Accelerating through the Ranks: AUC Venture Lab


In the midst of commemorating its 10-year anniversary, Venture Lab (V-Lab) at the School of Business celebrated the Demo Day of the Spring 2024 cohort of Egyptian entrepreneurs partaking in the Startup Accelerator and FinTech Accelerator programs on Monday, July 2.

V-Lab is Egypt’s first university-led business accelerator. It is the top initiative of its kind in Africa and the Middle East, winning the Top Accelerator Award at the Global Start-up Awards for two consecutive years (2022 and 2023) and the Top Challenger Rank in the UBI Global World Rankings (2017-18, 2019-20, and 2020-21), respectfully.

A Legacy of Success
Championing Egyptian entrepreneurship since its start, V-lab has paved the way for 375 Egyptian start-ups, many of which were homegrown at the American University in Cairo (AUC). As of 2024, the accelerator has hit the $356 million mark of investments in start-up capital, in addition to providing over 12,000 jobs through the pivoting of a diverse catalog of new Egyptian businesses. V-Lab is more than just a vessel of funding for start-ups supported by partnerships with Egypt’s strongest market players; it is also a beacon for entrepreneurial expertise with over 165 mentors ready to guide new players, but also old ones who may have lost their bearings in the middle of the game.

“This has been an ongoing thing that dates back to 2008,” says Dean of the School of Business, Sherif Kamel, of how V-lab came into existence. The accelerator has been in the making five years before its official launch in 2013 and the establishment of its two major programs: Startup Accelerator and FinTech Accelerator. Both programs span over the duration of 16 weeks, offering businesses advice, technical support, and networking opportunities that prepare them for growth and investments as well as hone their calculated risk-taking abilities.

The Startup Accelerator program is sector agnostic with its target audience being businesses in the early development stage; 13 start-ups participated in this program within various fields ranging from sustainable vehicles, Edtech, and AI-powered creative services. Fintech Accelerator, on the other hand, targets specifically startups within the financial technology field; five startups presented in this category, featuring projects in wealth management, Software as a Service (SaaS) in restaurants, and proptech, facilitating property finding and partial ownership.

In 2018, V-Lab’s newest addition came into existence, AUC Angels which is the first university-based angel investor network in Africa and the Middle East. AUC Angels targets early-stage startups, providing them with access to investors and funding as well as the same expertise of mentors under the general umbrella of V-Lab. As of 2024, this one-of-a-kind initiative has grown a network of more than 60 angel investors as well as funding that goes beyond the $1.6 million mark. Over 280 startups have applied to the program which selects the businesses that demonstrate the highest potential and scalability in terms of proven performance metrics of the products and services that have been launched to the market.

A Mission for a Better Society
V-Lab is considered one of the pillars of AUC’s School of Business, upholding its three main missions of promoting entrepreneurship innovation, responsible business, and economic development. The School of Business has a humanistic approach, placing the betterment of students and society at the utmost level; this sentiment is greatly shown in the Dean’s remark,

“Faculty, staff, [and] our partners, we work throughout the year for three special things: the commencement day, our honors assembly day when we celebrate our top students, our alumni, our faculty, and our staff, and the day we graduate startups [from V-Lab].”

The majority of this cohort’s participants had their startups geared towards the use of AI, digitalization, and sustainability. V-Lab helps start-ups make an impact in their respective fields which not only helps the entrepreneurs themselves but also the target consumers of the goods and services they provide.

Business Forward talked to Mohamed Amer, co-founder of LRNOVA, an AI-powered educational platform geared towards the production of videos and courses in more than 40 languages using human-like AI avatars. This innovation aims to reduce costs for students and educational institutions as well as make educational materials more accessible.
“Our experience with V-Lab has been highly positive, the support and resources provided by V-Lab have helped us to refine our business model and enhance our technological capabilities,” says Amer who has 16 years of experience in the field of education and development.

In spite of his immense experience in the field, Amer emphasized the invaluable benefits of working with mentors as well as gaining exposure to networking opportunities with industry experts, potential customers and partners. Amer further highlights that LRNOVA was at the earliest stage of product development at the beginning of their work with V-Lab, “we had a clear vision, but we still needed guidance on how to scale our operations and effectively reach out to our target market.”

Another participant in the program, Roberto Joseph, co-founder and CEO of SwiftJobs, highlighted the impact that the business was able to make in such a short period of time from its launch in December 2023, “I always post videos on TikTok regarding the jobs that are new in the market and I get a lot of comments [from young people] saying that [they got] hired from SwiftJobs… this is what keeps us moving too fast in SwiftJobs.”

SwiftJobs is a career development application that targets students and helps them gain job experiences before graduating, allowing them to find flexible options as well as advance at a faster pace professionally. Joseph is only 22, a fresh graduate of Computer Engineering from the German University in Cairo. Through the support, mentorship, and resources of V-Lab, SwiftJobs was able to reach 102 thousand downloads and 460 employed students within only 6 months of its operation. This is an example of an initiative made for young people by young people, pushed by the “people-first” approach of V-Lab.

“One of the advantages that Viridi has in its EV [Electric Vehicles] chargers is that you don’t have to charge in one place [like the traditional charging station,” says Abdallah Kamel, co-founder of Viridi. Unlike the previously discussed startups, Viridi does not focus on students, yet it maintains the same people-centric approach by focusing on sustainability and indirectly encouraging the purchase of electric cars. Viridi offers an innovative solution to the field of electric vehicle production, which is already a novel market segment within itself. This demonstrates the dynamic nature of V-Lab in that it supports ideas that go beyond the current development status of the market they are in.

The electric vehicle market in Egypt is nascent; the fact that a startup like Viridi is dedicating itself to making EV charging and solutions much more accessible suggests the huge potential of the industry and that it is continuously evolving within itself. By supporting this startup, V-Lab is significantly contributing to enhancing Egypt’s capacity in shifting towards green energy, sustainability, and the overall bettering of the quality of life.

According to research published in 2021, air pollution in Cairo is one of the leading causes of premature death (Abbass et.al). This makes supporting sustainability initiatives even more of a game changer for Egypt’s population as a whole as well as the environment. Moreover, accelerating the growth of these businesses could eventually change the reality of the economy, transforming it into a more competitive, lucrative, and stable space, as suggested by Jean-Paul Adam, Director for Policy, Monitoring and Advocacy in the Office of the Special Advisor on Africa to the United Nations Secretary-General in the most recent episode of the School of Business’ BS4CL Webinar series. The Egyptian economy already appears to be welcoming sustainability-based businesses with open arms; using Viridi as a case study, Kamel highlights that their next target is to “further increase [their] sales” as well as expand to providing solutions to other enterprises.

Whether it is for the improvement of education, the job market, sustainable development, or even ordering at a restaurant, the Spring 2024 V-Lab graduating cohort demonstrates the expansive scope of the lab’s services and mission. So long as it aims to support the Egyptian economy, entrepreneurs and people, V-Lab will stand behind it.

Click here to watch the webinar
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References:
Abbass, R. A., Kumar, P., & El-Gendy, A. (2021). Emissions control scenarios for transport in Greater Cairo. Toxics, 9(11), 285.

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