After three successful RiseUp summits, the team behind the annual startup convention are rolling out an exciting suite of new entrepreneurial products.
by Nehal El Meligy
On a warm Cairo afternoon I make my way through the downtown GrEEK campus to meet with Gehad Hussein, co-founder of RiseUp, to discuss what’s on the horizon for the promising startup. On the ground floor there are four people playing table-tennis, and the only young woman amongst them is laughing, perhaps because she is winning. On my right a metal skeleton of a dinosaur biting a damaged keyboard greets visitors — a reminder that everyone here at the tech hub of Cairo has come to innovate, create and push boundaries. Despite the ‘geek’ in the GrEEK campus, the people lounging around on the stairs or sitting in the sun don’t seem too stressed.
For three years in a row RiseUp has successfully organized annual summits where entrepreneurs-to-be are provided with opportunities by attending inspirational and informative talks from professionals and those who have trodden down the often blurry path of entrepreneurship. In 2013, RiseUp Egypt was the first entrepreneurship summit in the country and the number of attendees has steadily increased every year, reaching 4,000 at 2015 “Quantum Leap” edition.
“The first summit was a platform for stakeholders and entrepreneurs to connect in order to build an ecosystem that is more robust and mature,” begins Hussein, catching up with me after a refreshing ping-pong game, her bright green eyes sparkling with pride as she speaks. “The second year was about strengthening the ties that were made, and the final summit was our Quantum Leap where we reached a point where the stakeholders were connected and the entrepreneurs got most of the resources that they needed.”
“So now it’s about how we can capture what’s happening after the quantum leap, this is where we’re at.”
The RiseUp team has not yet decided on a theme or a date for the next summit; they are currently filtering down different ways to connect entrepreneurs to the relevant resources and coming up with different methods to do so more efficiently, and not solely through the summit. In the meantime, there is a lot more brewing in the RiseUp teapot. One product that is still under construction is RiseUp Export. Its objective is to take entrepreneurs from Egypt to the events that are taking place worldwide such as Pioneers in Vienna, Pirate Summit in Germany, South by Southwest in Texas. By visiting such events, entrepreneurs can learn from the ecosystems, potential partners and investors and eventually build something more solid in Egypt.
Partnering up with student organizations and requesting volunteers during the summits is one way RiseUp promotes its activities. It has also reached out to the public with a booth in Cairo Innovates at Cairo University to show people that their ideas can become profitable and this is where they can get the resources.
While RiseUp does not offer entrepreneurial resources per se, the team takes its middleman role very seriously. For the past two weeks, the team has been discussing starting an online platform accessible to everyone in order to connect entrepreneurs with each other and with investors, and help them find the resources they need.
One product that has in fact been launched is RiseUp Meet Ups. Every Thursday morning founders of local startups gather to have breakfast together. The attendees also hear a speaker for 20 minutes and then are given the chance to ask questions or pitch ideas. Afterwards, they have the time to network and use RiseUp office hours for any inquiries. This event has so far taken place 15 times, and the number of attendees range from 50 to 70.
While RiseUp is creatively filling a need in the entrepreneurial market, Hussein puts their success down to the team’s adherence to its six values values: working with integrity, excellence, neutrality, inclusiveness, collaboration and transparency. “RiseUp is Switzerland!” Hussein jokes.
“The team doesn’t side with any entrepreneurs, partners or investors. Objectivity is what’s key for doing the job right,” adds Hussein. “We definitely focus on what the entrepreneur needs, but it’s not our role to take sides.” Just as RiseUp brings together entrepreneurs and investors every summit, they welcome anyone to work with them as long as they provide value. They don’t discriminate based on race, gender, or sex.
RiseUp’s target is not to change how business is done in the Middle East but they are hoping they are setting a good example by the way they do business. “Sharing is not a big part of the business culture in the Middle East, but that’s not the case for RiseUp. We don’t do anything alone,” Hussein says without a hint of embarrassment. “We wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for our partners. …There are always partners on board who help us achieve our goals. This year we’ve had over a 100 partners globally and locally.”
Seedstars from Switzerland, for instance, partnered with RiseUp to handle the pitch competition in the national finals. Another example is Wamda, with whom RiseUp partnered because they are very good with interviews and getting to the gist of the matter. “Everyone has their piece of the puzzle that they put in to make RiseUp.”
Despite Egypt’s current economic and safety fluctuations, investors are becoming more interested in Egypt and noticing local potential. Hussein’s proof is the two main series A investors Rise Up got last year; one with UK and Sweden, and one with UAE. “People are realizing what’s happening in the MENA region as a whole, and that there’s another side to it than conflict and terrorism.”
The climate has encouraged more people to turn their dreams into reality, especially with perceptions about entrepreneurship gradually changing. People are beginning to understand that entrepreneurs do actually have a purpose and are not merely busying themselves until they get a real job. Hussein recalls how her co-founder’s mother relentlessly tried to dissuade him from his ambiguous pursuits and wanted him to get a ‘secure’ 9-5 job. “She never understood what he was doing until she saw him on TV in an interview about RiseUp. It was only then that she realized her son was onto something real,” says Hussein.
As RiseUp is a young Egyptian startup, it is often thought to have a message to send to society or an agenda to change opinions about entrepreneurship, but Hussein assures she and the rest of the team are not out to convert everyone to entrepreneurship. She believes that not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur — and not everyone wants to be one. “Also for the sake of being realistic, if everybody finally has their own company, there will be no one to work there!”