My most distinct memory of Startup Weekend Alexandria (September 2011) were the fireworks that were shot off after the event. Of course, I remember the amazing final pitch delivered by Sara Galal of Sweety Heaven with her hand puppet, how everyone clapped when Saad Khan was introduced as co-founder of Film Angels – among other things – and all the Egyptian food my taste buds had the pleasure of experiencing for the first time. But for me, the exploding fireworks and the joyful screams of excitement and accomplishment of the attendees will forever be seared into my memory. The intense vitality of the crowd celebrating the winning teams swept over me like a warm and heavy breeze from the Mediterranean Sea. As I watched the fireworks exploding in the sky, I thought to myself – something big is taking place in this country.
The shooting off of fireworks were a symbolic reflection of the paradigm shift that catalyzed revolutionary change in Egypt. No longer were ordinary Egyptian citizens waiting for written permission from some government official in the Ministry of Interior to tell them they could shoot off celebratory fireworks (as was the case under President Mubarak). No longer were people’s ambitions and aspirations suppressed by the heavy hand of government and no longer did people feel that government bureaucracy should tie up their dreams. Throughout the entire event I felt an aura of pent up frustration being channeled into viable business opportunities that could solve local problems. Egyptians were doing what felt good and right – and the smiles on their faces as they did so were infectious. Suppression and control of the masses was no longer tolerated and had become obsolete. Ordinary Egyptian citizens were now emboldened and empowered to capitalize on their dreams. The enthusiasm for entrepreneurship I encountered in Egypt cannot go unrecognized and is truly a force to be reckoned with.
It was inspiring for me to see the enthusiasm of a new generation that is no longer complacent with the status quo and is now creating their own opportunities by pursuing their passions through entrepreneurship. I’ve said this before, but the progressive, tech-savvy youth will undoubtedly be responsible for the next wave of innovation and economic growth that will take place all across Egypt.
In order to experience and accelerate the rate at which this economic growth will occur, Egypt must constantly continue to fill their economic funnel with more capable entrepreneurs and people willing to take a risk and start their own businesses. Self-organized events such as Startup Weekend are the most simple and cost effective way of filling this proverbial economic funnel. By giving curious and passionate people a platform to test and validate their ideas in a high energy, low risk environment, more people try and test and test and try. As people try and test, they learn new skills, find new ways of collaborating with others, and they start to take their innovative products & services to the Egyptian and Global market places.
Yet, while it is important to consistently have a funnel of people acting on their own ideas, it is equally important to have institutions recognize ideas of high potential and accelerate them towards success. Flat6Labs is an excellent example of an institution that recognizes the gap between simply starting a business and building successful company. During their three month cycle, Flat6Labs provides teams with the guidance, expertise, and funding to increase their chances of success. Arguably, going through any incubator or accelerator program such as Flat6Labs is an invaluable experience for startup teams – not necessarily because of the increased chance of success, but because of the education the team receives. Even in the event that their company fails, the lessons learned and connections gained gives them an advantage in their next attempt at entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs – just like fireworks – require a catalyst event to get started, and ever since the fall of the Mubarak government, entrepreneurship has been exploding all across Egypt. I feel incredibly excited that my organization – Startup Weekend – can be a fan to the flames of Egyptian entrepreneurship that will fuel future innovation and economic growth. Here is to future Egyptian entrepreneurs and the many celebratory fireworks we will set off in light of their success!