixed business model for co-working spaces globally, not just in Egypt, which makes it a bit hard to review expectations and give numbers. However, this leaves room for continuous development of the business model.
Globally, there were 75 co-working spaces in 2007, Nagy revealed in a slideshow presentation, adding that by 2015, these co-working spaces increased to 7,800.
The ecosystem is mainly what a person needs and what affects their business, explained Nagy, adding that the basic constituents of an ecosystem are: Easy access to finances, business support including legalities, policies (tax rates, tax incentives…etc.), audience and market segments, human capital, infrastructure (such as internet and electricity), research and development (R&D), and culture.
The 25-year-old Alsun graduate told the audience that AlMaqarr’s recent move was an expansion in terms of space and better facilities.
Nagy highlighted that entrepreneurship is having an idea that you want to apply for profit or services that needs to be sustainable and that affects the lives of others.
He elaborated that entrepreneurship and small businesses help in economic growth, poverty reduction, and job creation, adding that Germany’s economy depends on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by around 60-70%.
Mohamed Nagy also gave some tips for those interested in becoming entrepreneurs and those wishing to start their own businesses:
- It’s a learning journey.
- It’s your company and its 24/7 job.
- Stay focused on your goal.
- You’ll need to have a flexible lifestyle.
Nagy was also a co-founder of REACT, which was the first student activity in Ain Shams University. He is the co-founder of الرحلة (The Trip), and is now the managing director of AlMaqarr.
AlMaqarr is currently located at 17 Ibn Sina Street, from Salah Salem road, near CookDoor Safir.
Next to take the stage was engineer Ahmed Shaaban from Minya, who discussed how it had been hard to make progress through the public university, which either did not provide funding to its students or any kind of support to those who wanted to create inventions.
Simplex is an industrial solutions startup in the field of heavy industries, revealed Shaaban, a co-founder of the company and its CEO, adding that it comprises three engineers, all from Minya University, and a lawyer.
The company mainly works in providing CNC router machines that cut or engrave on various surfaces such as: wood, acrylic and aluminum with a high degree of accuracy, speed and reproducibility.
Shaaban stated that Simplex’s productions are quicker, stronger and automatic as opposed to depending on manual labor. He added that the company is in charge of building the machines, depending on their client’s requirements, and testing them.
He revealed that Simplex currently has two factories and around 110 machines in five countries, including: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya. The machines are worth around $13 million.
Shaaban also tackled the misconceptions about having one’s own company such as waking up at midday, highlighting that for a time there may be no salaries until the project is up and running.
According to their website, Simplex’s CNC router machines were sold in 11 governorates across Egypt in their first year.
- NAS Trends
After that, computer engineer Ahmed Ashraf, a co-founder of NAS Trends, was welcomed by the audience. He said that the business started in July 2009 and the founders included three engineers and business graduates, including one from AAST.
He revealed that the first ever event was done via Facebook, involved 10 designs on 1000 t-shirts and was done on a rooftop.
Now NAS Trends has over 1.5 million fans on Facebook, he added, noting that the project is a community-driven one that regularly launches competitions to acquire new designs for its products. In addition, NAS moved from making t-shirts only to introducing bags, trousers, dresses, sweatshirts, notebooks and more.
He said that NAS Trends focuses on what he calls “The Power of Design” and that it’s a business that can add value to the people.
The startup’s first store was a booth a City Stars, which was both an investment and a risk in 2011. Later in 2014, NAS got a 20-meter shop in the mall, another in Mall of Arabia and on in the governorate of Sohag. In 2016, the startup launched its first shop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and began online sales in the UAE.
Furthermore, the startup included Arabic words and phrases in its designs, which Ashraf revealed registered the highest sales.
Responding to a question by HR Revolution Middle East on the quality of products, Ashraf highlighted that there were plenty of stages in terms of quality and that there were many sittings with people in quality assurance and lots of research in order to learn the details, the tips and tricks as well as how to find the best quality that would be suitable for NAS and its customers.
He added that NAS Trends aims to build a designers’ community because if there are no designers then there would be no products. He also revealed that the company has entered into an agreement with Ariika to launch a line of beanbags.
The fourth speaker was AAST graduate Ahmed El Sherbiny, whose talk was full of jokes and was very light. He said that he first co-founded Triptanza with his brother, but things didn’t go so well as the company was founded a little before 25 January 2011. He launched byBike on 1 January 2016.
byBike is a moving space with a bike that sells various innovative dishes made from sweet potato.
The project began as a second means of preparing for the wedding, a project that was supported by El Sherbiny’s fiancé.
They started by experimenting with various potato recipes online then on their own and began by providing free samples to passersby to see how well they were doing and to see how it would appeal to the various market segments.
Both El Sherbiny and his fiancé have day jobs, and work on the byBike project in the evening.
We do not stay in one place so that it they would not pose competition to those around him, he noted, adding that shortly afterwards he was invited to do interviews with various TV channels, which helped provide publicity to the project.
Every day they post on their Facebook page where they will be on that particular evening.
He joked about being a “batata” sweet potato seller with a business card.
He also said that the presentation for the project, using a bright yellow box to attract people. He was surprised by some attacks as some people believed his project was launched by the government to show that people have jobs.
At the end, El Sherbiny said that the project was a good idea and profitable one and encouraged others to try it.
Last but not least, Ahmed Negm, an undergraduate at AAST talked about his application called Raye7 (Going), which he co-founded with his sister. The app received Second Best World Application at Mobile World Congress.
The idea behind the app came to him when his parents moved to El Sherouk City, which made going to university very irksome and required around 2-3 hours to and around the same time to go back. He said that spending three hours in the car daily would amount to 3 months per year doing nothing.
Raye7 is a basically a car-pooling or ride-sharing app that allows people from the same area heading for the same destination to carpool together to save time, space and money.
Negm revealed that the app is community-based and gave an example of the University community, where people can carpool together to go to classes. The application does not involve any direct translations with the driver, Negm noted, adding that the team behind the app works on getting the matches not the customers.
The app can be used for companies and their employees, he noted, adding that received awards in 10 other competitions worldwide.
However, Negm revealed an often forgotten downside to having a startup while being an undergraduate, which was that despite the success of his app, his GPA fell from 3.4 to 2.3. He also noted that he had a problem, which was not knowing where he would end up after graduating or what he would do with his major of solar engineering.
Dr. Desouky, head of SMEC, presented Ahmed Negm with an award on behalf of AAST, and highlighted Negm’s determination and perseverance.
He commented on the fact that Negm’s GPA had fallen in the process, noting that entering the competitions entailed winning some and losing some.
Dr. Desouky also revealed that The Founders series was not just an event name but a full series of events. Two more events are scheduled to be held in March in Smart Village and Alexandria.