In the second series of “Faculty at the Forefront,” held at The American University in Cairo (AUC), titled “Entrepreneurship’s Role in Economic Development,” Ayman Ismail, assistant professor of management and the Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship Ismail said that unemployment rate in Egypt is 13 percent while unemployment among youth stands at 40 percent. “The number of startups has decreased in Egypt in the last five years in comparison to before 25 January, and one way to boost the economy is to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation programs.”In 2013, Ismail founded the AUC Venture Lab business incubator to help promising Egypt-based entrepreneurs turn their startups into commercially viable ventures that will contribute to economic growth in Egypt. AUC Venture Lab is the first university-based incubator in Egypt that allows the startups to use the outstanding facilities of AUC and the database of the University to create a link between the alumni network and the startups. AUC Venture Lab also provides room for a field that is balanced and incubating to innovation, education and business management.
Ismail shed the light on the general environment for entrepreneurship in Egypt and on the opportunities and challenges facing youth in launching their projects as he highlighted that 70 to 80 percent of startups worldwide fail in the first three years. “Throughout the past years, the informal sector in Egypt has taken risks and leaps, and has helped in the employment of many young Egyptians but now it needs funding and permits from the government.”
Through six cycles of the V-Lab, Ismail has met many aspiring entrepreneurs and listened to many ambitious ideas. “We incubate startups that have already started working on their idea, and we help them build their companies in the V-Lab. We introduce them to networks where they can meet with alumni who work in the same line of field and we provide mentorship and advice when needed, in addition to providing them with seed capital, LE 20000 to grow their business.”
The AUC V-Lab cycle, as Ismail explained, begins with the selections of the startups three months prior to the initial start date of the acceleration cycle, where out of around 150 to 200 startups that apply for the V-Lab, six to ten startups are selected after a filtering process that includes interviews and presentations, and the winning teams are incubated for three months. They receive intensive training and mentorship in addition to all the services provided by the AUC V-Lab. They are challenged to demonstrate tangible results within their acceleration period. On the Demo Day, startups present their work and are evaluated based on milestones achieved. High- performing startups are granted the opportunity to continue using the V-Lab’s services for an extended duration. Being young is not a requirement to join the V-Lab at AUC, “we have had many undergraduates, graduates and mid-career professional who have been incubated. The idea is to have unconventional ideas, no matter what people’s age is.”
Throughout the past five cycles 46 startups were incubated in the V-Lab, where they received 780 mentoring and training hours by 93 mentors and trainers. Also the startups received LE23 million in funding, generating LE36 million in revenues by startups and the total number of jobs created were 253.”
The fact that AUC V-Lab is part of the university has given an edge to the incubated startups, “they have access to the university facilities and can test their products on campus, do surveys with the students, consult with professors from any field. They simply become part of the AUC community.”