Wednesday, 14 December 2016

RiseUp 2016: The Enterprise Conference Report

RiseUp Summit 2016: entrepreneurs hungry for inspiration, know-how, investment opportunities

The fourth annual RiseUp summit ran Friday through Sunday, buzzing with the energy of young entrepreneurs, investors eager to explore the ‘ecosystem’ (we hate that word) in Egypt and the region, and business figures who came to inspire. Between The GrEEK Campus and AUC’s Main Tahrir Campus, the 4,366 participants caught the many workshops, activities, talks, and panels happening throughout the Fintech, Creative Economy, Cleantech, Entrepreneurship know-how, and Science and Tech Innovation tracks. Below is our wrap up the highlights we attended.

“The region’s start-up scene is getting bigger and better each year, and we’re witnessing huge successes, but also a lot of challenges. Start-ups still lack access to funding, talent, know-how, markets and exposure. This is what RiseUp Summit 2016 is offering the ecosystem this year: content that is 100% focused on these top five core needs,” Abdelhameed Sharara, CEO and founder of RiseUp, said, according to an e-mailed press release.

Our event highlights:

What makes a good CEO?

  • Being a passionate leader and learning to take the blame: Khaled Bichara, the CEO of Orascom Development Holding and co-founder of Accelero Capital, delivered a very inspiring talk about what it takes to be a great CEO. The former co-founder and CEO of LINKdotNET said it is not about control, it is about the culture you create in the company, and it comes top-down from a passionate CEO. “People will doubt what you say, but believe what you do.” You have to show the passion, and when you say it is a meritocracy, it has to be, he said.
  • Second tip: a successful CEO is one that lets the team deliver, not one who does everything themselves. It is someone who understands the importance of helping the team be successful and makes sure to show he/she is happy that they became successful. Last lesson from Bichara: a CEO is the one who takes the tough decisions, like firing or closing a production line.
  • Bottom line: A CEO takes more blame than success.

There is a major role for public policy to foster the entrepreneurial ecosystem:

  • A panel featuring Wael El Fakharany, managing director and senior VP of government relations at Careem, Matthew Spence, William J. Perry Fellow at Stanford University and partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and Ahmed El Alfi, chairman at Sawari Ventures, Flat6labs and The GrEEK Campus, discussed the role of policy in the ecosystem.
  • The government’s responsibility is to use local startups and seize the massive opportunities to bring people into the ecosystem in order to become banked, documented, and earn a good living, said El Fakharany. This would enable financial, economic, and social mobility. “There are opportunities that not enough people know of,” said Spence. The government should buy products and services from small players, said Spence.
  • One opportunity, is something like Careem’s services. Careem now has 40,000 drivers (which they call captains), a number expected to grow to 80,000 in six months, and to 150,000 in a year, said El Fakharany. Those captains are financially free and can have a credit scoring, which means they are bankable.

Internationally, Uber made use of that, and now it is shaping the future of urban mobility:

  • 10% of millennial Uber riders in the US say they have either given up owning a car or haven’t bought one to begin with, said Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Head of Operations EMEA at Uber. Ride-sharing applications are also complementing public transport, he explained, as people take rides from and to metro stations, for example. “A better future is within our grasp; it is one where people share rides and take public transit simply because it’s a better option to owning a car,” he said.
  • New Jersey town scrapped a plan to build a parking lot and decided to pay Uber instead, an incident that puts into reality CEO Travis Kalanick’s vision of “reclaiming our cities” by getting more people into fewer cars, as he explained in this TED Talk (runtime 19:19).
  • Gore-Coty gave entrepreneurs an insight for entrepreneurs: look for opportunities in roads that are less driven, never be afraid to switch lanes. “Being an entrepreneur is like driving a car on a highway with a lot of fog.” Also, you will make mistakes, or else you are won’t pushing your limits. Last but not least: be passionate.

Domestically, KarmSolar showed us it is trying to shape the future of energy:

  • KarmSolar held a satellite event to make a number of announcements, including the creation of their own solar pumping drive, which was displayed at the event. The solar pumping drive offers a smart system to monitor the farms that are irrigated by solar-powered pumps. The company also presented the Azza Fahmy buildings, designed by Azza Fahmy and KarmBuild, a subsidiary. The buildings are designed in a way to preserve the Egyptian culture and to generate their own energy, not needing light bulbs all day, and with no direct sunlight.
  • The first such building will be KarmSolar’s campus in Sahl Hasheesh, where in partnership with Egyptian Resorts Company and RiseUp, a technology hub will be launched in 2017 to encourage businesses and people to move outside of Cairo. Sahl Hasheesh and KarmPower, also a subsidiary, will build a 5.5 MW solar power plant to provide off-grid electricity.

And we are aware of the immense potential for fintech domestically and in the region:

  • Needing brick and mortar branches to operate a bank is thing of the past; you have phones and ATMs, said Frans Van Eersel, Founder & CEO of DoPay. “For banks to move away from that, that’s a real challenge … The regulator in Egypt has to open up and allow companies like our companies to act,” he said.
  • Partnering with banks or non-financial institutions is very useful to navigate through the complex set of laws, said Nader Iskander, founder & CEO of EME International. People trust telecom companies, which is another reason to partner with them, like PayMob partnered with Vodafone. They have distributions centers and are able to “touch the masses,” said PayMob co-founder and CEO Islam Shawky. Vodafone Cash seized 2.52 mn customers in two years, while CIB, which is a partner in Vodafone Cash, has 750k accounts, said Shawky. This is the way to change the way to do things in order be a cashless society, especially that point of sale devices are very expensive, said Shawky.
  • “It is not just about technology, it is also about the mindset of people,” said Van Eersel. And it is not just about payments, said Ahmed Salahy, regional manager of Payfort. There are services like insurance and lending that are still not in the market, which offers opportunities for entrepreneurs. “The mobile revolution will come from rural areas,” said Salahy. Shawky said the main use case is domestic remittances, sending money from Sinai to Upper Egypt, or Cairo to rural areas.

While challenges will always exist, there are keys to success:

  • Uber believes that the best way to grow business centers on having the best technology and the hardest working people, said Anthony Le Roux, Uber Middle East & Africa’s General Manager. Le Roux mentioned regulations as a challenge to scaling outside the local market. Karim Samra, Chief Operating Officer at Hult Prize Foundation, said “we are looking for individuals who are passionate about problems to solve,” said Samra.
  • “Execution is everything,” said Sharif El Badawi, Partner at 500 Startups which focuses on seed stage entrepreneurs. Having an idea is not enough, you have to put in the effort, he added. Large corporations also need to play a role in fostering the startup movement by becoming customers or partners, through strategic investments, or by acquiring startups, El Badawi added.
  • A tip for startups: Tech entrepreneurs are the most successful, so it is where investors are most likely to put in their money, said David van Dijk, Director General at the African Business Angel Network which helps local African investors grow their business by getting them educated and connected.

Media matters more than ever now:

  • Beme, a social media platform acquired by CNN last month, had been created to fill the need for authenticity in social media through live video creation, said Matt Hackett, co-founder and CTO of Beme. On platforms like Snapchat and Facebook, it is about how you want to be perceived. (If you download Beme, you can only sign in, not sign up, as the app will shut down by 31 January, 2017, and the team will build another app after the partnership with CNN.)
  • When you think of a startup, “you will really have to identify something in the market that is missing and believe 100% that you can fill that,” said Hackett. Making disruptive platforms is about finding a niche audience. There are many opportunities to take up in video; a venture capitalist told Hackett that 80% of Internet will be video in five or 10 years.

And there are steps to get that elusive media coverage:

  • How can entrepreneurs get media coverage? The Economist’s Cairo bureau chief Roger McShane said, “the way to get into the Economist is to have a successful story.” The story should include facts, such as investment value and market size, according to independent journalist Elizabeth Macbride who covers entrepreneurship in MENA for Forbes.
  • Egyptian Editors Forum’s Tarek Attia highlighted the need for print media to take a more in-depth, humanistic approach when covering entrepreneurship stories. On the challenge for covering women entrepreneurs specifically, Macbride raised the legitimate concern that when reporters portray them as breaking the glass ceiling, they tend to affirm this narrative – as if they should not break it.
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