Boostrapping Cairo

Cool Cat in a café at the Khan El-Khalili Market - with the entrepreneurs in the mirror.

Back in Denmark after an unforgettable trip to Cairo where I attended the event - Next Generation of Egyptian Entrepreneurs 2011, as a mentor from June 28th to July 1st. This was my trip and my impressions.

Day 1. Tuesday 28th. 2011.

In the spring of 2011 the Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen met with President Barack Obama at the White House. The Arab Spring was in action and supporting initiatives were discussed by the two leaders. In Denmark the startup accelerator program StartupBootcamp has tremendous success, not only in Denmark but across Europe, where they are expanding their accelerator program. The Danish Foreign Ministry reached out to StartupBootcamp to get inspiration from their program, and to utilize their mentors. The result was the 5 day NextGen2011 bootcamp, where mentors from Denmark and the US were invited to Cairo, to contribute with their experience and support these young entrepreneurs move forward with their business.

Yesterday I kissed my son goodbye on his birthday to head for Cairo, I had the privilege of being one of the Danish mentors. I explained to my son that I was going to a country fighting for freedom and that I was meeting some of the young people that overruled their dictator, and now have the opportunity to rebuild their country and future.

I looked so much forward to give, learn and to get another perspective of Egypt, through the eyes of the future generation. A generation that will be responsible for rebuilding their country, where one of the key solutions might very well be entrepreneurship.

Despite the language and cultural differences between Denmark and Egypt, what united us in Cairo was our entrepreneurial culture based on creativity, passion and the will to utilize opportunities in the Golden Age of Technology.

The delegates from Denmark and the US in front of the pyramids at 6 am Wednesday morning.

Day 2 - Next Generation 2011 in Action.

Wednesday I met the teams for the first time, although they started Monday. I was so excited to finally meet the young entrepreneurs, hear their pitches, and had no idea what to expect.

I was blown away, together with the rest of the Danish and US delegation. We faced  young passionate minds, who took their business very seriously. A lot of them were already far, had amazing user traction and were using focus groups to understand their target groups better. Despite the language barrier for some, they all did an amazing job communicating their ideas and visions. We spend the day giving feedback to every startup, during panel sessions and one to one sessions with the teams. I was mentoring the outstanding ladies from SuperMama and Inkezny the "tourist feel safe" app.

Out of 38 participants, 6 were women which was a surprising ration, that’s more or less what you can expect at startup events in Denmark. The girls were amazing, but had different views on their role as entrepreneurs. Some said they were privileged since financially supported by their families or hubbies, that didn’t expect anything from them - a perfect bootstrapping state. Others felt they had to be very persistent to proof to their families that what they are doing is important, not only to them but as role models for other women and for their country.

After an intense day, we were invited to visit the Danish ambassador Christian Hoppe. All the teams gave excellent 1 minute pitches, directly to the ambassador and his 60 guests. They improved their performance so rapidly, and the fact that they were able to give short, precise pitches after only two days of training and mentoring - was outstanding.

At 11 pm we were heading back to the Marriott Hotel, ready to be tourists, but due to riads at Tahrir Square, where 1200 people got injured - we were advised to stay at the hotel. That said it is perfectly safe to be in Cairo and with 30 degrees celsius and a calm breeze, the climate is perfect.

The SuperMama team - Zeinab Samir and Yasmine ElMehairy.

Day 3 - The Final.

Thursday was the big final, where the teams were to pitch in front of investors, the press and the delegates. We headed for Smart Village through Cairo's intense traffic, meeting a very polished business community build outside Cairo housing mostly technology companies. Egypt has a perfect foundation for utilizing technology, with great access to developers, low employee costs, and now a historic experience from the power social media can give the multitude. The Egyptian Facebook penetration increased after the revolution, being the platform for cultivating, organizing and executing the revolution.

The teams were as ready as they could get, after working non-stop for 3 days. At the end of the day, culminating the event, 4  teams would be chosen, two of the teams would get an internship at EyeContact in the US, and two teams would go to Denmark for 3 months, to be a part of the StartupBootcamp accelerator program.

5 hours later we had the winners and they were announced in front of the Danish Ambassador, Egyptian representatives, the press - counting New York Times, Arab newspapers and the rest of the NextGen2011 team. The winners were in alphabetical order:

18 Days in Egypt - Crowdit is a social media storytelling platform inspired by the revolution.

Bey2ollak - A mobile traffic alert service, already counting 15.000 users.

Inkezny - A mobile app keeping tourists safe in developing countries by giving easy access to emergency assistance.

SuperMama - a social community providing women in Arab countries quality information about motherhood.

 

We celebrated by sailing and dining up the River Nile, eating exquisite cuisine while entertained with Arab music and belly dance. We ended the day at Tahrir Square where people were protesting again, for three days in a row. The SuperMama team drove us safely to the hectic city market Khan El-Khalili - which isn't a matter of course in Cairo. Families were gathered in the square, and kids running around enjoying their summer holiday. After extensive shopping and bargaining we ended the day drinking strong coffee and mint tea in a narrow alley, where locals smoked water pipes and played music, being magnified by mirrors on the surrounding buildings.

After getting close to these brilliant entrepreneurs, we had an emotional farewell. But it will hopefully not be a past memory, but a relationship that will continue with some of the teams in the future.

Back in Denmark I miss the warm courtesy of the Egyptian people, the sound of drums at the market and the warm breeze - in the city that never sleeps.

More impressions from NextGen2011: My pictures. Excellent blog post by Alex Farcet from StartupBootcamp.