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Tarek El Kady shifted the focus of startup conferences in the region, not only by focusing on the MENA's overlooked Mediterranean essence but also democratising the Egyptian ecosystem in Egypt's most remote corners. Ahead of the Techne Summit's third edition, we meet the man behind the scenes.
"I was unknowingly into the world of entrepreneurship since I graduated,” says Tarek El Kady, the investor and entrepreneur who has been silently lighting the entrepreneurial spark across unlikely places. The investor, founder of Alexandria Angels, kicked off his Techne Summit in 2015, aiming to nurture and grow the entrepreneurial spirit in the Mediterranean City. And much like a spark in a thirsty pasture, that spirit has spread like wildfire.
“Techne Summit follows a lot of what we believe in: emerging markets and smaller cities. We don't focus on doing events in big capitals; capitals usually have all the resources they need; smaller cities are those which need access to resources,” he says. The summit, rolling on to its third edition on September 30th, last year gathered over 1,600 attendees and 80 high-level speakers from across 20 countries, including including German strategist and author Mark Turrell, nominated as a tech pioneer by The World Economic Forum, and American entrepreneur, model and author Lauren Maillian, famous for her best-selling book The Path Redefined: Getting to the Top on Your Own Terms.
Behind the conference laid the vision of a resident who saw in its mythical history, its privileged geographical position, and its cosmopolitan past, an eternal connection to the sea that links Europe, Africa and the Middle East all together. "Alexandria has a lot of similar treats to the cities who are in the Mediterranean like Greece, Italy, or Spain,” the investor says. “All these countries have a lot of similarities, in its people, in the industries, in the challenges, the sources that they have. Alexandria is north African city, it’s Middle Eastern, and at the same time and most importantly, it’s Mediterranean."
Alexandria is north African city, it’s Middle Eastern, and at the same time and most importantly, it’s Mediterranean.
Indeed, the event shortly after went on to extend to Dubrovnik, Croatia, where another edition of the summit took place last May, with support of the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović. But in the meantime, just as Techne was being built, a realisation struck Elkady; a realisation that would entire shape a wickedly unprecedented event taking local mentors, industry leaders, and investors on a roadshow startup conference through remote areas in Egypt, from rural towns in the South, to the deserted Suez Canal and the Nile Delta.
“Building on Techne, we realised that there are a lot of cities in Egypt that need to know about entrepreneurship, to understand what a startup means and if, they are ready, to let them access the resources they need,” Elkady explains. “We got all the speakers, we got all mentors, we put a strong programs to highlight the word entrepreneurship and to identify the startups that are already existing see what are the challenges and what are the resources that they have.” The results, he says, where shocking.
“What we have seen, especially in Egypt, is that areas that are underserved are usually more keen to learn because they don’t have access to resources, they don’t have the luxury of travelling to Cairo to learn more or to attend sessions, see startups, and hear stories,” he explains. “So when we came and visited three cities we found some of them who have resources, some of them have universities, some of them have proper entrepreneurship education and some of them don’t; and those were the ones who stayed from start to end.”
We don't focus on doing events in big capitals; capitals usually have all the resources they need; smaller cities are those which need access to resources.
But who is this man who made it his own personal mission to grow the entrepreneurial scene where it hasn’t bloomed yet? An architect by profession, El Kady’s first startup was a digital web design agency which started small and ballooned into a company serving multinational clients. "I started the company in 2003 and we grew fast. We had been doing events for different clients past 7-8 years, and we got to organise a tech event as an agency, but we thought about taking it further. Let’s get all these startups working in technology, all the experts who know everything about technology, let’s get the government involved, the universities and put everyone together to see what comes out of that,” he recalls.
“We had realised not everyone has the opportunity to start, to bootstrap and grow like we had and they probably need an introduction on know to get exposed to the market; they need investment and mentorship.” The event, however, came sooner than expected, leaving little time for preparation. "It was very challenging,” he affirms. “We had just 90 days to put everything together, from the brand name, to positioning and design, to convincing speakers to come to Alexandria, which is a smaller city in Egypt - specifically for an event that never happened before - and to get sponsors. No one even believed this was happening,” he says with gleaming satisfaction.
The bibliotheca had to be evacuated because it was flooded like a Titanic inside and we had to either cancel the event or we reschedule it.
But as the summit approached, another challenge would pop up, as the city’s relentless forces of nature rebelled and a massive flood took a toll on the conference’s plans. “It was the second day of the summit and we had to cancel the second day, the bibliotheca had to be evacuated because it was flooded like a Titanic inside and we had to either cancel the event or we reschedule it,” he recalls. “In the end, we rapidly decided to take it to another hotel and managed to reschedule everything and keep everything in time, sending out them all notifications who come at the end with a delay of 4 hours. It was incredible.”
Two years, two conferences, three drifts, and an international franchise later, the investor and entrepreneur is heavily focusing in the mission to democratise the entrepreneurial landscape, which by virtue of its own transnational nature tends to favour those who speak English and attend private universities and neglect small-town residents. “We are trying to have everything in both Arabic and English - of course it’s a challenge, because a lot of words don’t have yet the proper translation into Arabic and that’s why we are trying to simplify the meanings of these words until they are settled in. With Techne drifts, we also realised that even though we tend to think of Upper Egypt as one region, in fact, it’s totally different. Each city has its own needs, its own requirements and you can’t just take an agenda to every city and decide to give them what we think they need. You need to know what they actually need and build an agenda that caters to those needs.”
We tend to think of Upper Egypt as one region, in fact, it’s totally different. Each city has its own needs, its own requirements.
Throughout his tireless endeavours, from Dubrovnik, to Assiut, to Mansoura and Suez, the entrepreneur finds a common thread. “There is one thing we see at every event we do: getting government officials with universities with startups with the mentors and investors specifically, not just from Egypt from everywhere else, but this is where the magic happens. Diversity is needed because everyone has something to give and with this something to give, I have something to take from someone else. So this is the beauty of diversity; we take that as an opportunity and not as a challenge.”
Video by @MO4Network.
Shot and edited by: Martin Roux.
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