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Accepting failure necessary for boosting entrepreneurship: Kurtenbach - Daily News Egypt

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Accepting failure necessary for boosting entrepreneurship: Kurtenbach

The Egyptian finalist of ATX + EGY will attend SXSW in March 2020


While Egypt’s government pays remarkably increasing attention to boosting entrepreneurship sector, in collaboration with its international partners including the US embassy in Egypt, the African Development Bank (AfDB), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and others development partners. Austin city in Texas is considered the best place in the United States to start a business. Austin is a successful model that Egyptian authorities can benefit from its flourishing experience.

“Accepting failure is a key to boost entrepreneurship in Austin. We have a very supportive community which doesn’t refuse trying. Austin’s business environment is open and welcoming all start-ups’ ideas,” David Kurtenbach, international programme coordinator at Austin’s Economic Development Department, said.

Daily News Egypt sat down with Kurtenbach for an interview over his last week’s visit to Egypt for launching the ATX + EGY entrepreneurship programme. The interview’s transcript is below, lightly edited for clarity,

Would you please tell us about the purpose of your visit?

I am here to attend the launching of the ATX + EGY entrepreneurship programme under sponsorship of the US embassy in Egypt. My main goal is to boost Austin’s international relationships and help Austin’s businesses expand. We are a small team, but we work very hard.

ATX + EGY is a training programme including 30 participants in Cairo from various areas in the Creative industries, including visual reality, gaming, visual arts, music, fashion, and food.

ATX + EGY is a type of cooperation project between Egypt and Austin for boosting entrepreneurship in Egypt. We will bring the participants down to 10 finalists who will be hosted in Austin for 10 days in May 2019 to attend the Austin Small Business Week. We will help them to enter the US business. An eight-member delegation from Austin will visit Egypt to participate in the RiseUp summit in December. We are looking for investors and decision makers to participate in the event, and then we will take one Egyptian finalist to Austin in March 2020 to explore business opportunities with American investors.

The project will cost about $300,000. The main partners are Austin city and the American University in Cairo (AUC). Egypt is a strong emerging market (EM) and home to one of the most promising start-up scenes in the world as the population is robust with a rich supply of dynamic and talented young people influencing the local community with their cutting-edge ideas.

Egyptians are historic powerhouses in the creative industries: film, media, food, and music. Like many countries, Egypt is currently focused on rebuilding their economy, but with a little access to resources and capital, according to the US embassy in Egypt.

Lack of access to resources and capital is a barrier to the success of many promising start-ups in Egypt. Limited funding resources for digital or technology-based products or services in Egypt’s creative sector is an inhibiting factor in the overall growth of the local start-up ecosystem.

Lack of exposure to potential investors in international markets means the talents and potentials of many entrepreneurs in Egypt go untapped. Additionally, Austin companies are pursuing international expansion into Ems, like Egypt, but lacking contacts and technical resources to expand.

We will help entrepreneurs to know how to break in to Austin’s market and to the US generally. Austin’ small business week has a significant programme for fashion and arts. Austin has a very creative scene.

The programme’s finalist will participate in South by Southwest programme (SXSW) – an annual conglomerate of film, interactive media, music festivals, and conferences – which will take place in mid-March in Austin.

The SXSW is a massive cultural music festival where many companies were launched, for example Twitter was launched there. It is a centre for creativity and innovation. Last year, representatives from about 95 countries participated in.

What about the Egyptian applicants? Which sectors are they interested in?

Egyptian applications were very diversified. There are very wide areas, including accessories, wood supplies, building materials, virtual reality, and traditional applications.

Will you invest in one of those applicants’ projects?

We do not have that direct aim as we just help the applicants to better implement their ideas, then we can put them in touch with angel investors. Angel investors do not regularly invest in ideas, but people. They also take into consideration the social and environmental dimensions.

What will ATX + EGY do?

ATX + EGY will connect the vibrant community of entrepreneurs, creatives, and investors in Austin’s start-up scene to those in emerging startup communities in Egypt to help achieve the following objectives:

The programme will introduce Austin entrepreneurs to creative talent, production, and potential growth opportunities in Egypt.

It will provide formalised opportunities for Egyptian start-ups to introduce their companies to potential US investors, Venture Capitalists, Private Equity firms, and mentors in order to grow their businesses domestically and internationally.

The programme will also provide a platform for entrepreneurs and start-up incubators/accelerators in Austin and Egypt to collaborate on.

These projects will strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystems in their respective communities. The programme will explore collaboration opportunities between Egypt’s thriving technology, consumer, and creative industry and Austin’s creative and technology industries.

The progamme will also provide a critical joint talent development training for Austin and Egypt-based start-ups to build a pipeline of strong human capital which is key to long-term success.

Developing a comprehensive entrepreneur tool will help growing start-up businesses which also will include effective pitch development and preparation strategies, international travel and business registry applications guides, understanding term sheets, etc.

The AUC Venture Lab will work with lead incubators like: GrEEK Campus, Injaz, Al Maqarr, Flat6Labs, Nahdet el Mahrousa, TIEC, Egypreneur, and Shekra to distribute the critical skills tool-kit to strengthen the capacity for startup activity beyond the reach of this year-long programme and extend an enduring impact to non-programme participants.

Is ATX + EGY’ entrepreneurship programme governmental?

It will be conducted under the sponsorship of the US Department of State, but we have like a partnership with the private sector. In Austin, we are linking governmental and private entrepreneurship efforts, so it is more than governmental programme.

Do you implement this programme in other countries?

Yes, this kind of programme is for the emerging markets. We are implementing it in Pakistan, with particular focus on fashion. It is a long-term programme, however it goes beyond its implementation period.

In Austin, we have other programmes with Canada, China, Germany, the UK, Mexico, Australia, Singapore, and others. Austin is the fastest city for growing business in America. Last year, 150 people have moved to Austin daily. It is the number one rated city to start a business.

What are your recommendation to enlarge the sector’s participation in Egypt’s development? How do you assess the local efforts in this regard?

My job here is to get in to the community and meet people who aim to develop their businesses with their international partners. We aim at achieving mutual benefits, so I don’t have the enough knowledge about the situation here to assess it. However, we will help companies to expand and get more customers.

How can Egypt benefit from Austin’s experience in boosting entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurs don’t have to go in to the cycle, but they have to go as fast as they can. The community in Austin accept failure. Personally, I failed twice before I achieve my current successful project.

We have a very supportive community which helps entrepreneurs to restart and rebuild. People will help you. We have a healthy competition where competitors help beginners and introduce them to people who can help.

Austin is relatively cheap in comparison with other cities, such as San Francisco. Every country has her own experience, so we can’t say that Egypt has to follow particular steps as the US to gain same benefits. There is no one model that can be implemented in all countries. However, the supportive environment is a key element for success.

DNE obtained some information from the US embassy in Egypt about ATX + EGY. It aims at forming meaningful partnerships with economically strong markets, like Austin – the Live Music Capital of the World and No.1 place to start a company for five years in a row, according to Forbes – which will only increase the likelihood of sustained success for the metropolitan centres of Egypt.

Creative industries across the globe are converging with the tech community and Austin is proud to be home to most of the major tech brand innovation centres, like Google, Apple, General Motors, LatinWorks, Merck, Oracle, IBM, Whole Foods Market, and Electronic Arts to name a few. Austin’s people are early adopters to new ideas and understand the immense value of diversity. In fact, over 20% of the Austin population is foreign born, but the city lacks cultural adeptness in the Middle East economy.

As Egypt gains momentum in the private sector, the business community in Austin recommends being a supportive partner in that growth. Lack of access to resources and capital is a barrier to the success of many promising start-ups in Egypt. Limited funding resources for digital or technology based product, goods, or services in Egypt’s creative sector are inhibiting factors in overall growth of the local start-up ecosystem. Lack of exposure to potential investors in international markets means the talent and potential of many entrepreneurs in Egypt goes untapped.

Additionally, Austin companies are pursuing international expansion into emerging markets, like Egypt, but lacking the contacts and technical resources to expand.

Since 1990, as bigger companies cut 4m jobs, small businesses added 8m new jobs, according to the US Small Business Administration.

The US embassy said that ATX + EGY Launch will collaborate with the leading incubators and accelerators in Austin in order to curate a mix of entrepreneurs as well as mentor internationally focused investors to work with the Egyptian start-up companies as they prepare for the final ATX + EGY showcase.

This will provide the groundwork to maximise the potential value for the Egyptian start-ups companies as they explain their organisation’s achievements during the formal pitch session at the conclusion.

The showcase will offer Egyptian start-ups the opportunity to formally seek seed or growth stage funding from a group of investors; furthermore, the investors will also be serving as the judging panel for the ATX + EGY launch programme showcase. Investors will be invited to participate in the showcase based on a high level of interest and ability to fund seed or growth stage investment in Egypt.

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