In December 2015, the RiseUp Summit brought more than 4,000 investors and entrepreneurs to Cairo for two days of conversation about the future of entrepreneurship in the Middle East and North Africa. This event marked the third annual installment of the event, which has evolved into something more than just a forum for discussion among professionals in the startup ecosystem. The marked growth of the RiseUp Summit matches the incredible growth sustained by Middle Eastern startups in the past year. For many people, the event also represents the hope of economic progress throughout the region, especially when viewed within the context of similar events like the recent Startup Weekend in Dubai.
The RiseUp Summit was created by Con O’Donnell, Abdelhameed Sharara, Gehad Hussein, and Muhammad Mansour. Over the course of two days, attendees had the chance to network with each other while also attending various workshops and panels that addressed the most pressing issues facing entrepreneurs and investors in the Middle East and North Africa. The 2015 event featured more than 200 speakers, many of them highly successful entrepreneurs who spoke about the challenges that must be surmounted to continue the exponential growth of the Middle East’s startup ecosystem.
Key Speakers at the 2015 RiseUp Summit
Some of the most influential speakers at the event included:
- Christopher Khalifa: The founder of Zooba, Khalifa launched his career with EFG-Hermes and conceived of his own business while working there. Through Zooba, he has led a veritable revolution in street food in Egypt. He teamed with a Michelin-star chef and navigated Egypt’s lack of vendor infrastructure to find the suppliers capable of selling the high quality ingredients the duo sought. Hiring a skilled staff of culinary experts, he launched his first location in the upscale Zamalek neighborhood of Cairo in 2012. At the event, he spoke about finding the right recipe for a successful business.
- Seif Abou Zeid: A social and policy entrepreneur, Abou Zeid has a passion for education. He cofounded Tahrir Academy and continues to serves as its chief executive office. Tahrir Academy offers a blended learning environment that uses science and mathematics lessons to reinforce critical thinking and help students think for themselves and make informed decisions. So far, more than 160,000 Arabic-speaking learners have registered for the platform. Seif Abou Zeid spoke to event attendees about how to create stronger, more appealing platforms that provide alternative education.
- Mohamed Farid: As the chairman and chief executive officer of Dcode Economic Financial Consulting, Farid is an expert on economic policy. His company provides advice on raising capital and offers boutique investment banking services. At present, he also serves as an external consultant to the World Bank on issues related to venture capital. He sits on the board of the Egyptian Investor Protection Fund and the Advisory Committee on Capital Markets, which was created by the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority. At RiseUp Summit, Farid discussed the past and future impact of entrepreneurship on the regional economy.
- Ashraf Zeitoon: The head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa at Facebook, Zeitoon understands the complicated intersection of social media and entrepreneurship. His work at Facebook touches on a wide range of issues, such as freedom of expression, e-commerce regulation, privacy, and the use of social media for the public good. He has previous experience in public affairs, digital communications, change management, and international affairs. Zeitoon spoke about Facebook’s increasing popularity in the region.
Competitions and Opportunities at the Event
Understanding that opportunities for networking are limited in the Middle East, the RiseUp Summit provides a forum that allows entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas. In 2015, individuals had three distinct pitching opportunities. Get in the Ring: Egypt allowed the most promising Egyptian startups to pitch their ideas and gain followers. The event literally pitted two startups against each other as they shared the podium and attempted to convince a panel of investors of the promise of their ideas. During the Uber Pitch N’ Ride, 20 entrepreneurs received the opportunity to take a ride with an investor in a stretch limo. During the short ride, the entrepreneurs had the opportunity to explain their ideas and convince the investor to offer funding. The third initiative invited 12 startups to pitch in front of an international jury at a Seedstars World event. The winner of the event received a flight to Switzerland to compete for $1.5 million in investment capital.
To encourage individuals in creative fields, the RiseUp Summit also partnered with Feesheh to run a Startup Band event. Over the course of 48 hours, musicians were able to join forces and write a song. The event culminated in live performances of the songs, during which participants received feedback from an expert panel. The winners received support from key industry mentors.