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Egyptian Uprising Casts a Light on Young Entrepreneurs

A U.S./Danish delegation of entrepreneurs recently returned from Cairo where they conducted "NexGen IT Entrepreneurs Boot Camp" for young Egyptian business owners. The trip, arranged by the U.S. State Department's Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), USAID, and the Government of Denmark, was designed to export entrepreneurial know-how and to spur economic development in Egypt. Egyptians, of course, have always been entrepreneurial, but have lacked the infrastructure and support to scale their ventures. The hope is that democracy and a little advice and inspiration from the broader entrepreneurial world will give them the push they need to think bigger. "There are a lot of micro businesses, and a lot of traders," says Mike Ducker, entrepreneur in residence at GEP in Cairo. "But if we look at the statistics, focusing in on high grown entrepreneurs -- people who grow at 20-30% a year -- is what drives the economy."
"Before I went to Cairo, I just assumed that I was going to see very remedial businesses," says Scott Gerber, founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), and one of seven U.S. entrepreneurs in the delegation. "But I was blown away by the quality of these companies." He noted that the Egyptian participants included both male and female business owners. Other U.S. entrepreneurs on the trip were:

The program gathered 38 Egyptian entrepreneurs in 19 startup teams; they were coached and mentored on refining their business pitches in preparation for a competition at the end of the week. The four winners were:
  • Crowdit - A digital collaborative storytelling platform using real-time pictures, video, and social media reports to reinvent the way stories are told and shared online.
  • The iVillage of the Middle East, creating a community of mothers designed to connect and empower the women of the Middle East /North Africa region.
  • Inkezny (RescueMe)- An iPhone app enabling travelers to make emergency calls in any location in the world without having to know the local emergency phone number, as well as seeing GPS directions to and phone numbers for the nearest hospitals.
  • Bey2ollak - An iPhone app that provides live user-generated reports of traffic conditions on the streets of Cairo.
Two winners will intern for three weeks this fall at iContact, and two will attend a three-month boot camp in Denmark. An unplanned outcome of the program: the American and Danish delegates created a $125,000 investment pool which will be distributed to Egyptian companies with high growth potential through Flat6 Labs, a fund launching this month and run by Sawari Ventures, an Egyptian venture capital company. "I am excited to be part of the future of Egyptian entrepreneurship, and I felt like this new fund was the right way for all of us to show our support and help these talented individuals make a difference," says Jeff Hoffman.

Ducker notes that the boot camp program is part of a broader initiative to support Egyptian entrepreneurs, the seeds for which were planted during President Obama's 2009 visit to Cairo University. Shortly thereafter, Secretary of State Clinton announced the creation of the Global Entrepreneurship Program, with Egypt as the pilot country. The revolution, says Ducker, gave the program an extra boost because it resulted in feelings of "self-empowerment" among young Egyptians, as well as giving "young people a new respect among older generations, since they were the ones who went out and took much of the physical risk." All of that is helping to fuel more interest in entrepreneurship among young Egyptians. "Almost all of the entrepreneurs we spoke to said that, post-Mubarak, they now feel they have more choices," says Gerber. "Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Egypt. The ecosystem just needs to be solidified."

What do you think? Should the U.S. government and U.S. entrepreneurs help build sustainable entrepreneurial communities abroad, and particularly in Muslim majority countries?

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