2 minutes with Jonathan Ortmans: What is GEN trying to fix in Egypt’s startup ecosystem?

Many cities and communities have accelerators and shared work spaces, but often they are quite small and very specialized (Photo courtesy of Tatweer Misr)

Ahead of the inauguration of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW), eyes of the entrepreneurial community were on the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) hub that Egypt is going to host – the first one of its kind in MENA.

GEN is a global organization that provides a platform of programs and initiatives to help new firms start and scale within one global entrepreneurial ecosystem, operating in 170 countries.

Business Forward spoke with founder and president of GEN Global Jonathan Ortmans on the sidelines of the hub’s inauguration to know more about the importance of such a hub in the region and what the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt still lacks.

Q: What does the GEN hub for entrepreneurs offer?
A: Many cities and communities have accelerators and shared work spaces, but often they are quite small and very specialized. One of the things we learned from doing this in South Africa was that if we could make it big enough for everybody in the entrepreneurial landscape, if they could be in the same community, they could do something that is much bigger, much faster.

What we are trying to do is create an ecosystem. That is when you get rid of duplications and and start immediate knowledge-sharing, and it is much more of a community for the entrepreneurs that are trying to innovate and develop their ideas and teams. What we learned was that if you could create that density and you could bring that connectivity into a facility, the entrepreneurs will be able to perform better. At the end of the day, the entrepreneurs are the leaders and the rest of us are the feeders; we just help them.

Why Egypt and why now?
There is political and private-sector support for the hub in Egypt. In a lot of other countries, this is not what the private sector and governments are focused on. Not that I want to be critical of the existing large companies and their governments, but it is just not where their imagination lies. There are many countries in the MENA region that are very focused on this and we are working in these countries; there is a [hype] right now among the major actors and that helps us work more effectively in helping the entrepreneurs. However, it is about the bigger potential in Egypt right now.

Doing it in Egypt though is not saying that there is no potential in other parts of the MENA region, but this is where the energy lies and the big need is.

What does Egypt’s existing entrepreneurial ecosystem lack?
I would like to see more people experimenting and testing – Egypt is lacking in scaling [businesses]. The country has a small percentage of its population that is sort of educated, while the middle class is declining. I think the other part of this is that there is a lot of ambition and self-confidence. When I talk to Egyptian entrepreneurs, there are some good stories. There are great and strong things happening. That is what we want – to have more stories and inspire more people. But I think the challenge is scaling it in Egypt; getting people who are currently not really part of the society to understand that [entrepreneurship] could be possible for anyone anywhere. It is not just for people in business or people who are well-educated. It is for everyone to identify a problem and solve it.

 

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