Egypt's entrepreneurial generation is as fearless as ever. Taking on mammoth challenges from FinTech, to transportation, to augmented reality solutions for the deaf, these are the country's youngest entrepreneurs driving change.
They are the silent warriors of social change; the valiant innovators who don’t fear age barriers, gender stereotypes or cultural chains. These intrepid entrepreneurs are partnering with local communities in Egypt’s forgotten South, landing high-level meetings with afros and pony tails, trading stocks at the age of 14, and impressing NASA scientists with unfathomable discoveries at 17.
They are driving innovation in FinTech and tackling macro-economic conundrums; they are exploring unchartered Clean Tech solutions and pushing the boundaries of the creative sector. But most strikingly, they are outlining schemes for social impact that have inspired other Middle Eastern youngsters, who turn their tale of resilience into an unbeatable formula that defeats traditional narratives of the Middle East. These are the 25 entrepreneurs seeping inspiration into the national mindset and making Egyptians proud.
Aly Mohamed, 22 - Founder of Vound
He is a college dropout, he is passionate, and he understands failure is part of the game. Mohamed uses augmented reality (AR) to create glasses that allow deaf people to see the sounds they are not able to hear. His prototype headseat - now in its fifth version - can convert sound into sign, flash, text, and vibrations, allowing the hearing impaired to get a sense of what hearing feels like. The high school idea - which kicked off in a science fair - won the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition 2014 and the Intel Challenge MENA, and was selected amongst 3,700 startups to attend the annual Intel Global Challenge. Now, 18 months ahead of his final product launch, he dreams big. "Wherever I go, I see everybody holding an iPhone; my dream is to one day see the same for Vound," he says.
Amna Abdelrahman, 24 - Fashion Designer and CEO of AE Designs
She rose to notoriety after participating in Project Runway Middle East, but Amna Abdelrahman’s innovative spirit in the fashion scene long outweighs the fugacity of a TV show. “Each of my collections is based on a city and its people or tribes,” she explains. From Fayoum, to Nairobi, to Siwa, Abdelrahman delves deep into each of the cultures' mysticism and symbolism to raise their status while creating wearable fashion. “To me, fashion has a message that is more effective than words. People began noticing me in Egypt after I came back from doing an exhibition in Kenya; Egyptians don’t think of Egypt as a part of Africa, and I was trying to change that.” It is precisely this unicity and attachment to her tribal origins that gained her recognition from MBC. “They were looking for designers who have identity, and they saw that in me,” she says.
Islam Shawky, 25, Alain Hajj, 24, and Mostafa Menessy, 23 - Co-founders of Paymob
This intrepid trio, who met at university, are innovating in the field of FinTech to battle Egypt’s cash-based culture by developing a diverse payment infrastructure for banks and mobile operators. Partnering with giants such as Vodafone and Mastercard, their Vodafone Cash programme, a peer-to-peer money transfer system through a virtual wallet, allowed them to empower over 2 million users and process over 1.5 billion EGP in transactions. With a 300x growth rate and a recent investment deal with A15, the entrepreneurs set off to drive Egypt’s transformation to a cashless society. “We are one of the few markets where cash on delivery is very dominant, and this is becoming a barrier for people to start businesses,” Hajj says. In addition, the team recently partnered with Nasser Bank, a social bank, for the processing of subsidies, in an effort to assist underprivileged people who often have to endure long journeys to cash their social aid. “Soon enough, you’ll be able to cash out your money through a kiosk,” the visionary entrepreneurs say.
Abdullah Hussein, 24 - Co-founder of Cairo Runners
Hussein crafted dreams out of frustration. The athlete, a member of the Egyptian National Pole Volting team, was forced to stop competing in 2011 due to a lack of support. “I was disappointed. I had dreamed of breaking the national record, but I couldn’t do it because nobody could give me the kind of pole I needed,” he recalls. But unwilling to let defeat take over, he set off to co-found Cairo Runners, a running group that has been changing mindsets and encouraging an activity previously unfathomable in the city: running in the street. Having organised runs in partnership with some of the country’s most prominent NGOS and companies, Cairo Runners became a company focused on sports management events in 2013. Their last half marathon drew out 7,000 Egyptians and, after the journey, Hussein went back to his origins. “The Paralympics were very inspiring; after seeing these people there is no excuse for anything, so when I came back, I signed with Al Ahly Club and started training again,” he says with a mischievous smile. The athlete is also the co-founder of Utopia talents, a character building educational startup for kids and youngsters.
Mohamed Darwish, 23, and Alya AbdelGawad, 23 - Co-founders of Jereed
Environmentally friendly and aesthetically gorgeous, Jereed’s furniture designs, made of discarded palm midribs, have been racking up awards in Egypt and abroad. In 2014, they received funding from the Swedish Institute and the Japanese Embassy to establish a factory and expand, and one year later they took home major prizes at the renowned MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition. A part of Injaz’s trip to Silicon Valley this year, the startup has over a 1,000 customers and exports to Europe and South Asia.
Ahmed Alaa, 25 - CEO of Cryptyd
He founded his first gaming company at 18, which was one of the first startups incubated by Tahrir Square and gained notoriety for nabbing a deal with the lead publishers of famed video game Angry Birds. Now running his second venture, Cryptyd, the Alexandria-based entrepreneur raised a $180,000 investment from Cairo Angels to develop games for foreign markets, mainly the US and Saudi Arabia. His most successful games racked up 1.5 million downloads and became the top trending download in Saudi Arabia.
Amr El Selouky, 23, Mohamed Hegazy, 24, Hisham El Ashraf, 24, Heba Abdelfatah - founders of CampUs
Kicking off in 2014, the fresh graduates fused a background of impressive extracurricular activities to craft a skill-based educational model. El Selouky, a certified educator, met CEO Abdelfatah when they founded TEDxGUC together, and joined forces with El Ashraf, who was the Student Union president – and member of renowned NGO Alashenak Ya Baladi – to create services to empower university students. The result, their now famous camps, gathered crowds of students eager to learn. “Student unions began calling us; we found a market gap and it proved profitable, but for market penetration we now need to expand our services,” says CEO Abdelfatah. Selected by Injaz Egypt as one of the startups to tour Silicon Valley, the team now sets off to scale by partnering with entities and universities, to create diversified revenue streams.
Marwan Refaat, 16 - Founder of Tabakhy
Refaat was only a 14-year-old high school student when he began trading stocks, using his ‘birthday money’. Two years later, this visionary teenager is launching his own startup, Tabakhy. The platform, which is in beta version, aims to link chefs to consumers who want to host homes-based 3azoomat (gatherings) or parties. “I want to create an experience that matches the quality of food you get at restaurants with the comfort of your home. We are creating a network of chefs so that everybody is able to create a decentralized restaurant everywhere,” he says.
Jude Benhalim, 22 - Jewellery designer and CEO of J’s Designs
One of the country's snazziest jewellery designers, Behalim’s brand has become an iconic name in Egypt’s fashion industry, blending Islamic patterns with unusual materials and rare stones. Kicking off in partnership with her mother, the designer gradually set up an office and small team, and business developed swiftly. “I put everything in me in it. I taught myself photography and editing. Teach yourself everything you can so as to be able to be on top of everything, and once you realise what you are capable of doing, that’s the most rewarding part.”
Mohamed Khodeir, 25 - Co-founder of Tutorama
They call it ‘the Airbnb for tutors’, and they set out to dominate the industry not only nationally but also across the world. Together with his partner, Omar Khashaba, the duo has been making waves across startup competitions and have already closed an investment deal with A15. Having won top prizes at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition in the USA and the Seedstars pitching event at Alexandria’s Techne Summit, their highly curated marketplace for tutors launched recently in pilot phase. “People are signing up every day, so our bigger concern now is whether we will be able to handle the demand,” Khodeir says.
Yasmeen Khamis, 24, Farah El Masry, 24 - Co-founders of The Doodle Factory
It was while working at an NGO that Khamis and El Masry had the idea of fundraising for a cause. Their social startup, The Doodle Factory, holds painting sessions with sick children and uses their creations to create projects and sell them, raising funds for them. Having branched out of the NGO Mashroua3 Kheir, these power girls kicked off in March 2016 together with their team, launching product campaigns in partnership with NGOs, which are specifically dedicated to help children. “We have a case that needs a cochlear operation, so we created a specific art session and a set of products to fundraise for it,” Khamis explains. Their last campaign, focused on children with burns, raised 80,000 EGP in product sales.
Mustafa Sharara, 25 - Co-founder of Excuse My Content
His startup, Excuse My Content, has been making waves in the digital media world, creating a buzz and garnering a reputation based on what Sharara calls the startup’s core principle. “We are not an agency and we are not a production house; we create content with value, which means inspirational, digital, standing out, and based on storytelling,” he explains. The hustling entrepreneur – known for his mobile photography - founded his first startup, Csquare in 2011, following an incubation programme by Injaz Egypt. As he kicked off Excuse My Content in 2016, he took part in Injaz’s caravan to Silicon Valley, where he pitched to global investors. “I am going back there in June; but I’m not looking for investment, I’m looking for mentorship,” he says.
Farouk Ahmed, 21, Mokhtar Osman, 22, and Waheed Magdy, 22 - Co-founders of Tyro
With a vision for tutoring that transcends formal education, the trio’s platform, Tyro, works as a matchmaker between learners seeking all kinds of skills, and instructors who can teach. From music, to carpentry, to maths, the list is endless. Having won the Upscale startup competition at Alexandria’s Techne Summit 2016, the platform launched its pilot ‘hub’, where a database of instructors will be filtered based on field, price, and experience.
Omar El-Safty, 23 - Event Director of Maker Faire Cairo
The General Manager of Fab Lab Egypt and organiser of Egypt’s largest conference for the maker movement – Maker Faire Cairo - El-Safty strived to turn the Arab Spring’s revolutionary ideas into concrete action. “We wanted something huge. We had the idea that only manufacturing in Egypt would get us on the right track. We had a vision of having 2 million makers, from craftsmen to people building robots. The organisation, the first Fablab in the Arab World, put together the Maker Faire, an event that gathered 5,000 people in 2015 and a massive 10,000 strong crowd this year at Cairo’s tech hub, the Greek Campus.
Deena Moussa, 17 - Hemostat V-Seal
Her story went viral this year, as the entire country shared the tale of the 17-year-old who discovered a chemical composition to save lives. “I had started doing research on how to stop blood loss because it is the second leading cause of death in hospitals,” says the New York-based scientist and entrepreneur. Her product, Hemostat V-Seal, stops bleeding of lethal wounds in between seven and ten seconds, and has already obtained the patent in the USA, as well as earned her prizes by Google and NASA. Striving to commercialise it soon, the teenage prodigy doesn’t think about profit. “These services have to be available to people, especially those who need it the most. As long as you have revenue to sustain the business itself, the most important thing is to impact and influence people,” she says.
May Mahmoud, 25, Mai Emam, 25 and Zeina Hussein, 26 - Co-founders of Hommect
Coming all the way from Alexandria, this female trio has just returned from a trip to Silicon Valley, as part of Injaz Egypt’s caravan to the world’s most famous tech valley. Their outsourcing platform, Hommect, links home owners to interior designers, who can make bids and offers for homeowners who can choose to hire them. A result of the delicious fusion between an IT specialist and two architects, the startup incubated by Injaz Egypt, much like the Uber model, serves both designers and users striving to find the perfect match. After winning the Upscale competition in Alexandria last May, the entrepreneurs are now raising funds through a crowdfunding campaign on Egyptian platform Tennra.
Mohamed Abdelkhalek, 16 - Founder of COWS
At 16, Abdelkhalek runs an international non-profit with the confidence of a seasoned diplomat. He started his NGO, Citizens of the World Society (COWS), while living in Nigeria to inspire and encourage other high school students to volunteer. As he settled back in Egypt, he established another country office, organising community service activities in Fayoum. Starting off with 14 members, the organisation has now expanded to 70 and managed to secure a sponsor who makes a yearly donation.
Mohamed Hamed, 25 and Mahmoud Sherif, 26 - Co-founders of Juzoor
It took some time for these 8 engineering students to convince farmers in Egypt’s south that the discard of the palm trees could be a source of income. “We were shocked by the barriers between the farmers and our culture; we had to convince them about the benefit in it,” says Hamed, who kick-started the company when he was still a university student planning his graduation project. Partnering with farmers – through a flexible system adapted to each community’s cultural practices - they collect discarded palm midribs. “Every palm has 25 kg of palm midrib, 95 percent of which are burnt, and cause a really negative impact,” Sherif explains. Through machines designed by themselves, the entrepreneurs created a production line that begins in Upper Egypt’s fields and ends at a plant in Qalubeyya, where they turn midribs into wood boards used for furniture making. Having started with a research grant from Egypt’s Academy for Science and Technology; they went on to win Microsoft’s Young innovators award and MIT Arab startup competition, both in 2014. Last year, with a prototype and the support of Cleantech Arabia they brought two investors on board.
Amira El Gharib, 25 - Co-founder of Orcas
Cairo Sitters had been in the market for four years when they decided to rebrand it as Orcas this year. “We shifted from an offline agency to an online platform and a mobile app,” she explains. A part of the troupe that Riseup took to Germany this year, Orcas signed Egyptian Kamelizer as an investor, in a move to scale and transform their platform into a global app that allows users to view profiles, book sessions, and review them. With tutoring sessions averaging 150 LE, the entrepreneurial team sells over 1,000 hours on a monthly basis. “The business model is that you connect with babysitters and tutors who are around the area and convenient. It’s a model to replicate,” she says.
Mohamed Hegazy, 25 - Founder of Transport for Cairo
Battling Cairo's choking pollution does not have to do with a new system or a mobile app for this social entrepreneur; he wants to improve the existing system by understanding it first. Inspired by a mapping exercise he saw in Nairobi, the entrepreneur took on the mammoth task of mapping Cairo's public transport system - a highly irregular and chaotic network of microbuses - through technologies and research methods. Having received funding from Etijah and sponsorship from Alwaleed Philanthropies, Hegazy is delving into this cutting-edge research topic globally, with a team of eight who work across borders - he is currently in Morocco, heading to Paris - and collaborations with similar initiatives in Amman and Beirut.
Amr El Raiany, 23 - Partner in Voxera
El Raiany is a founding member of a startup raising eyebrows across the startup world, not only in Egypt but globally. The startup, Voxera, has created a device that can potentially disrupt the telecommunications industry by eliminating roaming fees. Their product, a device and an app that allows the user to send and receive calls and SMS at local prices by using the Wi-Fi signal. Despite it was not released to the market yet, they have received over a hundred orders from abroad, as well as requests from companies to acquire the device. The team is launching the Kickstarter campaign in tandem with the Riseup Summit’s first day.
Suliema Benhalim, 20 - Nino’s Bakery
Having kicked off her startup as a gap-year activity before entering university, her bakery Nino’s ballooned into a flourishing business that not only used social media to sell cupcakes, but expanded by opening its first store in Cairo’s upscale Zamalek. “I think the odds were against me,” she says, “because I was 17, I was a woman, and I have a child-like appearance, so some employees would look at me as if they were saying ‘you are not going to be my boss,’” she says. Having sold over 2,500 customized orders and racked up 18,000 followers on social media - her initial source of customers - the 20-year-old entrepreneur is now expanding the product.
Omar Moharram, 20 - Krafts
Passionate about design and eager to make a difference, Moharram and his partner Shahira Ashour created Krafts, an online design store that partners with non-profit organisations to empower women and give them a source of income. In partnership with El Alaa Charity, the changemakers headed off to Bab Zweila – an area known for its historical tentmaker community - and bought fabrics to bring Moharram’s designs, sewn by women hosted by the charity, to life.
Mohamed Nagi, 25 - Al Maqarr Co-working Space
His co-working space, Al Maqarr, is an emblem amongst Egyptian startup hubs; though many flourished in the post-revolutionary context, few of them survived the ups and downs of the country's battered economy. “We started as a student group who could never find a suitable place to study, so we thought: why not create the space?” he recalls. “We didn’t know it was called a co-working space." The youngest of four co-founders, Nagi was only 21 when he kicked off in 2011. At the time, there were only two co-working spaces in Egypt: The District and Rasheed 22. Having sold everything he owned to invest EGP 130,000 in the space, the co-founder broke even after the first year and now hosts 500 entities in his co-working hub. But scaling the model, he says, is still a challenge. “We are always compared to tech startups when introduced to investors, so they see a difference in the curve. But we want to support the startup ecosystem, and we really see a potential for the industry here," he says.
Tawfiq Mahmoud, 22 - Egyptian Researchers
This social warrior took it upon himself to reduce a cultural gap that is often overlooked in the scientific field: the translation of research papers. “I came up with the idea when I first started to read scientific material, especially the kind which we do not study in Egypt, such as astronomy, philosophy, and psychology,” he says. “I began to notice that those hard complex words and sentences could be presented in a very simple form.” His non-profit, EgyRes, kicked off two years ago with only two members, and ballooned into a team of 300 students, professors, and researchers, who are followed by over 350.000 people across Arab world. The material they translate and produce – which so far amounts to 4,000 scientific articles – is posted on their Facebook page and website.
Check out CairoScene's 25 under 25, 2015 edition here.
Shot exclusively at the MO4 studios by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb.
Art Director: Karim Alwi)