VC4Africa connects partners running physical tech hubs and accelerators across the African continent. When visiting a country, doing market research, meeting entrepreneurs, or conducting due diligence, our colleagues at these organizations are an invaluable resource. Today, we’re pleased to announce our partnership with Flat6Labs, the leading accelerator supporting startups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Flat6Labs is a regional startup accelerator program that fosters and invests in bright and passionate entrepreneurs with cutting-edge ideas. They provide seed funding, strategic mentorship, a creative workspace, entrepreneurship-focused business training, and directly support startups through an expansive network of partners.
We recently had a chance to speak with Ramez Mohamed, CEO of Flat6Labs, to learn more about their approach to serving startups at their locations in Cairo, Jeddah and Abu Dhabi. Read the interview below.
Could you introduce yourself and Flat6Labs? How did Flat6Labs & Sawari Ventures develop into the leading accelerator and fund in the region, and what would you like to achieve in the next months and years?
Flat6Labs started in 2011 under Sawari Ventures, a VC with the goal of identifying, serving and providing capital for extraordinary entrepreneurs who are determined to change the MENA region. Before managing Flat6Labs, I was responsible for building and managing the mobile app business unit at Sarmady, a Vodafone Company in Cairo. Prior to that, I initiated and led the product design team at eSpace, the leading software house in Alexandria, Egypt. We have just announced Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi and we’re hoping to expand our efforts to identify and accelerate all hopeful entrepreneurs across the whole MENA Region with future expansions.
Please give us some background on how you operate and your portfolio? What is your focus and strategy, cooperation model, etc.?
Flat6Labs focuses on tech-driven and innovative startups with the most potential whether it’s in the idea stage or if it’s already in the market. Being a for-profit organization Flat6Labs invests and serves startups in the acceleration period of 4 months to graduate with a much higher possibility of success. That’s done through our array of different services that we provide from seed funding, office space to legal support and others.
What is Flat6Labs offering its entrepreneurs and what do you expect in return? How do entrepreneurs become a part of Flat6Labs?
Flat6Labs offers startups seed funding, office space, training, networking & exposure, legal support, mentorship, perks & services and more, in return we get 10-15% equity in each company. Entrepreneurs join Flat6Labs by applying online on our website through filling out an application which is followed by the required interviews for them to be enrolled. We’ve closed the application for our upcoming cycle (Fall 2014) and now we are in the interview stage, the cycle shall start later this Fall.
Please tell us about the Demo Days and cohorts you organize.
We held our seventh Demo Day event with 10 new startup companies on May 20th. The Demo Day provided the startups hosted by Flat6Labs Cairo with the opportunity to pitch their ideas to more than 300 potential investors and business leaders.
The Spring 2014 cycle welcomed an exceptionally diverse group of entrepreneurs with businesses offering products and services in fields such as creative product design, renewable energy, agriculture and food solutions and mobile & web-based applications. The latest acceleration cycle played host to exciting guests and introduced the participating startups to entrepreneurs and leaders in a wide array of fields. The startup companies were exposed to business executives, technology innovators, corporate CEOs, social entrepreneurs, and journalists among others.
Could you introduce some of the entrepreneurs presented at the 7th Demo Day, and name some more of the success stories in your portfolio?
Reform Studio which specializes in handmade fabrics, Sunergy provides renewable energy solutions, KhObz manufactures automated machinery to create traditional Egyptian bread, Telecosys which delivers software solutions for telecommunication companies and Farminal which offers technology solutions for dairy farms. Among the startup companies were many with a focus on web-based and mobile applications including Tamreeni, an online Arabic fitness community, Mapture which provides geo-related data, LocName which provides short and unique name for addresses, which can easily be shared with friends & clients, Codly which accelerates software development process for mobile app developers and Ennota.com, which offers affordable financial software solution for SMBs in MENA.
Our portfolio also includes Instabug, a bug reporting and tracking tool on mobile that has had a remarkable reputation in Silicon Valley, winning the 2013 MIT Enterprise forum competition first place award and racking more than 1 mil downloads for their API. Simplex the first CNC machine manufacturer in Egypt has had sales of over EGP 1 million and are the leaders of after-sales support and customer care in the region. Integreight is an open-source platform that turns smartphones into any Arduino Shield; they’ve had a spectacular success on Kickstarter raising 850% of their $10,000 target. The team was in China last month overseeing the production process and now they are delivering their products to their backers and the public.
What are your tips to other investors active in Africa, to support and guide entrepreneurs towards success?
Flat6Labs’ philosophy has always been developed around natural selection and that we believe in both success and failure and that both are needed to develop a healthy ecosystem where successful entrepreneurs are rewarded and failed ones are also supported to learn from mistakes and try again later on. My advice to the investors in general would be to believe in the entrepreneurs and give them the space and support they need to innovate and grow.
Do you think the start-up landscape in Egypt is different from other parts of Africa? What are your suggestions for Africa’s startups?
We think the start-up landscape in Egypt as well as different parts of Africa mainly remain untapped with a huge underlying potential that still needs to be unveiled, and this can be put on the fast track by providing the right group of entrepreneurs with the appropriate capital and support environment they need.
As a new partner of VC4Africa, how do you see and (plan to) use the VC4Africa community?
We plan to have many areas of collaboration with VC4Africa, including exploring together the different opportunities in the entrepreneurial space in Africa, cross mentorship programs, utilizing the VC4Africa platform, as well as supporting the local startup ecosystems in Africa through an array of activities and events we plan to do together in the future.