Egyptian know-how startups stand on the shoulders of giants

Startups



For a younger Youssri Helmy, it was a Tandy Radio Shack (TRS) 80 that first piqued his curiosity in know-how. For Wael Amin, it was the Commodore 64 that he acquired when he was 4 years previous. Certainly, Youssri and Wael developed a ardour for utilizing know-how to unravel a few of the world’s hardest issues, and put that keenness to work by founding an Egyptian know-how firm known as ITWORX, a agency that will develop to make use of greater than 800 folks with eight places of work worldwide.

For Youssef Aly, it was an MSX pc he programmed to indicate his brother he was the dumbest man on the planet and that Youssef was the neatest. For one among his co-founders, Hamdy Khalil, it was his Atari 2200. They based eSpace as one of many MENA area’s unique “hacker companies.”

As a younger PhD pupil at MIT, Dr. Khaled Ismail was motivated by the engineering problem of designing the smallest units potential. This drive led him to create Egypt’s first chip design agency, SySDSoft.

To the priority the dad and mom of 16-year-old Waleed Khalil — the founding father of a number of electronics companies — it was his curiosity in electrical energy and the merchandise that use it that launched his journey to develop Olkya, the primary digital merchandise firm in Egypt.

A younger Alaa Agamawi obtained his begin working for his household enterprise in 1979, which re-sold western computer systems into Egypt. There, his want grew to develop Arabic software program that would attain the lots within the Center East and to construct an Egyptian know-how business that world markets would discover.

With know-how and curious minds, these founders not solely constructed nice merchandise and firms, they created the muse for a robust and resilient know-how sector that has been an financial driver and job creator in a rustic on the lookout for secure footing.

Founding fathers of Cairo’s know-how sector

The know-how localizer

Alaa Agamawi is without doubt one of the pioneering founders of Egypt’s IT sector. Although his household enterprise re-sold western computer systems in Egypt, he knew that software program, not , offered the perfect development alternative. The household enterprise was gradual, as English-based software program had a small market in Egypt within the mid-1980s. The issue, Alaa noticed, was that the working system DOS didn’t work in Arabic.

This despatched Alaa down a path to put the muse of the Egyptian know-how business. In 1982, Alaa based Arabic Info Methods (Information Arab), which created the primary Arabization utility for DOS. He later developed a easy Arabic phrase processor. Slowly, multinational software program corporations began to see the Arabic language international locations as a viable market and began to method Alaa to localize their software program. In 1986, he developed an Arabized spellchecker for Apple, which was the primary systematic Arabic analyzer.

There have been a number of spin-offs from Information Arab from a few of the unimaginable engineers he employed. A kind of engineers was Youssri Helmy, who was very enthusiastic about graphics functions. Alaa knew Youssri’s curious thoughts was restricted at Information Arab and supported him in his subsequent endeavor.

Placing Egypt’s’ IT options on the worldwide map

Youssri Helmy has all the time been a person forward of his time, with unimaginable know-how insights and imaginative and prescient. He went to Cairo College on the age of 17 to study electrical engineering. Youssri thought the courses had been a waste of time, so he began to find out about software program improvement on his personal at night time. Whereas working at Information Arab, Youssri was liable for porting accounting software program to an Apple pc in Arabic. He beloved writing software program and wished to know what software program Egyptians wished.

So within the late 1980s, he created an Apple consumer neighborhood known as “Apple Pie” in Egypt. He met all 1,000 Apple customers in Egypt to grasp how they wished to make use of their pc. He discovered that folks wished a bilingual drawing package deal, and thus his first startup was born. He developed a low-end graphics program that Apple beloved, and shortly he had a licensing settlement with Apple. Sadly, the royalties stopped in 1992 and he needed to make essential selections about his future. He was 30 years previous and married with a daughter. Fortunately sufficient, he met Wael Amin they usually went on to create the most important software program outsourcing firm in Egypt.

The corporate was impressed and requested if there have been different Egyptian software program builders.

 

Wael Amin was additionally an overachiever, and at a really early age he noticed the facility of know-how and wished to harness it. He went to the American College in Cairo (AUC) on the age of 14 and graduated by the point he was 17 in 1993. He then began with Microlabs with two companions, growing software program merchandise for the Center East. Youssri meet Wael and was enthusiastic about Microlabs as a result of it was growing Microsoft Home windows functions and he thought it might complement its Apple functions, so he purchased the corporate. In a 12 months, they had been bankrupt.

One week after the chapter, Youssri and Wael began ITWORX collectively to make use of know-how to unravel issues. A former worker of Youssri’s discovered a job at Corel in Canada. The corporate was impressed with this engineer and requested if there have been different Egyptian software program builders. Quickly Youssri was on a aircraft to Canada and ITWORX had its first buyer. The connection with Corel was not typical for software program outsourcing within the 1990s. Corel wished to supply concepts from ITWORX, which included a video editor that received a number of awards. ITWORX grew to 1,000 engineers at its largest in 2001, and was capable of launch a few spin-offs within the U.S. and Egypt.

The massive dreamer 

Dr. Khaled Ismail has all the time been pushed by engineering challenges. Though MIT wished him to remain on after he graduated with a PhD, he wished to work for IBM analysis labs and wished to push the bounds of constructing chips sooner. At IBM he developed about eight patents and set a world report on the pace electronics might transfer on a chip.

Though Ismail was very profitable within the U.S., he wished to return to Egypt and develop know-how merchandise. He based a few corporations, together with in 2002 SySDSoft, which designed wi-fi applied sciences on chips. One of these know-how was not heard of in Egypt. Ismail’s objective was having a crew of 1,000 extremely expert engineers. Within the first week of enterprise, SySDSoft had prospects on 5 continents. In three years he was capable of rent 100 wonderful engineers. As soon as they centered on growing the mental property primarily based on LTE know-how, issues actually took off for SySDSoft.

In 2010 as consolidation was taking place within the business, Intel approached SySDSoft to accumulate them, to which they agreed. In truth, Ismail was negotiating with Intel in the USA because the 2011 revolution was taking place in Egypt. Though the revolution slowed down the negotiations, it didn’t cease it and phrases had been reached a month after the revolution, even with the shortage of Egyptian authorities creating large political danger and weekly protests.

The Egyptian hackers

The primary pc science program on the college was not in Cairo however at Alexandria College. There have been two teams of buddies who went to Alexandria College within the 1990s and labored on software program issues. One group had Youssef Aly, who would go to the MIT web site and search for pc issues to unravel; the opposite group, lead by Hamdy Khalil, would do weekend-long hacker occasions at his home. Throughout this time, in late 1990s-2000s, an settlement with Microsoft and the federal government of Egypt was put in place to do away with unlawful software program downloads on the universities. Youssef and Hamdy had been upset about this and began an open supply software program and internet improvement endeavor; they known as the corporate eSpace in 2001 with 10 co-founders (not the neatest transfer on the time).

For the founders of the Egyptian tech sector, their management is proven by the longer term technology of enterprise leaders they assist to empower.

 

In 2004 they obtained a giant break — an essential contract from Unilever that requested a gross sales automation answer. eSpace determined to do the challenge at value, however was capable of resell the software program; this turned these hackers into an actual enterprise. Throughout the subsequent seven years totally different founders got here and went as eSpace grew its repute in open-source programming. Quickly after the 2011 revolution, the federal government wanted to speak to the residents about an upcoming referendum and wished an IT firm to do it without cost and in two weeks. eSpace took up the job and utilized its hacker tradition to finish the platform in per week, without cost. eSpace then obtained eight extra election initiatives from the federal government as they grew to become the go-to agency for open-source applied sciences.

Electronics is not only for Asia

On the age of 10, Waleed Khalil took a course on being technician and fell in love with electronics. Within the late 1980s, Waleed would take aside digital units and construct digital circuit boards. After highschool, Waleed went to Cairo College and studied electronics, however the programs weren’t attention-grabbing; what was extra attention-grabbing was constructing merchandise. He was so good at this a lot of fellow college students would ask him to construct their electronics commencement initiatives for them.

Electronics was new to Egypt and he and a few college students developed the electronics membership, wherein college students with a standard ardour constructed refined electronics merchandise of their free time. This group of scholars had a imaginative and prescient, however most different college students simply made enjoyable of them, calling them “Einsteins.” This specific Einstein was lucky to satisfy with Ahmed Bahgat, who was the founding father of a serious industrial group. Ahmed gave younger Waleed the big activity to handle a few of his main digital manufacturing processes. He then joined an organization known as Metra, which wished to design and manufacture native circuit boards in Egypt; Waleed grew to become the manufacturing facility supervisor and this helped him transfer towards his ardour of constructing merchandise.

The U.S. firm Mentor Graphics then employed Waleed, and he discovered find out how to design software program. Waleed knew he was a terrific engineer however wished to be a stronger enterprise individual. He was lucky sufficient to obtain the Yousef Jameel Scholarship and earned an MBA on the American College in Cairo. After he graduated in 2007, he began his personal firm, Oteena, in 2008 which grew to become a distributor and retail marketing consultant for digital corporations in Egypt. After visiting an R&D Middle in Korea, Waleed wished to be the primary firm in Egypt to design and construct digital components and promote into Africa. So in 2010, he created Olkya, which produced flash drives and smartphones, and later designed and constructed the primary Egyptian pill.

This was only the start of the Egyptian tech ecosystem

Getting the tech business working collectively

One in all my favourite quotes about management comes from America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams. He mentioned: “In case your actions encourage others to dream extra, study extra, do extra and turn out to be extra, you’re a chief.” For the founders of the Egyptian tech sector, their management is proven by the longer term technology of enterprise leaders they assist to empower. For instance, Alaa had a a lot greater imaginative and prescient than Information Arab; it was essential for him not simply to construct a enterprise however an business.

So within the 1980s he and a few different Egyptian know-how founders created the Software program Board, which later grew to become the Software program Affiliation, of which he was the chair between 1996-2011. He wished the business to work collectively to exhibit to the worldwide market the facility of Egypt’s know-how sector. His imaginative and prescient was to get the business to work collectively to current its means to develop cutting-edge know-how that would supply worth to world markets.

ITWORX, the startup spin-off machine

ITWORX employed the perfect and wished staff like Wael and Youssri — engineers who had a curious thoughts and wished to unravel the world’s issues with know-how. To do that they needed to create a tradition extra distinctive than most conventional Egyptian corporations, a tradition the place it was OK to make errors. Engineers at ITWORX had distinctive alternatives growing totally different applied sciences for a various variety of industries all over the world. At any time when an worker wished to experiment with their very own enterprise concept on the facet, Wael and Youssri gave them the liberty to do that — and had been even prepared to provide small loans when these staff left to begin their very own companies.

This rising and reliant business wouldn’t have occurred with out the unique know-how founders from the 1980s and 1990s whose DNA was to unravel issues with know-how.

 

Due to the tradition, there are 48 spin-off tech corporations that got here from ITWORX, in line with a examine by Endeavor Perception. This consists of Mohamed Rafea, co-founder of Bey2ollak, a crowd-based site visitors app that launched through the revolution. Wael and Youssari are now not a part of ITWORX, however proceed to help younger founders, like Wael Amin, who’s now a accomplice in one of many Center East’s premier enterprise capital companies, Sawari Ventures.

Tech startup investor and champion

For greater than 5 years on most Thursday afternoons you would discover Dr. Khaled Ismail at his favourite espresso store on the island of Zamalek mentoring a brand new startup. Since he bought SySDSoft to Intel he felt obligated to pay it ahead and have become a full-time mentor and a severe angel investor. For instance, one among his investments was in younger founder Mostafa Hemdan and his startup RecycloBekia, which helps to unravel the massive waste administration drawback in Egypt. Like ITWORX, SySDSoft has been a serious supply of spin-offs, with 23 tech corporations being spun out. Ismail has moved from angel investor to enterprise capitalist and one of many founders of Algebra Ventures, which is the most important VC fund in Egypt.

The event of the startup hacker tradition

In some ways, eSpace revolutionized how product improvement was completed in Egypt. For that motive, so lots of the individuals who depart eSpace are a few of the most essential components of the startup ecosystem in Egypt. This consists of Ramez Mohamed, the CEO of one of the crucial profitable accelerators within the Center East (Flat6Labs), and Ziad Mokhtar, who’s a long-term Egyptian enterprise capitalist and based Algebra Ventures with Ismail. A number of startups founders had been spin-offs from eSpace, like Sabrine Assem and her agency Untap, which is an innovation company leveraging crowd sourcing.

Tremendous mentor

There isn’t a higher mentor for startups than Waleed Khalil. For him, guiding startup helps him. “It helps what you are promoting if you assist others. Good issues and challenges sheds gentle in different areas, it doesn’t have to be the identical business or the identical product. You turn out to be smarter.” About 10 of his staff have spun out totally different companies with Waleed’s encouragement.

Egypt know-how sector — a resilient financial driver

The know-how sector in Egypt has been a reliant shining gentle in a rustic that has had grey clouds because the 2011 revolution. Whereas nationwide GDP development has been stagnant and solely picked up in 2015, the ICT sector has been rising 13 % per 12 months from 2012 to 2015 and at present is the quickest rising sector in Egypt whereas rising employment to greater than 200,000 folks. That is essential as a result of Egypt has one of many highest charges of unemployed college-educated professionals on the planet, and the know-how sector is without doubt one of the solely industries capable of make use of these graduates.

This rising and reliant business wouldn’t have occurred with out the unique know-how founders from the 1980s and 1990s whose DNA was to unravel issues with know-how. They ensured their ardour and DNA was downloaded to their staff and different founders they mentored. The management of Youssri, Wael, Alaa, Youssef, Waleed, Hamdy, Khaled and several other others should result in the event of an business that gives financial viability and hope to a rustic that has struggled to seek out stability during the last couple of years.

Featured Picture: Roland Birke/Getty Photographs



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