February 19, 2014, Cairo, Egypt– The American University in Cairo (AUC) announced today, in a press conference held on Tahrir Square campus, the official launch of the first University-based incubator in Egypt, the AUC Venture Lab (V-Lab). Established by the School of Business, the mission of the V-Lab is to commercialize technologies and innovations developed by Egypt-based startups into commercially viable ventures. Six startups won the V-Lab Challenge, in the first round last June and were incubated at the newly created V-Lab at AUC’s New Cairo campus. Sponsored by SODIC and the Arab African International Bank (AAIB), the V-Lab enables startups to capitalize on AUC’s world-class facilities and knowledge base, connecting innovative startups with AUC’s alumni network and fostering a thriving ecosystem of innovation, education and business. “The business incubator at AUC's School of Business provides a space for young Egyptian entrepreneurs to develop innovative business ideas and solutions to some of the most pressing problems in our community and around the world. AUC is proud to provide the mentorship and support network that will give these talented young people an opportunity to make their dreams a reality. Already, the Venture Lab has produced companies that have developed valuable products to address real-world problems,” said Lisa Anderson, AUC president.Speakers at the press conference were Lisa Anderson, AUC president; Amr Salama, AUC counsellor; Karim Seghir, associate dean for undergraduate studies and administration and associate professor, The School of Business, AUC and Ayman Ismail, Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship and assistant professor, The School of Business, AUC. Khaled Abo Shady, CEO, Mubser and Mohammad Gouda, CEO, Kashef, two of the six startups incubated at the first V-Lab cycle, also spoke at the press conference.
“This is our latest effort here at AUC to empower entrepreneurs, to foster innovation and to fill existing gaps in the emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt,” said Ismail, “our aim is to capitalize on AUC’s intellectual capital and world-class resources, select a few high-potential innovative startups and help transform these teams into scalable companies.”
Among the successful start-ups incubated by the V-Lab is Mubser, LLC, a technology-based startup providing cutting-edge technologies for the visually impaired around the world. Its pilot project is called Sensify, which is a wearable gadget that can be integrated into a Smartphone or through Mubser’s customized pocket computer. With the help of algorithms it can detect the obstacles in front of the user and notify him through a vibration bracelet in the user’s hand and through a Bluetooth headset in the user’s ear.
Recently, Mubser won first place in the Information and Communications Technology track at the Idea to Product competition held in Brazil. It was the only team representing Egypt, competing against others from the United States, England, Ireland, Germany and Brazil. “It was very exciting to win and see our team holding the first prize,” Abou Shady said, adding that he is grateful for the support that the V-Lab has provided for Mubser. “Graduate students from the MBA program have helped us, and we have had great mentors who have proposed ideas to enhance Mubser to make it more global and more profitable.”
Another successful example is Kashef Labs, initiated by Mohammad Gouda and Ahmed Hassan, who are recent graduates of Menofia University, and Swedish partner Iyad Al Khatib. Kashef works on developing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) for purposes such as mine discovery and was developed into a commercially viable startup company at the AUC V-Lab. “Egypt alone contributes 23 percent of all landmines in the world; therefore, there is a very big market need for this type of product,” said Gouda. Kashef Labs recently competed in the Intel Global Challenge Competition held at the University of California, Berkeley.
Smart News, another start-up incubated at the V-Lab, is a multi -platform content application that provides localized news by country and by category with an edge that allows people to contribute their own news content as citizen journalism. Other startups include Alkottab, an edutainment studio for games that produces interactive, innovative games and cartoons; and En2ly, an online transportation third-party logistics provider (3PL), that connects carriers and shippers in an industry that used to be offline. En2ly helps companies move goods at cheaper price by connecting them to transporters travelling to similar destination. A startup that has introduced the textile industry online is El Shahbander, the first specialized online platform and mobile community for the textile industry in Egypt, bringing together dealers, consumers and suppliers of raw materials.
V-Lab incubated startups were acknowledged in many international awards and recognitions. Khaled Abou Shady was chosen to be among the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa by Forbes while Mubser was chosen by Forbes as one of the 7 innovative products that Africa needs to know about. En2ly’s Hani Waziri, an AUC Alumnus, is a semi finalist at the MIT Enterprise Forum Startup Competition for the Pan Arab Region.
Ismail pointed out how 58 percent of the Egyptian population is under the age of 25, “so I think we need like 100 times what the AUC is doing in this domain and these efforts all complement each other. I don’t think we can run out of ideas and if those ideas can be translated into products and services, the economy will be in a much better shape.” He added that “innovation and entrepreneurship are a key driver for competitiveness of the Egyptian economy, and for creating jobs and accelerating inclusive economic growth.”
The V-Lab new four-month round starts this month after selecting seven new teams to receive an award of LE 20,000 and gain strategic mentorship, working space, business training, access to AUC facilities and the opportunity to develop into a thriving business.