Time for an entrepreneurial uprising in Egypt

Friday 08/05/2015
Fuelling the entrepreneurial spirit

CAIRO - Egypt needs a new uprising; an entrepre­neurial uprising that will create a pool of energetic, passionate, technology-savvy entrepreneurs and agents of change who will make a differ­ence.
But an entrepreneurial upris­ing requires an entrepreneurial ecosystem, which requires the cooperation of multiple stakehold­ers: young people, practitioners, academics, industry experts, busi­ness leaders, mentors, investors, innovators – all are necessary to create the entrepreneurial space. Creating an entrepreneurial culture is never a one-man show nor the playground of one organisation. It is a collective effort towards com­mon goals: creating jobs and boost­ing economic productivity.
Egypt’s population is growing by 2.1% — or more than 2 million peo­ple — annually and 58% of Egypt’s 85 million people are under the age of 25. Egypt’s public sector employs 7.1 million people, which puts a huge pressure on the government but still means that the bulk of the population earns its living from the private sector. More specifically, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) employ 70% of Egypt’s workforce and contribute 25% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP); 90% of Egypt’s SMEs are family businesses.
Egypt’s culture and tradition of SME are distinct advantages for SMEs are the primary venues by which entrepreneurs provide economies with a continuous sup­ply of ideas, skills and innovation. In countries with a large youth population, SMEs are an ideal platform for employment and job creation in major cities as well as remote locations.
Egypt is not rich in natural resources but it is blessed with the resource of human capital, an incredible force that could move Egypt forward by creating a start-up culture. And as the Arab world’s largest and most influential nation, developments in Egypt could prolif­erate across the Middle East, given that the demographics of many countries are similar to Egypt’s.
But start-ups and SMEs can make a difference only if the proper legal, investment and other support mechanisms are in place. To be successful, start-ups need to scale up and scaling up cannot happen unless the right infrastructure and “infostructure” is in place, dissemi­nated and institutionalised.
In this environment, SMEs have the potential to create the thou­sands of jobs in the years to come — exactly what the economies of the region need.
For a decade now, many Arab countries have been testing the prospects of creating an entrepre­neurial space to ensure employ­ment for their youth. Youth in the Arab world are eager to make a dif­ference, start their own businesses and contribute to the society.
Unlike previous generations, they are not primarily looking for opportunities as civil servants. They want to take risks, venture into the business world and find out whether they have all that it takes to be successful in a competitive marketplace.
This represents a huge and posi­tive shift in mindset. Egyptians are traditionally risk averse, preferring the notion of “wait and see” over taking immediate, not well-studied and deliberated actions. This has been changing since the early years of the 21st century and has been facilitated by the widespread diffusion of the communications technology across Egypt, which boasts more than 52% and 114% internet and mobile penetration rates, respectively. The diffusion of information and communication technology (ICT) has had a positive effect on the growing role of SMEs and the associated opportunities that come with it.
With the need to create more than 800,000 jobs per year in Egypt, the path for development and growth can only be created through an agile, competitive and expanding start-up community.
Creating a thriving start-up environment requires both talented individuals and a receptive and supportive society. While spread­ing the notion of entrepreneurship to a broader audience across the community, there also is a need to identify, mentor, incubate, finance, connect and support those who possess natural talents, facilitating their success. From theoretical and academic, to practical and applied, the space of entrepreneurship is well on its way to help build Egypt’s economy.
Egypt is a nation that is more than 7,000 years old, with a rich history, culture and civilisation. But it is a new land of opportunity and so much opportunity remains untapped, especially Egypt’s pre­cious and invaluable human capital. A nationwide competitive entre­preneurial uprising can help build a culture that could turn Egypt into a start-up society and eventually a start-up nation.