Complex Societal Impact Projects Requiring Tri-Sector Collaboration and Cooperation
In today’s time and age, economies worldwide, especially in emerging markets-need an effective and innovative entrepreneurial ecosystem that is government-enabled, private-sector-led, innovation-driven, youth-empowered, and future-oriented (Kamel, 2016).
Over the last few decades, the acceleration of digital transformation and the gradual move from high-tech to deep-tech through artificial intelligence, robotics, cloud computing, and big data, coupled with an evolving entrepreneurial mindset, has dominated various societies in developed and emerging economies, given the potential opportunities created and the growing global population of digital natives (Schroeder, 2017).
However, innovation-driven entrepreneurship can only address some of the economic and social challenges that have developed over many years, particularly in emerging economies, Egypt included (Kamel, 2021a). There are other essential factors that need to be in place, such as societal readiness, human capital investment, universal infrastructure access and adoption, infostructure, and institutionalised governance, in addition to legal, regulatory and other support environments. They all represent essential building blocks for a tech-enabled entrepreneurial ecosystem to become a catalyst for socioeconomic development and growth (Kamel, 2021b).
Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem requires an all-inclusive approach where different stakeholders in society are engaged, including private enterprises, government, civil society, and other institutions and individuals who can enrich, support and advocate for a national entrepreneurial culture that can help transform economies (Ismail et al., 2019).
This includes practitioners, industry experts, business leaders, mentors, investors, innovators, and educators. The culture of entrepreneurship should be built bottom-up and top-down simultaneously to create a buzz that can provide the required momentum, passion, drive, and energy to help society think entrepreneurially rather than focus on starting enterprises across different economic sectors (Schroeder, 2013).
It is worth noting that with all the interest and potential entrepreneurship has generated, there needs to be a proper word in Arabic for entrepreneurship. The term Reyadet Al-Aamal, which is being used to mean ‘entrepreneurship’, is anything but encouraging the cause; the term does not give any of the excitement or passion associated with what entrepreneurship means or represents.
When building a nationwide entrepreneurial ecosystem, the role of higher education institutions, including business schools, is pivotal. They help shape the leaders, entrepreneurs, change agents, and the movers and shakers of tomorrow. Therefore, business schools must expose their students and learners to a lifelong learning experience that prepares them to compete and excel in a changing, dynamic, competitive, entrepreneurial and innovative global environment. Universities of the future – especially business schools-should be driven by an entrepreneurial mindset.
Entrepreneurship and innovation – with the acceleration of universal access to technology tools and applications, mobility and interconnectivity- represent a unique and much-needed opportunity for emerging economies. However, there is never one size that fits all, and the Middle East Africa (MEA) region is no exception.
Societies have similarities and differences, even if they share the same language, culture, values, and history and are located in the same region. Those differences are often between and within countries, such as being open to risk-taking and change and accepting failure as a stepping stone to learn from and build on something that is often a hurdle for many societies from a cultural perspective. Understanding that failure is an integral element of the entrepreneurial journey is essential for success.
Unlocking MEA’s potential
Whether economies are developed or developing, populations are large or small, and resources are abundant or limited, human capital remains one of society’s most critical assets. Therefore, for the MEA region, a conducive environment anchored around investing in human capital through education and lifelong learning is a must for entrepreneurship to become the driver and catalyst to rebuild economies based on sustainable foundations (Kamel and Schroeder, 2016).
Youth is a unique opportunity that could and should be captured across MEA (Nazeer, 2017). For example, Egypt’s population is more than 104 million, with the vast majority-60%-under 30. It is a young society growing at 2.1% annually. Technological access has rapidly increased over the last decades, with over 72.2% internet and 94% mobile penetration rates, respectively.
In 2023, over 25 million students are enrolled in K-12 schools and about 3.6 million in 90 universities and higher education institutions. Such demographics allow for societal transformation. Besides, the intersection of innovation, youth, and entrepreneurship could be a game changer. The same applies to most emerging economies in the MEA region. Universal access to digital platforms-rather than specific segments of society-means unlimited access to knowledge, people, opportunities, ideas, and the world at large.
Furthermore, younger generations have been more eager than ever to be self-employed than the previous generations, who primarily sought opportunities as civil servants. Today, they want to venture into the challenging and exciting business world. With the need to create over 800K jobs annually in Egypt, the path for development and growth can only be made through a scaled-up, agile, competitive, and inclusive private sector-led economy.
The bigger the base of innovative entrepreneurs and private enterprises, the more likely an increasing number of startups will prevail (Kane, 2010). Therefore, investing in creating a pool of educated, passionate, technology-savvy, resilient, and innovative entrepreneurs is precisely what emerging economies like Egypt need. It is all about scalability, sustainability and impact.
Following is the journey of the School of Business of the American University in Cairo (AUC). Since 2010, this has been the primary educational partner of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt and a key player in the MEA region through its portfolio of entrepreneurship, innovation, inclusive development, responsible business and leadership offerings to help create the next generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers and change agents who can make a difference to society.
AUC School of Business: The journey
The school is an example of many business schools around the world that are constantly searching for opportunities to impact society. While the university was established in 1919, the school’s origins date back to 1947, offering undergraduate and graduate degree programmes, executive education and community development activities.
However, until mid-2009, entrepreneurship was only very casually covered in the curriculum. It is featured in one chapter of just one of the textbooks used in teaching one of the undergraduate courses titled Business and Society. That had to change and fast.
The only other venue where the concept of ‘entrepreneurship’ was addressed was through a student-led association by the name of the Entrepreneurs’ Society (ES), established in 2003, with a mission to promote the entrepreneurial culture among undergraduate students on campus through workshops, business plan and case competitions, training courses, and mentorship sessions in addition to a student magazine – The Lead.
In the fall of 2009, the school – established in 1993 and formerly known as the School of Business, Economics and Communication – was restructured to become the School of Business.
The new mission statement read “to develop entrepreneurial and responsible global leaders and professionals to impact society.”
The main themes were identified to include:
- (a) entrepreneurship and innovation,
- (b) responsible business and
- (c) economic development.
Shortly after and following discussions with different stakeholders, the school focused on a specific niche – entrepreneurship and innovation with an eye on the family business. Accordingly, the school embarked on a journey to become the destination for entrepreneurial education in Egypt. The objective was to play a leading role in spreading the culture of entrepreneurship on campus and helping build a national entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Such an ambitious objective could not have been realised by introducing new entrepreneurship courses as verticals. Entrepreneurship is a way of thinking, a mindset. Therefore, entrepreneurship had to be well-integrated into the curriculum of academic degrees, executive education programmes, research projects, and community development services where content, case studies, projects, assignments, extracurricular activities, capacity building, internships, Co-Op programmes, as well as awareness and advocacy campaigns through student-led clubs and associations.
Taskforces and working groups were formed to design a student-centred learning environment to revisit the pedagogical approach and revamp the curriculum to include critical thinking, complex problem solving, design thinking, communication, leadership, family business, responsible business, civic engagement, governance, and ethics.
The jigsaw puzzle: Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem one step at a time
The rationale was to strategically transform the school – and gradually the university – to become more creative, innovative, dynamic, and, most importantly, entrepreneurial. The ultimate objective was to change how students and learners think, generate ideas, perceive opportunities, understand innovation, take risks, develop alternative solutions, and become impact-driven.
It is worth noting that while some people claim that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, and others believe that some are born gifted with entrepreneurial skills while others are not, there is no doubt that different skills and capacities can be shaped and improved through awareness, education, customised training, coupled with proper guidance and mentorship.
To kick-start such an ambitious journey, it was essential to realise some quick wins to build momentum. Starting with the introduction of new courses as part of the degree offerings would have required multiple conversations and steps to navigate the lengthy approvals across different university levels, including the department of management, the council of the school of business, the provost council, and the university senate, a process that could take up to a year if not more including the time needed to make changes to the course catalogue and define which students would be allowed to enrol in the courses. Such a path was not perceived as timely or effective.
Accordingly, it was decided to proceed with two parallel paths to gain time. The first off-campus by formulating a nationwide community development programme, which can help in expediting and scaling up our advocacy efforts to create an entrepreneurial culture (Kamel, 2021b) and the second on-campus by introducing a minor in entrepreneurship coupled with launching a campus-wide entrepreneurship awareness campaign through public lectures, workshops and seminars.
1. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program (EIP)
In 2010, based on the findings of a market study on entrepreneurship offerings in the MEA region, the school launched the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (EIP). The objective was to educate, train, and inspire students, learners, and entrepreneurs in the intricacies of entrepreneurship through various seminars, workshops, boot camps, business plan and case competitions, networking events, and mentorship programmes (Kamel, 2012).
EIP aimed to help spread entrepreneurship to a broader audience and identify promising entrepreneurs, helping them develop innovative ideas, turning them into viable startups, and assisting them in formulating their business plans. From the outset and based on the belief that Cairo is not Egypt and that great ideas do not come from big cities or urban settings only and for equity, diversity and inclusion purposes, all EIP offerings were open to everyone, including students and learners from different universities and entrepreneurs from all over the country (Kamel, 2021b). Some activities were offered online.
It is always about people. Therefore, it was essential to raise the awareness of the entrepreneurs, who varied in their education level, socioeconomic background, age, and gender. This step included the identification of knowledgeable and experienced mentors and coaches to help the entrepreneurs develop their business plans and guide them throughout the learning process.
The mentors were instrumental in offering entrepreneurs internship opportunities. Over the years, the growing number of mentors led to the establishment of the AUC mentors’ network, which included faculty from different disciplines, as well as industry and business experts and leaders – many from the university alumni – who shared their knowledge through one-to-one mentoring sessions as well as workshops, and seminars.
The experience of EIP and working closely with young entrepreneurs highlighted the need for providing in-depth support to early-stage entrepreneurs and startups as they worked through their business modelling and planning, fundraising, and setting up their operations and partnerships.
These services are usually best provided to a smaller number of startups through an acceleration or incubation programme. This motivated the school to start planning to establish a campus-wide incubator/accelerator that provides an enabling environment for an interdisciplinary entrepreneurial learning experience (Kamel, 2021a).
EIP stirred a substantial impact, where the flicker of entrepreneurship started glowing, with thousands of Egyptians learning more about entrepreneurship. This was an evolving space, and many local and global organisations became actively involved in different stages in growing the ecosystem, including more than 80 private, government and non-governmental organisations such as Flat6Labs, the Global Entrepreneurship Programme, 138 Pyramids, Algebra Capital, the Egyptian American Enterprise Fund, Injaz Egypt, Nahdet El-Mahrousa, Endeavor Egypt, A15, ENACTUS (formerly known as Students for Free Enterprise), Cairo Angels, the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, Rise-Up Summit, RISE Egypt, the Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, and Ashoka.
This was a collective effort, and everyone added some value. The interaction, diversity, and networking were essential and represented a real learning experience for all – it was a new space, and everyone was learning on the go (ibid).
During 2010-2015, EIP helped gradually position the AUC School of Business as the educational partner to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt, starting with the exciting buzz about the potential and impact of entrepreneurship launched on campus.
However, the school efforts reached beyond the campus, all over Egypt, and into the MEA region. The campus was crowded almost weekly with students, fresh graduates, and promising entrepreneurs with ideas who needed further training and mentoring to move to the next level. The reach of EIP impacted more than 2,600 undergraduate and 1,200 graduate students from different universities in Egypt.
Moreover, there were 300+ faculty members and educators trained and more than 4,350 learners from Cairo and many provinces in Egypt, whether in the Delta region or Upper Egypt, including Giza, Mansoura, Ismailia, Assiout, Alexandria, Aswan, as well as from other countries in the MEA region including Lebanon, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Kenya, Sudan, and Nigeria. EIP raised north of €930K to support entrepreneurs in capacity-building.
2. Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (EIC)
During the early stages of launching EIP, discussions were held with various stakeholders, including faculty, students, alumni, entrepreneurs, business leaders, policymakers, civil society leaders, government officials, and others. In 2010, these discussions led to establishing of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Council (EIC) as an advisory arm for guidance, directions and support.
The council provided endorsement and visibility. In addition, it was essential to get insights and perspectives from different players in the entrepreneurial space on priority areas to address them in various ways, including research focus to support the national efforts and impact policy. The EIC members included entrepreneurs, academics, policymakers, non-governmental organisations’ representatives, and business leaders from Egypt and elsewhere.
The members have been instrumental in facilitating several corporate connections and university partnership agreements with different players in the entrepreneurial space in Egypt, the MEA region, and beyond. The members also served as mentors and judges in competitions and contributed to designing and delivering some EIP activities.
3. Minor in Entrepreneurship
Introducing courses in entrepreneurship was vital in bringing the conversation about its potential impact into the classroom. In 2011, the school was the first in Egypt to introduce a minor in entrepreneurship, which included new courses and seminars in entrepreneurship, principles of entrepreneurial finance, entrepreneurial marketing, entrepreneurship and innovation, developing and launching a new venture, social entrepreneurship, and family business.
In parallel, following all the required approvals, the school started integrating entrepreneurship into other accounting, economics and information technology courses. The minor was offered to all undergraduate students, irrespective of their majors. The objective was to maximise the value to the campus-wide student body. By 2013, the enrolment in these courses became the highest on campus.
The required buzz and vibe about entrepreneurship – that the school worked so hard to realise – was gradually being heard and diffused among the university community. The lesson learned throughout the process was that if business schools want to preach entrepreneurship, they should practice it first and push their operations and processes to be more efficient. No one can create and endorse a mindset they are not practising; it is just like those who talk, push and advocate change but never want to change.
4. Doing Business in Africa and the Middle East
In 2012, the school started introducing one and two-week programmes that promote entrepreneurship through the lens of doing business in Africa or the Middle East. The programme is a hybrid of academic, cultural and social content and activities demonstrating the impact of the local context and values on how business is conducted. It was designed to promote entrepreneurship education and research to help transform economies across the MEA region. The programme was often conducted in collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa and offered to students from universities worldwide.
5. El-Khazindar Business Research and Case Center (KCC)
Another essential component of the journey was to engage the school’s case-writing platform, El-Khazindar Business Research and Case Center (KCC) – established in 2007. Over the years, KCC has produced over 100 mini and long business cases, mainly entrepreneurial issues, successes, and failures related to emerging markets. In 2011, KCC was getting some global visibility by contributing several cases to Innovations – the quarterly journal published by MIT Press – on the occasion of organising the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
6. The American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt (AmCham Egypt)
Connecting with the business community and availing opportunities for entrepreneurs through networking and partnerships was an integral part of the school’s efforts. Accordingly, following several discussions with the leadership of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt-the largest business association in Egypt with over 950 corporate members-an Entrepreneurship and Innovation (EIC) core committee was established in 2010 with links to the EIP operations.
7. The Venture Lab (V-Lab)
One of the significant pieces of the jigsaw puzzle was launched in 2013, the first university-based incubator/ accelerator in Egypt – the Venture Lab (V-Lab) – to identify, support, mentor and incubate innovative entrepreneurs while capitalising on the university’s intellectual capital, infrastructure and research capacities, and connecting them to the university network of faculty, staff, and alumni.
The mission of the V-Lab is to support selected high-growth and innovation-driven startups from across Egypt to commercialise their technologies and business models into successful and sustainable ventures (El-Dahshan et al., 2011). By doing that, the V-Lab aimed to foster a thriving ecosystem of innovation, learning, responsible business and good citizenship.
While university-based incubators were popping up everywhere, in 2013, the V-Lab was the first in the MEA region to be well-integrated into the campus community, interacting with the university constituents and supporting entrepreneurs across society. Besides, while some incubators are limited to specific technologies, and others serve only their students, the V-Lab prides itself on being open to entrepreneurs across the MEA region and supporting different technology platforms and economic sectors since its inception.
The V-Lab was established as an interdisciplinary incubator/accelerator to provide support services for qualifying entrepreneurs and startups according to a set of publicly announced rigorous processes for application and qualification that is based on the novelty of the idea, scalability, commercial potential, team experience and commitment to success.
The business model was formulated based on research conducted on university-based incubators in the world, building on their experiences and lessons learned while adapting to local needs, norms and values, as well as ways of doing business to help contribute to economic growth, competitiveness, and job creation, investing in human capital and innovation while providing a learning and research platform for the university community to connect and engage with entrepreneurs.
The V-Lab offers two accelerator programmes. The first is the Startup Accelerator Programme, which runs two cycles annually. Each cycle includes around 25 qualified startups selected from a pool of 400 applicants (6%), enabling the V-Lab team to work closely with each startup team of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are offered an intensive acceleration experience for 16 weeks.
The programme welcomes entrepreneurs from Egypt and the MEA region, bringing entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds and experiences to campus and giving them access to university resources, including internet access, library and other facilities, as well as engineering and technical labs free of charge and granting the university students and learners insights into the entrepreneurial world. The programme is about scaling up the added value to as many entrepreneurs as possible.
Therefore, startups not qualifying for the acceleration programme are invited to attend an extensive interactive capacity-building programme focusing on business and leadership skills, critical thinking, marketing and communications, among other topics. The programme is designed and delivered by the school faculty, business practitioners, and executives selected from the mentors’ network; most offer their services on a pro bono basis (Ismail, 2020).
The programme is composed of two tracks. For each accelerated startup, the V-Lab provides a modest seed fund-the equivalent of €2.8K – unfortunately, this was discontinued after the 2016 Egyptian pound devaluation, and a set of services, including a co-working space on campus, boot camps, and capacity-building courses on a variety of topics, such as idea pitching and fundraising; as well as, mentoring, coaching, access to potential investors, market research, access to faculty, assistance with professional services such as human resources and students’ recruitment, communication, and legal support.
7.1 Startup Accelerator
The programme was launched in 2013 to help entrepreneurs make their startups investment-ready, allowing them to tap into the right networks and strategies for scaling and growth. It is a 16-week sector-agnostic programme supporting high-growth and innovation-driven early-stage startups. With the support of the V-Lab corporate partners, the economic sectors and industries covered include healthcare, eCommerce, transportation, artificial intelligence, logistics, mobility, IoT, education, energy, green economy, trade, sustainability, logistics and others.
7.2 Fintech Accelerator
Egypt’s population is more than 60% unbanked, especially in remote locations, facing challenges accessing the traditional financial infrastructure. Accordingly, fintech is emerging as a key vertical in Egypt’s entrepreneurship ecosystem. The Fintech Accelerator is a 16-week equity-free programme for fintech startups offering specialised business knowledge and technology support, equipping entrepreneurs with business design skills, growth-hacking techniques and investment-readiness support through coaching, mentorship, access to an investment clinic, and peer-to-peer support and networking opportunities through demo days and other events.
The programme was launched in 2015 to avail space for early-stage entrepreneurs to help them develop fintech solutions for Egypt and the MEA region to work towards building a more inclusive economy, increasing access to information and services, and helping to reduce poverty. The school’s partners include local financial regulators and international key players, including one of Egypt’s leading private banks (Commercial International Bank), the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group, and the global financial enabler Mastercard, offering the participating startups unrivalled access to market insights and exclusive opportunities.
By 2023, the programme has graduated 50 startups and supported over 100 entrepreneurs, representing around 35% of Egypt’s fintech startups. The startups that went through the acceleration programme have raised north of €3.3 million, which helped finance their growth and user-base expansions.
To date, 80% of the accelerated startups are active. They have financially enabled over 450K users in agriculture, healthcare, payment, remittances, lending, insurance, savings, financial literacy and alternative financing. Most of the user base of these startups are unbanked people who otherwise would have been excluded from these financially enabled services. The programme is increasingly contributing to migrating many from the informal economy.
To demonstrate the programme’s impact on the social and financial inclusion fronts, one of the startups accelerated – Neqabty1 ’16 provides individuals with healthcare services at discounted prices and facilitates traceable digital payments. Neqabty works with Egypt’s Engineers Syndicate to provide services to over 700K members. Neqabty is working with various syndicates and labour unions in Egypt and expanding into Africa to facilitate further access to healthcare services.
Another example is Klickit ‘18, which enables online school payments and digital fee collection. In 2021, Klickit partnered with the Ministry of Education and E-Finance (the government’s financial network) to launch their electronic payment service, enabling parents of students from all public schools to pay the tuition online. Klickit’s solution serves more than 55K public schools and 400 private organisations, easing the organisational strain and saving time and effort for millions of people.
In 2023, the V-Lab celebrates ten years of operations. During that time, it has accelerated 323 startups and created over 12K direct and indirect jobs. These startups have generated more than €147 million. There was one unicorn exit-SWVL, and more than 3000 capacity-building hours and mentorship, many on a one-to-one basis, were offered.
The reach and impact of the V-Lab attracted some of the leading local and global companies to become partners, including SODIC – one of the leading real estate development companies in Egypt, the Arab African International Bank (AAIB) and the Commercial International Bank (CIB) – two of the top private banks in Egypt.
7.3 The Startup Launchpad
The 8-week immersive programme aims to grow Egypt’s tech-enabled entrepreneurship ecosystem by equipping idea-stage entrepreneurs with the IT skills and knowledge they need to start a business. With a mission of expanding the number of tech-enabled startups – especially in the MEA region where there is limited access to entrepreneurial education – the programme provides basic ideation and entrepreneurship education to aspiring entrepreneurs.
The programme helps entrepreneurs – including women – to effectively develop business ideas and increase their startup’s chances of survival and success through extensive capacity-building and coaching. The launchpad has graduated 75 entrepreneurs from 9 provinces2 in Egypt.
7.4 The Incudev Programme
Many universities, governments, non-governmental organisations, and private enterprises establish accelerators and incubators to serve their societies. In Egypt, the V-Lab partnered with Rowad3 2030 – one of the projects of Egypt’s Ministry of Planning and Economic Development and supported by the Drosos Foundation – to offer capacity-building and mentorship programmes to help establish university-based incubators, accelerators and entrepreneurship centres, both in Egypt and the MEA region.
Through Incudev, the V-Lab works with accelerator/incubator managers either launching or growing their programmes to design and enhance their business models and processes and build their capacities. The objective is to help them support entrepreneurs and startups in the communities they serve. The programme is also designed to capitalise on the knowledge shared between the participating incubators/accelerators.
Since 2021, Incudev has trained 130 managers in 80 different entrepreneurship centres, incubators and accelerators and supported 44 of the 64 universities (69%) in Egypt in awareness and advocacy about entrepreneurship education, including helping them design their curriculum. Incudev supported more than 1K entrepreneurs across Egypt through free consultations, ideations and hackathons.
To measure its impact, the V-Lab has developed several key performance indicators, including the number of startups accelerated, entrepreneurs mentored, students and learners trained, percentage of startups funded, including the amount of financing that was generated as a result of being incubated at the V-Lab, the mentors’ ability to link entrepreneurs with business executives and potential investors, and the number of partnerships created between startups and other organisations whether private or public.
The V-Lab has just completed a regional edition of the Incudev programme, with the participation of 18 programme leaders from 7 MEA countries, including Tunisia, Lebanon, Palestine, United Arab Emirates, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya. It was an excellent opportunity to start a regional network of professionals interested in building their local ecosystems. The Drosos Foundation supported the programme.
In 2023, the V-Lab was recognised as the Middle East North Africa Top Challenger by UBI Global World Rankings 2021.2022 of business incubators and accelerators. The award is granted to incubators and accelerators that offer exceptional value for their startups and the local ecosystem. In addition, in 2022, the V-Lab was recognised as the Best Accelerator in Africa at the Global Startup Awards Africa summit.
8. Research Focus
In 2015, the focus of a large percentage of the research outcome conducted by the school faculty gradually started to tilt towards entrepreneurship, innovation and family business. This was reflected in the quality and volume of publications.
Besides, with an eye on impacting policy by supporting government policymakers and local and international development organisations interested in delivering entrepreneurship programmes, the school – through several of its faculty and staff started to produce the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – Egypt National Report in 2015. In addition, in 2017, the school started producing the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – Middle East North Africa Regional Report.
9. Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI)
The journey of EIP – established in 2010 – continued to link academia with the business world and advocate for a well-thought-out nationwide entrepreneurial culture. EIP was the first of its kind in the MEA region when it pioneered as a university programme focusing on raising awareness of the role of entrepreneurship in economic development and growth through ideation, innovation and preparing startups in early, venture and late stages of disrupting traditional businesses through technologies and then connecting them with accelerators, incubators and investors.
With the introduction of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the school’s focus on sustainability, governance, responsible business and inclusive development, EIP was restructured in 2015 into a fully-fledged centre and became the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI).
This move helped better address SDG goals and broadened the scope to include cross-cutting themes like gender and climate. Accordingly, CEI diversified its target audience and offered a variety of tailored programmes and services by partnering with different national, regional and international organisations.
In 2020, the CEI introduced a series of community development projects and capacity-building activities to address essential issues such as financial sustainability, youth employment, women’s economic empowerment, gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in Egypt, especially in remote locations.
These programmes are conducted in collaboration with local and international partners and donor agencies to support economic, social and environmental development and engage a diverse pool of students and learners through entrepreneurship programmes and case competitions-including venture capital, innovative solutions and business plans – hackathons and events. For example, the CEI’s International Case Competition – introduced in 2019 – focuses on issues related to Egypt’s business and entrepreneurship landscape, including consumer behaviour, economic trends, regulatory and policy reforms, technology adoption, and the enabling environment.
In 2020, a hackathon was launched to increase the students’ experience of working in small groups and sharing their creative skills while exploring innovative solutions to social and economic problems and inspiring a more sustainable, accessible, and resilient future for society. The competition usually attracts around 40 teams annually from around the world. It provides access to internships, scholarships and mentorships.
CEI became a brand in the ecosystem and a go-to reference for stakeholders who seek to engage youth, women, startups, and underserved communities while strengthening the links between industry, business and academia. By 2023, the impact of CEI had reached more than 70K participants in entrepreneurship awareness programmes, around 1K students and learners in competitions, over 500 participants in capacity-building workshops and training programmes, and 2K hours of mentoring sessions. They also forged over 100 partnerships in business, industry, academia, civil society and government.
One of the critical projects of CEI is Rabeha4 – which aims to support women entrepreneurs as part of society’s efforts to reduce the gender gap in the national entrepreneurship ecosystem. The project is part of the framework of the UN Women Egypt-UNIDO Egypt Joint Programme ‘Women Economic Empowerment for Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’ implemented in partnership with the National Council for Women, the Ministry of Trade and Industry through the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, and generously supported by Global Affairs Canada.
The project – delivered in Arabic – includes training, mentoring and incubation to enhance the skills of women entrepreneurs or women with viable and promising entrepreneurial ideas. Since 2020, CEI has trained over 1,500 women in seven provinces in Egypt.
While capacity-building is essential in entrepreneurship, mentorship is invaluable for entrepreneurs to guide their startup ventures. In 2021, CEI became a certified MIT Venture Mentoring Service (MIT VMS) member with the support of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank Group. The programme aims to create a community of qualified mentors to guide aspiring and established entrepreneurs in Egypt throughout the startup life cycle.
The partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is vital in supporting CEI to continue to train mentors on the principles and methodology of the MIT VMS model and to expand its mentorship network. CEI has successfully recruited 30 mentors and 15 venture founders and delivered over 20 hours of mentoring.
10. AUC Angels
In 2018, AUC Angels – the first university-based angel investor network in the MEA region – was launched. The objective is to build an angel investment network for AUC alumni and friends, provide a strong pipeline of startups, facilitate deal flow, support innovative startups, secure seed funding and beyond.
Since its launch, the network has 60 investors who have supported 26 startups – from a pool of 290 applicants (8.9%) – through a total investment of €1.2 million. Notably, 15 of the 26 startups (58%) received follow-on funding. From a regional perspective, the number of strategic partners in the AUC Angels network has reached 20 across the MEA region.
11. The Family Business Consortium
In 2018, the school convened the first meeting of the Family Business Consortium. The founding partners included ESCA Ecole de Management (Morocco), Ajman University (United Arab Emirates), American University of Beirut and Holy Spirit University (Lebanon). The objective was to shed light on family business models, given that they represent 60% of the GDP in Egypt and many countries in the MEA region, ranging from small and medium-sized enterprises to large corporations that operate in different industries and economic sectors.
The issues addressed included governance, succession planning, resilience, building trust across generations, and family values and legacies. The consortium intended to use research to impact policy and highlight the importance of family business as a catalyst for enhancing economic growth and societal development across the MEA region.
In addition to the consortium, the school introduced several other activities in the family business domain, including introducing academic and executive education courses in 2017 for the first time in the Middle East, launching the family business talks series, developing more than 40 teaching cases – winning two case writing global awards – organising the 2023 edition of #IMovedMyBusinessForward campaign on family business and the first virtual international family business research day in collaboration with the Family Business Centre of the Entrepreneurial School in Austria and ESCA Ecole de Management in Morocco, and gradually becoming a convener for conversations on family business, its future, challenges and opportunities.
12. Bachelor’s Degree in Business and Entrepreneurship
In 2021, the school started offering the degree to equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to become business-ready, including critical thinking, responsible business, and adaptability to complex situations while unleashing their creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurial thinking to prepare them for running a new business venture and learning the fundamentals of business such as managing people, operations, marketing, finance, business ethics, and more.
This was an ecosystem that was created seamlessly and organically. It was not led by any one person or organisation or belonging to any specific entity. It was a mushrooming space where individuals and organisations collaborated and supported each other, yet again, in many ways, they were competing for resources, financial support, and bettering their services and offerings; a classic case of co-opetition.
It was a learning experience for all. It was and continues to be fun, like a co-working space for creativity and innovation. The school’s efforts started in 2010 – when there was no entrepreneurial culture at the school or the university – and were driven by the firm belief that entrepreneurship is essential for the future of Egypt and the MEA region. The partnerships we forged with the private sector, government and civil society organisations were a testament and an endorsement of how far the school has transformed and has become an entrepreneurial powerhouse among business schools in the MEA region that is constantly realising a significant impact on society in Egypt.
AUC School of Business’s next journey is to help universities in Egypt and across the MEA region replicate its experience, build on it and help establish their entrepreneurial platforms by systematically investing in lifelong learning, attracting youth, promoting innovation, and creating opportunities to transform lives and livelihoods.
Creating a nationwide effective, sustainable, and scalable entrepreneurial ecosystem could be a game-changer for Egypt and the MEA region. However, for a national entrepreneurial culture to thrive, it needs to be private sector-led, supported by talented and well-exposed human capital, a conducive environment and a vibrant society to help build the economy more inclusively and impactfully.
El-Dahshan, M., A. Tolba and T. Badreldin (2011) Enabling entrepreneurship in Egypt: toward a sustainable, dynamic model. Innovations 7(2) pp.83-106
Ismail, A. (2020) A framework for designing business-acceleration programs: a case study from Egypt. Entrepreneurship Research Journal 10(2) pp.1-16
Ismail, A., S. Kamel and K. Wahba (2019) The impact of technology-based incubators in creating a sustainable and scalable startup culture in emerging economies: a system thinking model. Communications of the IBIMA, Volume 2019, pp.1-16
Kamel, S. (2012) “Entrepreneurial uprising,” BizEd, November/ December, pp.46-47
Kamel, S. (2021a) Leading change in challenging times: lessons of disruption and innovation from Egypt-thoughts, observations, and reflections. Independently Published. Manufactured by Amazon, ISBN: 9798766291527
Kamel, S. (2021b) The role of digital transformation in development in Egypt. Journal of Internet and e-Business Studies (JIEBS), Article ID 911090, ISSN 2169-0391, pp.1-10
Kamel, S. (2016) Startup. Global Focus, 10(3) pp.52-55
Kamel, S., and C. Schroeder (2016) Economic recovery and revitalisation. Research study. Working group report of the Middle East strategy task force. Washington DC: The Atlantic Council
Kane, T. (2010) The importance of startups in job creation and job destruction. Kauffman Foundation Research Series
Nazeer, T. (2017) MENA’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has the potential to flourish. Forbes Middle East, 13 August
Schroeder, C. (2013) Startup rising-the entrepreneurial revolution remaking the Middle East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Schroeder, C. (2017) A different story from the Middle East: Entrepreneurs building an Arab tech economy. MIT Technology Review, 3 August
1 Neqabty is the Arabic word for ‘syndicate’
2 Egypt has 27 governorates
3 Rowad is the Arabic word for ‘pioneers’
4 Rabeha is the Arabic word for ‘a female winner’