Top 15 Inspiring Egyptians of the Decade in Business and Entrepreneurship
Often, Egypt is not sufficiently recognized for its business and entrepreneurship accomplishments despite its numerous agents of change that have built a reputation for themselves as entrepreneurial wizards both at home and internationally.
It is undeniable that, for many years, the country’s economy and potential for innovation were stunted due to the 2011 political events, which not only halted Egypt’s tourism influx, but also led to the fall of the country’s foreign exchange reserves from US $36 billion in December 2010 to only $16.3 billion in January 2012.
However, with a set of financial reforms, Egypt’s net foreign reserves reached $45.457 billion in January 2020, as per Egypt Independent. This significant improvement was fueled by the government’s success in securing a three-year International Monetary Fund loan of $12 billion in 2016, as part of efforts to revive the country’s ailing economy.
Progressively, Egypt’s startup scene has also taken off, with a number of Egyptian startups routinely making Forbes’ and World Economic Forum’s lists of most successful startups in the Arab world.
As such, Egyptian Streets chose the most influential and impactful companies and figures to have rattled the business, technology and startup scenes in Egypt during the last decade. Without them, it would be easy to imagine the financial winds blowing in other directions.
DAME NEMAT SHAFIK
Currently serving as the Director of the London School of Economics and Political science (since 2017), Egypt-born economist Nemat ‘Minouche’ Shafik is a force to be reckoned with.
Often hailed as the most powerful woman in London, Minouche was born in the coastal city of Alexandria. She travelled overseas to acquire her BA in Economics and Politics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, followed by her MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics, and a DPhil in Economics from Oxford University.
Nemat’s studies were followed by a stellar career in economics, public policy and banking. She became the youngest ever Vice President of the World Bank, where she was in charge of revitalizing the bank’s infrastructure business, as well as overseeing the performance and infrastructure of investments worth approximately $50 billion. She then served as Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Development (DFID) from 2008 to 2011, where she oversaw the UK’s development activities and a bilateral aid programme in over 100 countries.
Nemat then served as the International Monetary Fund’s Deputy Managing Director from 2011 until 2014, focusing on the IMF’s $1 billion administrative budget and overseeing its work in Europe and the Middle East as well as human resources policies for its 3,000 staff and training.
Making history, she became the first-ever deputy governor of the Bank of England overseeing the bank’s international surveillance, monetary framework, risk management practices, with one goal being to stabilize the UK’s dropping inflation levels.
Academically, Nemat has authored and co-authored an array of articles and books. She also holds honorary doctorates from the Glasgow University, University of Warwick and the University of Reading.
In 2009, she was named “Woman of the Year” for Global Leadership and Global Diversity in 2009 and, ten years later, a Recipient of 100 Women in Finance’s 2018 European Industry Leadership Award.
Notably, in 2015, she was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year’s Honors list.
Undeniably, Naguib Sawiris – financial tycoon and billionaire– is easily Egypt’s most famous and recognizable business man. With a Twitter presence of 6.2 million followers, he is also considered one of the most active business tycoons on social media.
The 65-year-old Egyptian studied Engineering in Switzerland prior to returning to the homeland to take over the family business, Orascom, which he helped grow into the largest private sector employment conglomerate in the country.
His fortune was largely built on the multibillion-dollar transaction which saw the sale of Orascom Telecom to Russian telecom company Veon (formerly VimpelCom) in 2011.
Currently, he serves as chairman of Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding S.A.E and Italian internet company Italiaonline, and has majority ownership over Lyon-based television news network Euronews. Similar to his brother Samih Sawiris’ affinity for developing luxury resorts, Naguib established ‘Silversands’ resort in Grenada Island, near the Caribbean Sea.
As per recent news outlets, Sawiris’ interest in gold mining has gained momentum as he seeks to increase investments in gold mining in Egypt where competition for an international tender for the Eastern Desert’s gold mines is high. He is currently head of US mining company La Mancha Resources Inc, which he acquired in 2012 and which engages in mining activities in five African countries as well as Australia.
Dabbling temporarily in politics, he founded the liberal ‘Free Egyptians’ Party during the 2011 revolution. He also made international headlines in September 2015 when he suggested to give hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees a new home in the form of an island (‘Independence’) off Italy or Greece. Although the plan never came to fruition due to juridical limitations, the move was hailed as deeply compassionate among Egyptians.
At the end of 2019 he was rated by Forbes as the seventh richest African. Currently, he holds a net worth of approximately $US 3 billion.
A major name in law, finance and human rights, Mona Zulficar is the founding partner and chair of Executive Committee of Zulficar & Partners – a leading law firm in the country.
She obtained her Bachelor of Science in Economics and Political science from Cairo University, then her law degree from Mansoura University, as well as an honorary degree from the University of Zurich.
With over 30 years of attorney experience, Zulficar specializes in financial, industrial and commercial transactions which is particularly significant when it pertains to contracting between businesses and top tiers companies. She is credited with having handled handling the Heineken acquisition of Ahram Beverages for US$ 300 million and the largest transaction in the Middle East: the sale of Orascom Building Materials Holding SAE to Lafarge, for almost US$ 13 billion. Her clientele portfolio includes MobiNil, Kraft, Lecico, EFG Hermes, Helwan Cement company, InterGen as well as others.
Additionally, Zulfikar is known for her advising role to Egypt’s various governmental entities and her participation to the drafting committees regarding the recent banking law regulations, the telecommunications law and the special economic zones law aimed at providing more investment opportunities. As a member of the board of the Director of the Central bank of Egypt, she also plays a role in overseeing the country’s reforms in economy and banking.
Her sense of commitment and accomplishments to human rights and women rights for over forty years have also added to her reputation as an eminent lawyer. Zulfikar was involved in several key campaigns such as the new marriage contract (1985) for women to uphold their right to terminate the marriage contract and to restrict husbands from taking on a secondary wife, advancing the Nationality law for Egyptian women married to foreigners to pass down the Egyptian citizenship to offspring, and the implementation of ‘family courts’ for the disputes of families.
She has also maintained a strong position against FGM, namely through her defense of the Ministry of Health decree of 1996 which bans female genital mutilation. Her campaigning also supported the establishment of the National Council of Women, as well as non-discrimination in law, namely through the eradication of the ‘religion’ slot in identification documents.
In 2009, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy bestowed her with the Legion d’Honneur for her not only her work in Human Rights but also for her role in securing financial transactions between Egypt and France.
Most famously known as the governor of the Central Bank of Egypt for a second round – one of the most financially strategic positions in Egypt – Tarek Amer’s reputation is as the brains behind Egypt’s economical development in the last few years.
Amidst a worsening financial crisis in which the Egyptian pound was at its all-time weakest in years and the country’s foreign reserves were depleted, Amer is credited with the flotation of the Egyptian pound in 2016. The move was done to ensure that Egypt debt would remain manageable and appropriate to maintain the country’s trade activities.
London based economic research consultancy Capital Economics qualified Amer as having “been instrumental in restoring macroeconomic stability over the past few years, taking the painful decision in 2016 to devalue the pound as well as steps to improve the CBE’s credibility,” in a 2019 report.
Amer’s academic background was in Economics, with a degree from the American University in Cairo acquired in 1980. With a 27-year-old portfolio in the world of finances and banking, he occupied important roles such as the First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Egypt, and then, most notably, the CEO of the National Bank of Egypt for six years.
He has also had experience as the Deputy Chairman of the Egyptian Banking Institute, the Deputy Chairman of Arab International Bank, and executive positions in Citibank, Bank of America and Banque Misr.
In 2013, he became the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the National Bank of Egypt’s subsidiary in London.
He is serving as governor of CBE until November 2023.
With more than two million followers on LinkedIn, Dr Mohamed Aly El-Erian is one of the world’s most watched, followed and respected businessmen. The son of Egyptian diplomats, Dr El-Erian was born in New York City in 1958 and grew up in Egypt, the United States of America and Europe.
In the last decade, Dr. El-Erian has cemented his position as one of the world’s most eminent economists and analysts. Dr El-Erian served as CEO and co-CIO of global investment management firm PIMCO between 2007 and 2014 and was selected in 2012 as Chair of former US President Barack Obama’s Global Development Council. During this time, Dr El-Erian was named among Foreign Policy’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’ for four years in a row.
Dr El-Erian’s economic expertise and ability to connect with followers on social media meant he was even once rumoured to be considered for the position of head of government in Egypt following Egypt’s 25 January revolution.
In 2014, a personal essay by Dr El-Erian went viral in Egypt and across the world after he revealed how a letter he received from his daughter was a ‘wake-up call’ that made him quit his multi-million dollar job.
“The list contained 22 items, from her first day at school and first soccer match of the season to a parent-teacher meeting and a Halloween parade. And the school year wasn’t yet over,” revealed Dr El-Erian in the viral personal essay.
“It dawned on me that I was missing an infinitely more important point. As much as I could rationalize it – as I had rationalized it – my work-life balance had gotten way out of whack, and the imbalance was hurting my very special relationship with my daughter. I was not making nearly enough time for her.”
Since then, Dr El-Erian, who is also an active philanthropist, has continued to spread his knowledge. He is currently a Financial Times contributing editor, a Bloomberg Opinion columnist, a part-time Practice Professor at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a New York Times best-selling author.
RANA EL KALIOUBY – AFFECTIVA
If there is one field Egypt had previously not made a name for itself in, it would be artificial intelligence. According to the 2019 Global Innovation Index, the country ranks 92 in its capacity and success in innovation, including in the field of technology. As such, the establishment and success of the 11-year old startup specializing in emotional artificial intelligence, Affectiva, by Egyptian American Dr. Rana el Kaliouby is particularly noteworthy.
El Kaliouby acquired her BA and MA in Computer Science from the American University in Cairo, with a double minor in Electronics and Business Administration. Shen then proceeded with a doctorate in computer science from the University of Cambridge where her groundbreaking dissertation on mind-reading machines was nominated for the British Computer Society Distinguished Dissertation Award.
Her work in emotion recognition application in technology and affective computing was then instigated as a research project at MIT, which then became the foundation ground for Affectiva. The latter, which was co-founded by Rosalind Picard, specializes in emotion detection technology which is often used in video communication, robotics, gaming, marketing and sales/consumption.
Its headquarters are in the US’ Boston, with another office in the Egyptian capital. In terms of its funding, Affectiva is backed by investors such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Horizon Ventures and Fenox Ventures Capital; the latter gave the startup of US $14 million in a fifth round investment (D) funding.
In 2006, for her innovating work, el Kaliouby received the he Global Women and Inventors Network’s Higher Education and Learning Institutes Gold Award and, in 2018, she was named in Forbes’ list of America’s top 50 women in Tech.
A special mention goes to the former Orascom Development Holding CEO who tragically died earlier this year, in January, in a car accident in Cairo. Bichara’s loss was mourned by many in the tech and entrepreneurship scene.
Bichara obtained a Bachelors of Science in Computer Science, with a minor in Business Administration, from the American University before leading a long career in business. He founded the country’s first internet provider LinkDOTnet (LDN) in 1992; it was eventually bought out by Orange Egypt in 2010.
He then became the president and CEO of Veon (previously VimpelCom Ltd.), executive chairman of Orascom Telecom and chairman Wind Telecommunications in Italy. He oversaw the transformation and revitalization of the latter; in overseeing its strategy haul, Bichara succeeded in making Wind Telecom one of the leading European operators.
Soon after, he founded Accelero Capital, a company specializing in providing investments to telecoms, media and technology projects, for which he was the CEO..
Having originally been the Managing Director of Orascom Telecom Holding, Bichara went on to become the CEO of Orascom Development Holding in 2016.
Bichara was known for being a passionate and significant role model as well as mentor to entrepreneurs in Egypt; he pushed for the idea of taking risks and stepping out of comfort zones as he encouraged young entrepreneurs to execute their projects, believe that this would be the key to boost Egypt’s economy was through start-up and entrepreneurship culture.
With services available in almost every kiosk, the majority of Egyptian pharmacies, and as a popular option for payment for most of the Egyptian population, Fawry is an E-Payment Network founded by technology expert Ashraf Sabry more than ten years ago although its services grew exponentially in the last decade.
the fintech company was established by 2008; it then garned the support of major investors and stakeholders such as Alexbank, Raya Holding Technology Dvelopment fund, HSBC and the Arab African International Bank, the fintech company was established by 2008.
Currently, ten percent of Fawry is owned by the management team while an international consortium took up the remaining 90 percent of the stake, along with the International Financial Corporation (IFC) and EME International, in 2005.
The revolutionary payment network existed as an idea since 2007; it was set to provide an easy and quick method of payment by facilitating procedures and decreasing logistical challenges. Moreover, today one of its most unique aspects, FawryPay, serves as an alternative payment gateway in a largely underbanked nation where credits cards are not a norm. Through its services, consumers can pay their bills and other services through machine points, retail points, ATMs and smart wallets.
As per its website, Fawry’s facilitation payment to consumers and businesses is available in more than 125,000 locations. Additionally, the e-payment giant has served as a connection point to governments, merchants and 15 million Egyptian consumers.
The fintech company been hailed as a real stepping stone for providing quick and hassle-free payment options for a majority of Egypt population as part of the country’s larger financial inclusion plans and prospects. At the end of last year, the company impressively joined hands with Egypt’s Ministry of Education to enable approximately 20 million students to pay their tuition fees electronically, as per Menabytes.
In its current and prospective plans on an international level, Fawry is set on entering the market in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE. Its stock is set at 9.11 million EGP.
The Cairo-headquartered app-based bus, whose main rivals are the currently-merging Uber and Careem ride hailing applications in the Middle East, was first launched in April 2017.
The Swvl app is one of the most popular ride-hailing apps currently in Egypt. Its core idea relies on fixing ‘mini-bus’ routes based on the passenger’s nearest location and intended destination. Overall, the implementation of the application is set to be cost-efficient, with fixed rates for rides, as well as provide long-term solutions to traffic and faulty driving habits.
Swvl currently operates hundreds of buses along 600 routes in both Cairo and Alexandria. The transportation network company has been particularly popular amongst students, commuters on a budget, middle-class individuals and women who find the cost-efficient transportation safer than public transportation where harassment is often rampant.
In 2019, the ambitious startup raised US$42 million from venture-capital firms such as Endeavor Catalyst (NYC),Vostok (Sweden), MSA (China) and BECO Capital in order to proceed with its African expansion plan, as per Bloomberg.
Swvl is currently operational in Egypt as well as Kenya and Pakistan where operations launched in 2019; for the latter, the company is planning on investing US$25 million. In the summer, the startup also provides rides to popular vacation cities in Egypt such as Sahel (North coast), Dahab, Gouna (Hurghada) and Sharm El Sheikh.
Its three Egyptian co-founders Mahmoud Nouh, Ahmed Sabbah and Mostafa Kandil, share a part of its ownership while the rest is allocated to investment funds. All three were named in Forbes Middle East Arabs under 30 list for 2018.
Easily the number one platform for those seeking employment opportunities online, Wuzzuf.net has been on the market since 2010; it was co-founded by Ameer Sherif and Muhammed Algarhy. The website is managed by holding company and technology firm BashaSoft (2009) which was also co-founded by Sherif. Its current form and format, nonetheless, were primarily molded in May 2012.
As opportunities and job vacancies have increasingly been rendered available online, the employment platform serves as an online recruitment solution for top organizations and enterprises spanning over 50 categories and sectors from finance to entrepreneurship to media and education, in over 15 Egyptian cities.
According to its website, Wuzzuf has served a portfolio of over 10,000 top companies and employers as well as over 100,000 job seekers. It also advertised over 250,000 job vacancies and 1.5 million CVs were viewed on the platform. As such, Forbes Middle East ranked Wuzzf 51 in its “Top 100 Startups In The Arab World 2017” list.
The recruitment platform also, impressively, expanded regionally to provide employment opportunities for job seekers in the gulf region and other Arab nations such as the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia following its local success.
Founded in 2011 in Cairo by Ahmed Zahran, Yumna Madi, Omar Hosni this company has gained a reputation for itself as the country’s largest private off-rig solar energy provider, especially in remote areas and especially for the industrial and agricultural sectors.
Interestingly, KarmSolar operates through two main subsidiaries, KarmBuild and KarmPower, under its belt.
Tapping into the country’s potential resources, namely the sun belt spanning across the western desert, CEO Zahran noticed an intersection with the latter and the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, one of the largest reservoirs of groundwater worldwide. As a KarmSolar project, it was then decided to create a pumping station for irrigation, fueled by solar energy, to provide water for local farmers. This, in return, proved to be a key factor in not burning diesel and still providing residents in off-grid areas a chance for more profit. Thus, the solar energy based water pumping system is cheaper than systems that use diesel, rendering agricultural activities less costly and more economically sustainable.
The innovation-approach inclined integrator also built the Tayebat Workers village in Bahareya from sustainable local material, namely the organic matters left by the nearby farmers while clearing land for farming such as sandstone. It became Egypt’s first solar-powered village housing over 300 individuals.
The solar technology startup’s key activities have been, impressively, to deliver innovative solar solutions to industrial, business, agricultural and touristic agents. Among its many clients for whom they were in charge of providing energy to are Juhayna (a Solar PV diesel hybrid system to cater Enma, providing energy to the 500 acres dairy farm), Arkan (managing the distribution network and providing electricity to tenants) and the seaside village, Marsa Shagra’s Red Sea Diving Safari (setting up a a 75 KWp solar station and reducing carbon emissions) as well Sahl Hasheesh, Orion group and many others.
In 2018, KarmSolar signed a deal with Dakahlia South Valley Poultry and Dakahlia Wadi El Natroun Agriculture (Dakahlia group) to provide the subsidiaries of the country’s largest poulty project with over 75 percent of their energy needs over 30 years.
Part solar energy integrator and part architectural designers, the private company’s innovation-based approach is revolutionizing and tapping into the country’s remote and most unused territory, as it focuses on seeing potential for either making terrain area habitable (i.e village construction) or profitable (i.e irrigable).
Seeing more opportunity for growth, KarmSolar’s operations also expanded to the south of the country where two energy stations are currently being established in Minya and Wadi Natroun, occupying around 360,000 square meters of land.
The growing company currently has over 100 employees and has saved over 1,684,073 liters of diesel, as per its website.
Egypt is a country which, despite its very small use of residential land, boasts a plethora of options in big cities. With a non-centralized health care system (no family doctor or general practitioners to orient a patient), it can be arduous to navigate health professionals. As such, Egyptian company Vezeeta found a way to penetrate the niche service of the health market, or, more specifically, a digital medical care booking platform.
The application and website were founded by Amir Barsoum and Ahmed Badr in 2012; the name of the startup ”vezeeta” plays on the idea of a visit which leaves a chance for a patient to leave the review – negative or positive – of the experience with a doctor.
Initially, the website was only an electronic medical record for doctors but it relaunched in 2015 as a booking platform for patients allowing them to not only check for doctors according to speciality, location and consultation fee but then also to review the physicians.
Currently, 30,000 healthcare providers with over 30 specialities are registered with Vezeeta; and over 200,000 certified reviews can be found on web-based application. The website, which functions as a digital healthcare powerhouse as it also offers ordering and delivery of medications, serves over five million patients across six countries.
In 2018, it ranked Forbes list of the Arab world’s top 3 startups for its revolutionary and tech-wavy way of booking doctor’s appointments thus bridging technology and healthcare in the increasingly digital-oriented nation.
As we become increasingly connected to our phones, applications have helped millennials, baby boomers and gen z tech savvy individuals facilitate daily life. As such, it can be crucial in this day and age to monitor and ensure that applications work flawlessly.
This is where Egyptian startup Instabug plays a crucial role; the latter is a software company which facilitates bug and crashing problems in smartphones.
Currently, Instabug’s services and its SDK issues a range of important services such as bug reporting, surveys, crash reporting and in-app chatting options. As of 2020, it has been used in almost two million devices and is considered one of the fastest growing “software as service” companies worldwide as the Instabug Software Development Kit (SDK) is compatible with iOs, Android as well as other softwares thus permitting application testing prior to release on play stores.
The Cairo-born company, which was founded merely 8 years ago by Omar Gabr and Moataz Soliman – still university students then- has racked up an impression clientele of 25,000 companies including Samsung, Soundcloud, Buzzfeed, Philips, Turkish Airlines, eBay, Yahoo, Vodafone and Paypal.
It was originally coined ‘AStarApps’ but its name was changed to Instabug, Inc; the potential-laden application was incubated by Egyptian accelerator Flat6Labs in 2012.
In 2013, Instabug ranked first at the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition, earning USD 50,000 cash prize and securing various early investments. Following this pivotal moment, only three years later, it was named the number 1 startup in Egypt by Forbes; it was also incubated by American seed accelerator Y Combinator.
Instabug then secured investment capitals from various Silicon Valley angels and Local Venture Capitals, including $1.7 million from Accel partners.
In 2019, its founders made it to Forbes Middle East’s 30 under 30’s list.
OKHTEIN (FASHION BRAND/DESIGNERS)
Rocked by by Beyonce, Emma Watson, Kris Jenner, Cardi B, Rihanna, Demi Moore, Halle Berry, Olivia Palermo, Gigi Hadid and most notably Egypt’s first Lady, Entessar, Okhtein’s ‘luxury’ hand-bags have achieved monumental success both inside and outside Egypt.
The Egyptian brand, which was founded by two sisters Aya and Mounaz Abdelrafouf (hence ‘Okhtein’ in Arabic) in 2014, sells a range of handmade belts, glasses, backpacks and clutches which are distinguished for their quirky designs. Both sisters, keen enthusiasts of art and fashion from a young age, studied at the American University in Cairo, with Aya having focused on communication and media arts while her sister accomplished her studies in art and marketing.
Following their studies, Okhtein started off with a seed capital of $US 5,000 secured by the Abdelrafouf family; the siblings turned their father’s office into a workshop and started their business in relative simplicity. It was in 2017 that the label’s rapid success was propelled forward, as Okhtein snagged the DDFC/Vogue Fashion Prize (Vogue Arabia) design competition, securing a funding of $US 25,000.
Minimal, shape-focused and paying a simultaneous homage to history and jewelry, Okhtein’s statement pieces are locally manufactured although they are sold worldwide at Al Ostoura (Kuwait), Browns (UK), Curve Boutique (US), Harvey Nichols (Saudi Arabia), Bloomingdales (Dubai), Tasoni (Switzerland), Les Suites (France), Label Queen (Lebanon), Judy ST (China) and even Temple Muse Lagos (Nigeria).Not far from its roots, Okhtein’s flagship store is located in the Cairene island of Zamalek.
Their collections of bags – famous for the blend of leather and brass- have been inspired by Old Cairo, Felucca boats, Nubia, pharaonic, Mayan, Islamic and Spanish heritage artistic influences which were translated into the decorative rendering of Okhtein’s products. Moreover, the label has a strong philanthropic edge to it, not only does it partner with various local NGOs to support community causes, but the products’ manufacturing process itself also involves skilled female workers financially remunerated for their labour.
For their inspiring growth and success, the Okhtein founders featured in Forbes Middle East’s 30 Under 30 list for the year 2019.
White cheese with tomato, falafel with pickled lemon and piping hot koshary – in an increasingly globalized world, bringing about an inundation of delicious food options, one of the few businesses to still pay homage to Egyptian street food is Zooba.
The ‘fast food making fancy street food ’restaurant chain was founded by Egyptian American entrepreneur Christopher Khalifa and head chef Moustafa El Refaey in 2012, with its first branch having opened on July 26th street.
Today, Zooba has over six branches in the country – all characterized with colorful décor and a quintessentially Egyptian cuisine, with some creative twists (think rice pudding with halwa angel hair, hawashi with carrot slaw or spicy cauliflower harissa) on local dishes.
However, unlike many Egyptian food businesses that have come and gone, Zooba achieved unprecedent success with the opening of its NYC branch in Manhattan after securing $US 4 million for its first overseas endeavor.
In line with its vision to have a Zooba in every major city in the world, the business partnered with SADF Trading and Development, a company that operates and scales an F&B franchise, in 2018. The partnership is set to accelerate the opening of Zooba branches in 20 different locations over the following seven years, namely in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.