by Amira Salah-Ahmed | 13 December 2016
For the fourth year in a row, the epicenter of Egypt's capital was transformed into a scene of dynamic engagement bustling with entrepreneurial spirit.
The annual RiseUp Summit was once again held at the Greek Campus, a hub for startups in the heart of Cairo's downtown area. This year, however, the many parallel events taking place sprawled into surrounding spaces as well, a testament to the growth of the event as well as a reflection of the sheer magnitude of the topics that deserve to be showcased in Egypt's expansive entrepreneurship scene.
Founded in 2013, the summit began as a gathering of the ecosystem's main players and stakeholders, and was sizeable enough back then to warrant both media and investor attention. Like the ecosystem itself, the first edition focused heavily on tech startups. Since then however, as the local ecosystem has grown, so has the event.
Last year's event was labeled Quantum Leap, signaling the growth of interest from international investors and experts all the way from Silicon Valley to Europe and from regional hubs like Amman, Beirut and Abu Dhabi.
UK Ambassador John Casson attended one of the opening session and commented on the potential impact of entrepreneurship on the Egyptian economy. He added that education was the biggest strategic challenge facing Egypt’s economy.
This year, the organizers chose to zero in on highlighting the breadth of Egypt's entrepreneurship endeavors – from financial technology to the creative economy, entrepreneurs from diverse fields came together to share ideas on how to start a business, build a brand, monetize and, eventually, scale up.
The creative economy zone held at the adjacent American University in Cairo's Main Campus, was an inspiring addition to the summit. Organizers dubbed it the "fusion of venture capital, technology and creative."
Like the more tech-oriented and sector specific startups set up in the Greek Campus, the creative zone boasted its own exhibition space where a variety of products and services were on display. Fashion, music and art took the spotlight and were given ample room to discuss ideas and expertise during the sessions in this dedicated parallel track.
One of Cairo's favorite concept stores, ABnG, set up shop and showcased several successful designers, such as Cottonball, which makes affordable, simple clothing using Egypt's cherished cotton. Up-Fuse also displayed their eco-friendly backpacks, made from upcycled material using plastic bags.
Overall, the summit was a refreshing experience with an overall positive atmosphere, despite – or rather in spite of – the broader national context of economic uncertainties.
Egypt's currency has lost almost 50 percent of its value since the central bank decided to freely float the pound on Nov. 3. Coupled with a sudden cut in fuel subsidies, the measures have compounded an already heavy burden on citizens.
These difficult times cannot be ignored and do translate into real challenges when it comes to doing business. However, perhaps what a summit like RiseUp best displays is the perseverance of the entrepreneurial spirit in a region troubled with political turmoil.
As Ahmed Alfi, founder of the Greek Campus, told me three years ago when the hub had just opened and was getting ready to host the inaugural RiseUp Summit: “Entrepreneurs don’t let anything stop them."