Egyptian university entrepreneurship programs Part 2: What are they getting right? Last week, we looked at how universities play a vital role in Egypt’s growing entrepreneurship scene, providing concrete skills for students to start their own businesses. University entrepreneurship programs offer services ranging from informal drop-in advice to tailored acceleration programs, and broader awareness-raising to reach a wider audience.
We asked the experts: We polled startup program leaders, entrepreneurs and VCs on the biggest strengths of university entrepreneurship programs and where they still see room for improvement. Today, we’re looking at what they tell us these programs do well, particularly in early-stage awareness-raising, access to resources and sector-specific knowledge, mentorship and helping students develop skills with market applicability.
Being sector-specific, aligned with university expertise: The best university startup programs complement the universities’ own specialized experience, says founding director of AUC’s V-Lab Ayman Ismail. “Creating programs aligned with what’s happening at the university is extremely important, so they benefit from and provide benefit to the university.” The Arab Academy’s startup incubator program focuses on logistics, while the Heliopolis University program focuses on sustainability. iHub was initially focused on engineering innovations in the Ain Shams School of Engineering.
Fostering connections and scaling: By replicating successful models in different locations, or sharing experiences that other programs can adapt, more students can benefit from university startup program services. iHub now serves 26 universities from 44 locations, with over 97k beneficiaries, says founder Maged Ghoneima. “We scaled from Ain Shams across other universities. I’ve recently created a new advisory committee with eight other university entrepreneurship program leaders, to plan more interventions and replicate our success.”
Early-stage entrepreneurship awareness-raising: Sparking an interest in entrepreneurship among students who’ve never been exposed to it before is probably the biggest service university entrepreneurship programs offer, say multiple sources. iHub, Cairo University’s FEPS BI, Assiut University’s Hemma, and Nile University’s Nilepreneurs have all done well informally engaging students inside their universities through meetups, info sessions, webinars, seminars, and film nights, says Ghoneima. V-Lab spreads awareness about entrepreneurship to AUC students, says Falak Startups Managing Director Youssef ElSammaa. “This awareness wasn’t there when I was at university,” he said. V-Lab works with many non-student entrepreneurs, giving AUC students valuable startup exposure, he adds.
More formal entrepreneurship courses let students dip their toes in the water: Elective courses at Cairo and Ain Shams universities have done this well, says Ghoneima. Nile University and BUE’s undergraduate courses in entrepreneurship (taken as business minors) encourage students to start their own small businesses — even if they don’t continue after graduation, Nilepreneurs founder Nezar Sami tells Enterprise.
Connecting industry mentors with students: Technical and business mentorship is a key component of most university startup incubator programs, says Sami. Having industry mentors — particularly CEOs and COOs — enhances program credibility for students, he adds. FEPS BI has very good mentors, including graduates and alumni, says one expert.
Holding competitions where students apply skills to real-life challenges: University programs excel in holding competitions that require creative thinking and problem solving — from iHub’s Electric Vehicle Rally (EVER) to the AASTMT Entrepreneurship Center’s Rally Startup Competition, FEPS BI executive director Heba Zaki tells Enterprise.
Focusing on ready-to-market ideas: Programs built around market needs, rather than student interests, create startups that are more likely to survive, says Sami. FEPS BI has just launched its Sustainable Innovation Lab program, focused on creating startups aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, says Zaki. V-Lab, meanwhile, is now targeting more mature entrepreneurs and pushing for commercial value, says Ismail. “The average age has increased. Most of our entrepreneurs are now in their early-mid 30s. We’re launching programs that produce companies that can go to market, and bringing investments with a decent degree of success.”
Creating a clear, in-program link with the job market: FEPS BI’s recently-launched Student Consultancy Program sends talented university students to startups and NGOs to work where there’s no in-house capacity, says Zaki. This hands-on practical experience is highly beneficial, she says. FEPS BI also runs the Nielsen Technology & Operations Academy, a nine-month program where Cairo University students are trained in market research, before the highest-ranked are offered jobs at Nielsen.
Universities are natural environments to foster early startup growth, because of the resources they can leverage. Generally, universities have access to space, equipment, labs, manufacturing workshops, and expert academic knowledge, says Ghoneima. They’re great environments for testing, validating, and prototyping ideas to address particular issues, he says.
The goal of most university programs? To build an early-stage pipeline of entrepreneurs: There are six key stages in a startup’s development, says Ghoneima:
“Generally, university startup programs target the first two stages,” says Ghoneima. “They have access to youth and can transform their mindsets through education.”
A rich pipeline is essential, because startups are high-risk — and most will fail: A certain amount of failure is simply part of the entrepreneurship model, say sources, which is why building a strong pipeline is vital. “Entrepreneurship is high-risk, and this means there’s the risk of failure,” says Ismail. “As an investor, you have to know that ultimately if you invest in 10 startups, 8 of them may fail and you hope a few will do well.”
But could programs be doing even more? Despite these successes, our insiders tell us that there are things universities get wrong or could stand to do better in. These include fostering deeper connections with the broader entrepreneurship ecosystem, and offering young entrepreneurs more training on governance and leadership. We explore these and more in detail next week.
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