VC4Africa meetup in Cairo, Egypt, “the most vibrant startup scene in the MENA region”

Last week, Bill Zimmerman and David van Dijk of VC4Africa visited Egypt to host a series of business modeling workshops with some of Egypt’s up and coming entrepreneurs. On the last day, past Tuesday, members and supporters of VC4Africa came together for a VC4Africa meetup in Cairo, hosted at MC Egypt. We had a chance to catch up with one of the hosts of this meetup, Con O’Donnell, Regional Entrepreneurship Advisor at MC Egypt, to find out more. 

Please introduce yourself and MC Egypt?

“I’m Con O’Donnell, Regional Entrepreneurship Advisor at MC Egypt. I’m also an entrepreneur, having sold my previous online media business to Vodafone Egypt, and am currently in a startup in the digital obituaries space. In addition, I am an angel investor, and have invested in 6 Egyptian startups in the past year, with a total of $150k.

MC Egypt, a subsidiary of Mercy Corps, is primarily two things. The first is a facilitator, or enabler. We work on entrepreneurship ecosystem development. This means helping the existing ecosystem stakeholders (incubators, accelerators, angel investors, NGOs, educators) improve the quality and quantity of what they do. At the same time we work very closely with entrepreneurs to provide them with mentors, with expertise, with counterparts around the globe, and with increased access to investment opportunities. This part of our work is supported by the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI).

The second is that we are an impact investment fund, or we will be when we raise the fund, that is looking to invest capital in businesses with a social impact. We are currently raising our first $1.5 million to invest in 5 social impact businesses in Egypt. We hope to validate the model in 2014 and raise a second round of $5 million.”

Please tell us something about Cairo and the local startup scene at this moment? What’s happening?

“I can only really describe it as a phenomenon. In the last 2 years we have seen an explosion of startups, investments and investors, accelerators, hubs, events and media interest. Egypt has become the most vibrant startup scene in the MENA region, and not just in terms of teams and ideas, but also in terms of the number of startups getting funding and the number of new businesses being formed. Technology is leading this charge, but F&B innovations and Agri-Businesses are not far behind. We’ve also seen a wave of businesses trying to tackle the transport congestion problems and a wide variety of renewable energy solutions to tackle the growing problems associated with fuel shortages and price-hikes.”

What kind of entrepreneurs and investors are in MC Egypt’s network? Are there many success stories?

“Every kind of entrepreneur is in our network. From the ones who attend competitions to those that get into accelerators, and quite a few that are not in the usual places, but seek us out. In terms of investors we have a close relationship with the Cairo Angels, and we meet regularly with VCs and individual investors to help them develop pipeline and to understand what gaps they see in the entrepreneurs they see.

Talking about success stories… Hundreds of people decided that the only way to change the country for the better was to change it themselves, and took the risk to step on the uncertain path when their friends and families were telling them to accept the offer from Microsoft, or whoever. That in itself is a huge success in a country that had stagnated. This year we have seen 16 startups receiving angel funding , 6 receiving VC funding, 1 startup was acquired, and 70 new businesses were created.”

How did the meetup go?

“It was a good meet-up. Initially people positioned themselves in ‘audience’ style all facing the front. But once they realized there was no presentation it quickly morphed into huddles of interesting conversations and I think people circulated well. My overall impression was that people were engaged and excited.”

Around how many people attended and what were their backgrounds?

“Around 40 people attended. The majority were entrepreneurs. Some were early stage, some growth stage. There were also a couple of people representing NGOs who work in entrepreneurship, a couple of media people, someone from an incubator, and a couple of angel investors.”

Please tell us about the most interesting people you met?

“Apart from you guys I had met everyone before. However, a couple of people pitched me their new idea or their big updates since I saw them last. I love it when that happens, especially when I see a good pivot.”

What are your conclusions, final thoughts and message to the VC4Africa community?

“Keep Rockin’! Glad Egypt is considered part of Africa. I’d like to see more cooperation on an African regional level. More matching of entrepreneurs to regional counterparts, more JVs, more pooling of mentors, more access across markets, more syndication of investments. Africa can be a region – or at least the urban tech hubs in Africa can be a ‘region’ – and the economic development of African countries can boom if there is the right outlook and the willingness to explore the opportunities. Entrepreneurs would benefit, investors too, and overall the problems faced in African countries can be solved by those entrepreneurs who see them on a daily basis and make it their business to solve them.”

Thanks Con, and colleague Muhammad Mansour, for a great job! It’s great to see the local VC4Africa community come together like this! 

The next VC4Africa meetups are on November 21, all around the world! Check out VC4Africa’s Global Entrepreneurship Meetups page – Help us organize a meetup in your city, or sign up for one already organized! If not a VC4Africa member yet, join here. Happy networking!