Among Egypt’s governorates, Sohag ranks second in terms of illiteracy rate across the country – a feature barely recognizable when looking at the caliber of entrepreneurs in one of Egypt’s poorest governorates.
On Techne Drifts 2018’s tour across the country’s governorates, Sohag was the second stop in Upper Egypt, during which local entrepreneurs came together at the Academy for Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT), which has been active in supporting startups in Sohag for a few years now.
“In the past two years, national and international support institutions brought us closer to understanding what entrepreneurship is all about through the events they held in Sohag,” general secretary of the Research Center at the ASRT Mahmoud Galal says.
Changing mentality amongst cultural challenges
Although entrepreneurship is not really seen as a viable option for young people by society – as is the case in many other parts of Egypt, the mentality towards the concept has started to change.
“Here, people cannot easily break away from their families and carve their own path. Young people end up going the traditional path set by their families, like finding a governmental job or go to the Gulf. So it is hard to find someone who lets go of that,” Mostafa ElKhabeery, a healthcare entrepreneur, tells Business Forward.
However, the field has been opening up in the governorate, paving the way for strong-willed, self-developing entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship in Sohag has become more optimistic, as student activities and international organizations have started to penetrate the market,” he explains.
His perception is echoed by digital marketing strategist and entrepreneur Naglaa Mamdouh, who is heavily involved in the evolving local ecosystem. “The culture is naturally changing towards being more aware of entrepreneurship and being more innovative,” she says.
Startups in Sohag are usually not sustainable because they lack business knowledge
Being aware of what is missing
Despite the contagious optimism amongst youth, they are not delusional about what they need to work on in order to excel and gain their footprint in the national scene.
“We need to learn the culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship in order to build a stable ecosystem. People are scared to share their ideas because they do not want someone to steal it,” ElKhabeery highlights, shedding light on a trend that has been paving its way across different governorates, namely the fear of taking the path that has so far been less travelled by.
However, it is not just about fear, but also about sustainable knowledge. “The startups here are usually not sustainable because they lack business knowledge. They look at how to get funds, but not building an actual business that is profitable,” Mamdouh says.
Although many international organizations have already been focused on providing Sohag with entrepreneurial know-how and motivation, Sohag’s young entrepreneurs do not believe they need to be offered opportunities on a silver platter.
“Even if the opportunity is not there, the entrepreneur in Sohag itself needs to get moving. Whether someone is going to help you break through or not, if the opportunity is not there, you create it for yourself,” ElKhabeery states.
Regardless, Galal believes that the young locals deserve much more. “Entrepreneurship in Sohag is not getting what it is worth,” he says, adding that “we need to source and establish local trainers for entrepreneurship in order to make sure that these people are around all year round, not just for a few days,” as is the case with stakeholders visiting the governorate to provide entrepreneurial knowledge to the residents.
Where art thou, local investors?
Although some of the biggest businessmen and tycoons in Egypt originally come from Sohag, the governorate lacks in the presence of local investors that are interested in innovation and startups.
“The investors that are here are more likely to invest outside of the governorate, because the psychology of people growing up here is to leave this place,” ElKhabeery says, in cohesion with Galal’s perspective on how local businessmen have left Sohag behind.
“Areas like Sohag lead their residents to move away due to the lack of existing development,” Galal confirms.
Currently, the ASRT is working on opening the Intilac incubator in Sohag University, as well as agreeing with the university to provide academic guidance and courses on entrepreneurship.
While the current trend in the governorate is geared towards opening agricultural businesses, many startups entering the educational sector can also be observed, as optimism and self-motivation seem to be stronger than any cultural or institutional challenges.