2 minutes with Nabil Shalaby: Tips for Egyptian entrepreneurs to avoid common pitfalls

Photo: NabilShalaby/Twitter

On the sidelines of the International Council of Small Business (ICSB) World Congress 2019, Business Forward caught up with the founder and chairman of the consulting firm Arab Entrepreneur House (ARENHO), and co-founder of Delta Technopreneurs Association (DTA) Nabil Shalaby.

The DTA is a non-profit organization which aims to develop an IT industry based on entrepreneurship and innovation in Egypt’s Nile Delta.

Over more than 30 years, Shalaby has written 31 books and published more than 60 research papers in the field of  entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

In this interview, Shalaby draws heavily on the policies and recommendations that are necessary to create an entrepreneurial environment that fosters creativity and innovation, sharing valuable lessons for entrepreneurs operating in the Middle East.

Shalaby has been awarded the ICSB Global Most Innovative Idea Award for designing a map of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt.

First, we would love to hear more about the map and how it can contribute to the advancement of the local ecosystem.

The map provides a holistic overview of Egypt’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by putting together 219 organizations, communities, and other stakeholders within the ecosystem.

It helps entrepreneurs connect with the most relevant financial, non-financial and in-kind resources, helps donors highlight the areas most in need of support, and also empowers policymakers to stimulate entrepreneurship and boost economic growth.

Which fields are Egypt’s startups focus on?

Given Egypt’s unique agricultural landscape, startups operating in the field of agricultural manufacturing can gain fast-paced traction, such as Agrona – a startup that manufactures particleboards from recycled wood, utilizing tomato and potato stems.

The ICT sector is also gaining momentum in Egypt with a large amount of young, tech-savvy people making their way. This can definitely be an economic force to be reckoned with for hopeful entrepreneurs

In the third place, I would put the healthcare sector in which the return on investments (ROI) is very high. It is one of the largest industries in the world and provides a high profit margin.

From your experience, what are the main reasons that cause startups to fail?

“The jack of all trades is the master of none” is an adage that rings true for startups. One of the key challenges that small businesses face is a lack of commitment. Many aspiring entrepreneurs cannot get their business off the ground because they have too many interests and do not plan or prioritize carefully. This leads to a poor sense of judgment and ill-informed decisions.

The lack of dedicated staff can also be a pressing problem for startups. Having talented employees onboard is hard; retaining them is even harder. Startup founders should understand why employees quit and develop honest communication channels amongst the team.

The third most frequent reason why startups fail is the tendency to rip off other projects. Copying other ideas means that your product has lost its relevance in the market and is no longer needed.

What policy recommendations would you suggest to boost entrepreneurship in Egypt and the MENA region?

First, entrepreneurial education should be available in schools and universities. The entrepreneurial mindset has to be bred in students from an early age. I highly encourage governments in the Middle East to launch one-stop shops for national entrepreneurs to facilitate licensing and access to information, enable business registration in less than a week with no minimum capital, providing equity funding at a flat rate and credit guarantee programs with no collaterals.

It is also imperative to promote the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in companies of all sizes to support and enhance entrepreneurial activities.

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