AngelHack Does #RiseUp15: A Look into the Middle East & Africa’s Startup Ecosystem

“In Egypt, we have been told for a very long time ina i7na il mafrood nirda ib aleelo. We have much more ambition than to just nirda ib aleelo”

Ali Faramawy, President at Microsoft MEA

On the first morning of the RiseUp Summit, I sat on the steps of the GrEEK Campus in Cairo with our AngelHack ambassador, Bassem Ehab, going over the heavy-packed schedule. We were discussing what talks to attend, who to chat with, and when we can squeeze in a coffee break, when Bassem nudged me and pointed at a humble man in a suit. “That’s Ali Faramawy. He’s every Egyptian in tech’s idol.” It took a minute of hearing Ali speak to understand why. The man had made his way up the ladder, and he had a passion for the region that became the evident theme throughout the summit.

For those of you who don’t speak Arabic, “i7na il mafrood nirda ib aleelo” translates to “we’re supposed to settle for less”. It is true that for the longest time, the Arab world had settled for less, waiting for innovation to come from the west while struggling with civil unrest and economic downturn. However, last weekend, and the past couple of years for that matter, have been proof that the MEA is over its rut, and young techpreneurs are ready to show what they’re capable of to the world.

The RiseUp Summit is an annual event that brings together entrepreneurs, startups, and key players from all over the MEA (and the globe!) to Cairo, Egypt. The summit consists of a series of workshops, talks, and keynote speakers that are designed to build entrepreneurs’ knowledge of trends in the region and provide them with the opportunity to network with like minded individuals and organizations that can add value to their startups. This year saw the third and largest RiseUp summit, with over 4,000 attendees coming from 25 different countries, more than 60 startup partners, and an incredible pool of investors and speakers.

The energy at the summit was truly inspiring. Talking to the numerous startups that were out there hustling opened my eyes to how far along this hidden gem of a region really is. No wonder the world was catching on. Tech giants like Google and Microsoft are devising programs and initiatives that are specifically catered to the Middle East’s growing tech community. That’s a victory for the region. Global accelerators are seeking out Middle Eastern startups more than ever before. Some are even expanding into the region, such as TechStars, which has plans to open a branch right in the middle of it all (shout /out to Kuwait for making that happen!). Investors are flocking to the region to capitalize on the buzz. One of the world’s most beloved serial investors, 500 Startups’ Dave McClure, has given his stamp of approval in the form of a $30 million fund for the MENA.

But while all these recognitions are impressive, I want to tip my hat to all the local community hubs, accelerators, and innovation labs that have been built from scratch to support the ecosystem while it was still in its initial stages. Places like Flat6Labs who are currently accelerating startups in Cairo, Beirut, Abu Dhabi, and even Jeddah, as well as more nationally focused accelerators such as BeryTech in Beirut and Oasis500 in Amman, have been supporting local startups for over 5 years now and have truly built the groundwork for the now internationally recognized ecosystem. Events like the RiseUp Summit have been great reminders to entrepreneurs in the region of how far along they’ve come and how fast they are growing as a community, year by year. But there aren’t nearly enough reminders. While talking to Ahmed Ezz ElDin and Emily Renny, the founders of Tennra: Egypt’s first crowdfunding platform, they echoed the boost in motivation I had felt while at the summit. “We’d love to participate in more of these events because they give us the type of exposure that we need and the energy level is infectious. In Dubai, there’s something fueling excitement for startups going on every month. We need that.”


The two founders were excited to hear about AngelHack’s own upcoming initiatives in the region. They expressed what Jambu Palaniappan, MEA General Manager at Uber, and Ashraf Zeitoon, Head of Middle Eastern Policy at Facebook, later echoed on a Keynote panel at the summit: there is a growing need for hackathons in the region. The MEA’s abundance of talented techpreneurs are hungry for an outlet to put their skills to work. Right now, they are restricted to independent projects or settling for the one-off, corporate hackathons that take place every once in a while. Some even go as far as taking some time off and traveling all the way to Europe and the Americas to attend larger hackathons like AngelHack’s flagship city hackathons, Hack the North, and Hack Junction.

But at AngelHack, we like to give power to the people by bringing our hackathons to them, and customizing them to the local community’s specific needs. We pride ourselves in our grassroots Global Series which allows passionate developers and changemakers anywhere in the world to bring the international AngelHack brand – and all the fun that comes with it – to their city. 

As AngelHack’s MEA Regional Manager, I’m excited to be working with this year’s amazing ambassadors to provide an outlet for techpreneurs in more than ten cities in the MEA region to experiment, innovate, and join our global community of hackers in 2016. Stay tuned to see exactly which cities we’ll be in!

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