June 1, 2014, Cairo – Three AUC students at The American University in Cairo (AUC) won second place worldwide at the University Mobile Challenge, with their award-winning mobile and web application for online food ordering, Engezni. The University Mobile Challenge is an annual competition that is part of the Mobile World Congress, the largest conference and exhibition for mobile technology across the globe. This marks the first time that an AUC team –– and the only representatives from Egypt this year –– has been among the winners. The students –– Amr Ashraf, Ahmed El-Shinawy and Nada Beshir –– came up with the idea of Engezni, or Accomplish It for Me, which will be launched soon, to fulfill the demand for online food ordering and restaurant recommendations in Egypt. “The food industry in the Middle East is huge; people never stop eating and restaurants never stop opening,” explained Ashraf, a computer engineering major and business administration minor, and Engezni’s chief executive officer. “However, a lot of this is offline. It is hard to make transactions and discover new restaurants online. Engezni allows people to order directly from restaurants using the application on their phone and computer, as well as to upload photos and information about places where they have eaten. Users can discover new places to eat or the best dishes to try at a specific place based on reviews or photos from other users.”
Ashraf first began developing Engezni one year ago as part of a software engineering class project, envisioning it as an alternative to the online ordering services currently used. He sought to design an app that would allow restaurants to receive orders directly from customers. “Right now, online ordering in Egypt uses call centers, which means a customer places an order on a website, someone sitting at a computer in a call center receives the order, then this person calls the restaurant to place the order,” noted Ashraf, who –– along with Nada Behsir –– is enrolled in the Leadership for Education and Development Program at AUC. “This model is outdated and leads to customers receiving the wrong items, often at a higher cost, due to miscommunication or errors on the part of the middle man.”
Engezni has signed contracts with restaurants, allowing them to use an online portal to connect directly with their customers. A customer places an order, and the restaurant receives it instantly via any device with a web browser. Users and restaurants can access Engezni in either English or Arabic, and translation between the two languages is built into the application. “If there is a problem with an order or additional information is needed, the customer will know immediately because a direct line of communication is open between the restaurant and the customer,” said Ashraf. “Using the call center model, customers have to wait until the person who is placing the phone order speaks to the restaurant and gets back to them, resulting in long waits and incorrect orders.”
Engezni also has a social component, allowing users to upload photos of different dishes to Facebook and Twitter, and to submit reviews of restaurants and connect with friends to discover their recommendations. “Users can search for restaurants based on area or price range. There will also be user profiles on Engezni, where people could share photos and reviews of restaurants, and can connect these with their Facebook and Twitter accounts,” said Ashraf.
While Ashraf was working on the design in a mobile applications course last summer, he partnered with entrepreneur Hayk Hakobyan, who became a cofounder and suggested integrating restaurant and food discovery into Engezni to make the app more holistic and functional. Ahmed El-Shinawy, a computer engineering major at AUC, joined the team as the chief design officer, developing the look and feel of Engezni, and AUC business administration major Nada Beshir came on board as the chief food officer. The fifth cofounder is Esmail Ahmed, who serves as the chief technology officer. The group registered Engezni as a corporation in November 2013.
The group’s success at the fourth annual University Mobile Challenge and their presence at the prestigious Mobile World Congress has helped them build connections with potential investors and funders. “The conference is attended by more than 70,000 people, including big names such as Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and Jan Koum, CEO and cofounder of Whatsapp,” Ashraf explained. “We were one of 16 teams from 14 countries selected out of 170 to attend the conference in Spain. At the conference, we had to give a pitch to investors and business executives. It was a great learning experience.”
Ashraf is hopeful that this international exposure will enable Engezni to expand to other countries in the Middle East. “We are launching in Cairo and Alexandria initially,” he affirmed, “but we hope to spread to other Egyptian cities and, eventually, elsewhere in the region.”
Once it has launched, the application can be accessed online or downloaded from the application store on iOS and Android smartphones. Users may also follow Engezni on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.