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Thursday, 9 December 2021

My Morning Routine: Omar Shoukry, founder and CEO of Nawah Scientific

Omar Shoukry, founder and CEO of Nawah Scientific: Each week, My Morning Routine looks at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Presented in association with healthy foods brand Abu Auf. Speaking with us this week is Omar Shoukry, CEO and founder of private research center Nawah Scientific (LinkedIn). Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My name is Omar Shoukry and I spent 15 years in academia before founding Nawah Scientific. I got my MA in pharma tech from the German University in Cairo and my PhD from the University of Geneva. I spent most of my early career in pharma research in Berlin and later in Geneva. After I did my PhD, I decided to switch from pure academia to entrepreneurship, so I got my MBA from Hult Business School in the UK. I founded Nawah six years ago with the idea of bringing the cloud lab model to Egypt.

You could say that Nawah combines e-commerce and scientific research in a blender. Nawah is a central lab — the same idea as a cloud kitchen, but for scientific testing — that gives individual researchers and corporates access to a large depository of services. We do scientific analysis of anything that isn’t related to humans: Vitamins, food, nutritional facts, air, water, soil, etc. In six years, we have tested 100k+ samples from over 12 countries and today, we are the biggest private lab in Egypt. Our vision is to dominate the Middle East and Africa with the hub model and we have plans to launch our second hub in Nigeria next year.

As the founder and CEO of Nawah, I have the typical tasks of any CEO. I directly oversee the company culture and business environment, and business development and sales. I also oversee fundraising and general management.

We did a lot of crisis management during the pandemic. If we had been a diagnostics lab, we would have done great, but given our line of business, we had to find new products. We developed a skin-sensitive hand sanitizer that was successful and we developed a virology lab that now supports Egyptian vaccine manufacturing.

Egypt has more than 150k bright-minded scientists, which is a very big number for any country, but our output is minimal, partly because our lab facilities are inadequate, which cripples the potential of the scientific community.

One of the things we are proud of is that 50% of our team is women. This is not because we set out to hire women, but because they are very good at science and play a huge role at Nawah.

I’m a very early bird. I start working at dawn and those two hours in the morning are my focus time. Then my kids wake up and I drive them to school and go to the office and stay there until late. I also play tennis three times a week.

I stay focused and organized by delegating tasks. I’m very fortunate to have a very strong team, so I trust them with tasks and focus on my own work. And the other thing is those two hours that I take in the morning really help me stay focused.

The one thing I have to do every day is read for at least half an hour or 45 minutes. I like to read about personal skills, mainly leadership. Nawah grew from five to 85 people, so you have to grow your leadership skills quickly to keep up. I am also a scientist, so I like to stay updated on science. And I love to read history and biographies.

My favorite way to switch off completely is to go diving. I love to just go underwater and spend time with the fish. But tennis helps on a weekly basis.

Being the sole founder of a high-growth startup took its toll on me at some point because of the amount of stress that I was under all the time. We triple in size year-on-year and that can be very stressful. At one point, I had to be treated for workaholism. It also takes a toll on your family, and my wife and children were not happy with me. I still don’t think I have a good work-life balance, but I really value the time that I spend with my children every day.

My advice to other startup founders is to have co-founders to share the load with. It’s very easy to lose your family in the process of building a startup. You have to put vacations and family on your calendar, just like you block time for work.

The other thing that is easier said than done is to enjoy the journey. You have to accept that you will constantly be stressed, and stress can be good because it means that you have incoming potential.

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