Egypt’s new innovation platform, “not just another startup fund or incubator”

Innoventures, based in Cairo, Egypt, recently joined the VC4Africa partnership network, bringing in ventures to VC4Africa including and Digital Egypt, and they also supported Bey2ollak. At VC4Africa, the largest online community connecting African entrepreneurs and investors, we work with entrepreneurship development partners all across Africa. Innoventures describes itself as “not just another venture fund or incubator”, but an “innovation platform, aiming to support the emergence of Egypt’s most promising entrepreneurs”. We interview Nora Kafafi, Programs Manager at Innoventures.

What is Innoventures offering entrepreneurs?

“Innoventures LLC is one of Egypt’s newest companies providing a platform for seed stage startups specializing in the fields of clean tech, ICT, electronics, media, market intelligence and inclusive businesses. Our team aims to support the emergence of the country’s most promising entrepreneurs through a six month incubation program that offers seed funding, tailored business training, mentorship and access to partner networks. This, in return for a minority equity stake in each of the ventures incubated in our program.”

What are the main milestones Innoventures achieved to date, and what are you working on for the future?

“In 2011, Innoventures designed and managed Google’s 8-month nationwide ‘Start with Google‘ competition for Egypt’s best internet startup. This involved the selection of startups from a pool of 4000 team submissions, training over 200 startups, matching them with mentors and monitoring the judgment criteria and process down to the final winner. The final winner, Bey2ollak, is now a VC4Africa registered venture.

While the program was a huge success, IV since has turned its focus on its core business: preparing startups to progress to a VC-ready stage of funding. By the end of 2013, we hope to have launched our own fund targeting startups with ticket sizes in the range of $40K – $150K.”

How can entrepreneurs join?

There are several ways. For a minimal monthly fee, entrepreneurs can join our Startup Circus, which offers access to the office during the day and priority attendance to our weekly speaker series. If they are seeking further development with their ventures, they can apply to our Startup Reactor Incubator Program, on our website or through F6S. The applications are screened and if we feel they fit our scope, we set up a meeting and offer them a place in our program.”

Egypt is a country experiencing many transitions and with many challenges. What do you see as opportunities and hurdles for starting entrepreneurs?

“With Egypt’s shifting political landscape comes great opportunity for change. Post revolution youths have a renewed sense of patriotism and empowerment coupled with the assertion that they can cause real change. This has mainly take form as new businesses sprout across the country, transforming our many social, economic and environmental issues into innovative business solutions. It is very exciting to see these budding entrepreneurs capitalize on their inherent talents as ‘natural born entrepreneurs’.

While most focus has been on ICT, I believe industries such as energy, agriculture and manufacturing to be untapped potential with huge market opportunities. Luckily, startups see it too and a growing emergence of sector-oriented businesses has risen accordingly. Entrepreneurs are however hindered by several factors including bureaucratic hurdles in company registration, a lack of a cohesive, supportive ecosystem, access to funding as well as a lack in basic training in business, marketing and technology integration.”

How do you see the world of entrepreneurship changing? Is the start-up landscape in Egypt different from other parts of Africa?

“Much of the growth in today’s global economy is a result of the startup boom, and Africa is no exception. African countries share very similar problems on both the macro and micro-economic level. The political and regulatory environment is already inhibiting and government centralization, education, healthcare and unemployment are all shared concerns. While there may be slight differences in cultural and social elements, I believe the general challenges faced by entrepreneurs and investors alike in other African countries to be one and the same with Egypt.”

What are your key suggestions for entrepreneurs in Egypt/Africa?

“I believe the impact investment sector is a growing one and well suited for African ventures.
Second: Be clear about the problem your startup is trying to solve and stay focused on it.
Third: Reach out to your community, ask for support, get feedback.
Fourth: Learn how to deliver a persuasive pitch.

And last: I know it’s every startups dream to go global. But I think it’s far more successful to be a big part of your country’s development, than a small part of the world’s.”

What are your key suggestions for investors in Egypt/Africa?

“I believe it’s time for investors to recognize the key role startups play in economic development and shift their traditional, ‘majority invest – majority stake’ strategies accordingly. The strength of investors is far more reaching than their pockets. We’d like to see investors engage more directly with startups, offer their industry specific expertise, provide one on one coaching, assist in establishing market leads and open up their networks to entrepreneurs.”

As a new VC4Africa partner, how do you use and see the VC4Africa community?

“We believe the tipping point from good startups to great startups lies in connecting them to a network of mentors and experts, establishing strategic affiliations and networking with like-minded entrepreneurs. This is the major value VC4A offers and we hope to play an active role in this thriving community.”

See all entrepreneurs from Innoventures on VC4Africa.

See the venture profiles of splinter.meDigital Egypt, and Bey2ollak.

After joining VC4Africa, you can connect with entrepreneurs in your country and all across Africa, publish your venture profile, start a round of fundraising and get noticed by international investors. Join VC4Africa here.