Africa is a continent full of opportunities in entrepreneurship and emerging companies, according to Abdel Hamid Sharara, founder and CEO of RiseUp Foundation.
Its promise in these segments prompted the foundation to partner with Jack Ma, Co-Founder and former Executive Chairperson of Alibaba Group, in exploring the most influential entrepreneurs on the continent. This has taken place through the “Champions of the African Continent” competition.
In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Sharara added that RiseUp events will be organised this year at the Great Pyramids of Giza plateau. The venue has been specifically chosen it is an open and spacious place that commensurate with the precautionary measures put in place against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The RiseUp Foundation is currently working in coordination with Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Orascom, and a number of other bodies on the December event.
COVID-19 has put pressure on emerging companies, making it difficult to obtain investments and financing. Will the situation change in 2021?
Indeed, the first quarter (Q1) of 2020 witnessed a significant increase in the amount and value of funding for emerging companies, most of which were agreements concluded in 2019. And in Q2, these funds began to decrease due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the inability to determine whether this epidemic will continue or not.
However, with the end of the year, financing for emerging companies began to take an upward curve, especially in the Q1 and Q2 of 2021. By virtue of my relationships with emerging companies, there are dozens of companies that are negotiating to obtain new financing during the coming period.
If there is an impact from the coronavirus pandemic on emerging companies, it is a positive one because this type of investment has become the most popular due to the emerging companies’ reliance on creative solutions, innovation, and providing services that have become a trend due to the pandemic, such as e-commerce, distance education, and others.
Is it possible that RiseUp activities will change in 2021 with the new conditions for avoiding gatherings, especially since all indications point to COVID-19 continuing?
Since last year, we started keeping pace with the situation while preserving the role of RiseUp as a provider of support for all branches of the startup system, whether entrepreneurs or investors.
Last year, the events were all online, and more than 2,500 people attended. But this year we will hold the event in December at the Pyramids plateau, because it is an open and safer place. We are currently working on coordination with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and Orascom.
Do you intensively use digital tools to support entrepreneurs?
In the last period, the Menabytes platform was acquired, which is a platform specialised in publishing and following up news of emerging companies and entrepreneurship.
We are also intensifying our presence through a group on Facebook, called RiseUp Connect, which brings together many entrepreneurs and investors, and has more than 14,000 people from the entrepreneurial community. We also recently started using the Clubhouse app to create useful content for the entrepreneurship sector and startups
Africa has a broad base of young people. How do you see the opportunities for growth of startups and entrepreneurship there?
Egypt, as a country in Africa, has the advantage of geographical location as the main entrance to the continent, which is the market that has attracted the world’s attention. We will see a focus of investments on the continent in the coming period in various fields.
Therefore, we have motivated Egyptian startups to provide their services and penetrate African markets through partnerships that we are working to facilitate for them.
We are also cooperating with the Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma Foundation to organise a competition for startups in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), and our friends are their official partner in North Africa.
This will facilitate access to the largest number of companies in Africa, as well as open the opportunity for Egyptian companies in the African market. It will also provide an opportunity for African investors to enter the field of investment in emerging companies in Egypt, especially since Egypt has a wide base of promising companies.
In what African markets do you see most opportunities in?
Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa are the largest markets full of opportunity, followed by Sudan.
What will it be like to collaborate with the Jack Ma Foundation?
Jack Ma is organising an annual competition under the name “African Continent Champions”, and the idea of the competition is that it sheds light on the best stories of creation, growth, and success among startups across Africa.
This competition witnesses tens of thousands of companies presenting from across the continent, to see 10 companies or entrepreneurs shortlisted.
After that, they make a presentation of their company or startup in front of Jack Ma, himself, and a number of investors. They get cash prizes totalling $1m, and receive training and partnerships from RiseUp and their partners.
The aim of the competition is to shed light on the growth the sector is achieving in Africa, and support them in continuing to grow.
What challenges do you see in the African market?
Africa is a continent full of opportunities, but it is less fortunate in terms of development. The deterioration of infrastructure is one of the most important challenges, as is the large size of Africa as a continent, especially since each country has many states, tribes, and different cultures.
Another challenge is the fierce competition in the African market, after huge investments from several countries, most notably China.