The American University in Cairo’s start-up incubator the Venture Lab (V-Lab) brought its sixth cycle to a close on May 11, marking the graduation of nine new start-ups at its bi-annual Demo Day celebration held on the New Cairo campus.
The event drew a large crowd of AUC students and faculty, as well as investors and business-insiders to hear entrepreneurs pitch their ideas.
“As you know, entrepreneurship is the pillar of sustainable development, and we are committed to developing students but also we have a commitment to Egypt, to the communities in which we all work,” said AUC President Thomas Thomason in his opening remarks.
The event was sponsored by the Arab African International Bank, a long-time partner of the V-Lab.
“The Central Bank started to promote micro-initiatives, smaller mediums and micro-enterprises by allocating funds with low interest rates to empower the small enterprises, around last December,” Dalia Abdel Kader, the director of marketing and communications at the Arab African International Bank, told Egyptian Streets.
“That was a message that banks should work on changing their business policies and practices to accommodate the bottom and the middle of the pyramids.”
The wide range of start-ups focused largely on e-commerce based business models but with very different end results – from creative online retail solutions like Farawlaya, an online lingerie store, and El-Zanqa, an retail hub that tries to reduce the cost of running small businesses online, to innovative gaming platforms like GBarena, a platform for gamers to organize competitive tournaments.
“Egypt has one of the highest paces of IT and internet literacy, I think we’re the second in the world, so that’s why I think [there is a high] concentration on social media and this is a good thing,” Abdel Kader told Egyptian Streets.
“But it also leaves unattended sectors like the manufacturing sectors and business sector and I wish entrepreneurship gets evenly spread across different economic sectors.”
Start-up founders took to the stage to explain the inception of their concepts, what services their apps and websites could provide, and how they determined a need in the market for these services – after which they networked with the attendees.
“Something I’m really proud of is that the AUC V-Lab is mainly for entrepreneurs who are not AUC students. We wanted it to be open to all young entrepreneurs, not only in Egypt, but in the Arab region,” said Karim Seghir, Dean of the AUC School of Business.
The V-Lab offers access to AUC resources like faculty, the library and the facility – giving entrepreneurs the chance to make their ideas come to life – but it does not acquire equity if a project is picked up by a potential investor.
“Our mindset and our value proposition wasn’t clear-cut, so we spent time sculpting it with the help of the V-Lab. That was one of our biggest challenges. We also made plenty of assumptions about consumer behavior that we then had to work to validate, and our mentors’ help was invaluable for that,” Adel Sabry, one of the founders of Farawlaya.com.
The V-Lab was awarded the High Impact Incubation Award for the Middle East and North Africa region by UBI Global in 2015.
Applications for the seventh incubation cycle open in July and the cycle is due to start in September.