Egypt’s consulting and software development firm, Softmills, has invested in three startups so far, and is considering investing in three others before the end of the year, according to Mohamed Shaheen, Founder and Managing Partner of Softmills.
Shaheen believes that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has created new investment opportunities, particularly in development markets and technology. He added that these opportunities come despite the extent of the health crisis’ negative impacts on the global economy.
Shaheen said that the Egyptian market is one of the most attractive markets for investments in the emerging companies sector, due to the size of the market. There are more than 100 million users, of whom a large proportion is young people.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Shaheen talked over the potential of the coronavirusvirus pandemic, despite its economic set-backs.
How do you see investment opportunities in emerging companies in the Middle East amid the global pandemic?
The coronavirus pandemic is a challenge, but it is a great opportunity too, as it has caused a change in the shape of the world. For example, it has become acceptable to work from home; something that no one could imagine would happen before the coronavirus.
In the coming period, we will see major investments in the technology sector related to solutions that help facilitate life in light of the coronavirus pandemic, such as distance learning and healthcare.
There is a strong opportunity for emerging companies in developing countries to attract these investments. For example, the Egyptian market has about 100 million people, and more than 30% of them are young people. This is a high percentage that attracts investment in emerging projects that start in a market the size of the Egyptian market.
What does Softmills offer startups?
We offer a mix of solutions between business accelerators and investors. We accept ideas before their implementation begins, and we help entrepreneurs implement them, turn them into a real reality and make investments in them.
Which sectors do you focus to invest in?
We, at Softmills, focus on two sectors to invest in which are FinTech and employment. We invested during the pandemic period in two companies, one of which is an Emirati startup named O Gram. The company specialises in providing employment services for temporary workers, and it is expected to provide its services in the Egyptian market soon.
The other company, TCB, specialises in providing financial facilities to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are facing difficulties in obtaining financing from banks. Currently, we are conducting a financing round for the company, and it is expected that we will collect $3m-$7m for it. We have already invested $1m in both companies.
Do you consider investing in more companies?
There are three companies in which we are currently working on their studies in preparation for leading financing rounds for them.
What is missing from Egypt’s entrepreneurial environment?
Egypt has many young people with creative ideas, but most of them do not know how to translate their ideas into reality. Therefore, these young people must learn entrepreneurship, at least during their university studies, to learn how to transform their ideas into concrete projects on the ground. The work team is the most important characteristic of startups. Ideas are present and widespread, but the most important thing is to implement them correctly and quickly and to succeed.
How did you pool investments for startups?
There are two methods in our work, the first of which is for a startup company to come to us and request an investment. In this case, we study it to determine whether it is suitable for investment or not.
As for the other path, the Softmills team sees an investment opportunity in a specific sector where we are looking for companies that provide innovative services in this sector, and we study the company and invest in it. For example, we have created and invested in a start-up company called Tilawah that offers Islamic funeral prayers online for the deceased, after the idea was first popularised via WhatsApp. We found that there is a need for this type of service, as there is no global platform specialised in Islamic religious matters.
The aim of the app is to provide a communication and service platform for Muslims in general, helping them carry out activities related to the Holy Quran and other religious matters. Currently, we have started a funding round to attract funds for the platform.