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Tracing The Journey To Growth Of The MENA Entrepreneurial Ecosystem As both a witness and a catalyst to this current spur of entrepreneurship, RiseUp has worked tirelessly to arm as many startups as possible with the tools they need to succeed.

By Abdelhameed Sharara

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Today, the MENA ecosystem witnesses an unprecedented level of growth. More companies are starting up than ever before, with others expanding internationally, introducing new products, and venturing into previously unchartered territories of scale. The startup scene today looks drastically different than it did in 2013, when I and my team launched RiseUp with the aim of connecting local startups with the relevant resources from around the world. With the first spur-of-the-moment Summit put together by a small group of passionate individuals working against all odds, RiseUp was born.

Let's take a look at just a few of 2019's inspiring growth stories: Egyptian ride-hailing star Swvl raised US$42 million, and has moved beyond the traditional model of regional expansion, launching in markets like Pakistan and Kenya earlier this year. Emirati fund Mubadala, previously focused on investing heavily outside of the region, launched a $250 million fund to invest in MENA startups. Even companies in relatively smaller ecosystems like Kuwait are picking up their pace, with Boutiqaat recently doubling its valuation to $500 million.

As both a witness and a catalyst to this current spur of entrepreneurship, RiseUp has worked tirelessly to arm as many startups as possible with the tools they need to succeed.

Every year, our flagship Summit spotlights a different theme that reflects what we view as the current state of regional innovation and entrepreneurship. It was only fitting, therefore, that this year's summit reflected our regional ecosystem's maturity. With 2019's theme, we shined a bright light on various aspects of the journey to growth: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In trying to grow responsibly and sustainably what roadblocks did founders face? How do you find the investors whose vision and resources align with where you want to take your company? Perhaps most importantly, how do you tap into your potential, and launch your own personal journey to growth, as an entrepreneur, a creative, and a citizen of today's thriving MENA region?

Related: RiseUp Summit 2019 Will Highlight The Journey To Growth

We too here at RiseUp have learned the lessons of growth. Over six years of taking risks, breaking new ground, hustling, and steadily widening the scope of our activities, we've fallen and gotten back up, made mistakes and learned from them.

Working closely with hundreds of regional startups all over the region, we've found four key pillars defining any successful journey to growth:

It is easier to remain comfortably small, but I can't think of one game-changing startup who liked staying comfortable for too long. Walking through the RiseUp offices on any given day, the most common phrase you'll hear is "aim high, stay grounded." Growth for us is not a hopeful dream, it is our true north.

How do you want to translate your growth mindset into reality? What are your priorities? How do you choose when to scale up? Strategy is all about making the right choices towards the right direction.

RiseUp Summit in Cairo, Egypt
Source: RiseUp Summit

Growth needs you to be resourceful. Do you have the right technology, money, and know-how to help your team thrive? Working at a startup on its journey to growth, are you taking care of yourself, treating your well-being with the same importance you'd give other key company assets?

Perhaps the most instinctual element, which I've found to be critical for any successful journey to growth, is holding yourself to a high standard. Journeys to growth do not cut corners. Growth mindsets, strategies, and resources are all not enough. Every single part of your company should be designed to accommodate growth. Growth is not lazy, growth is dynamic, and always forward-thinking.

Reflecting on these lessons of growth from MENA's brightest success stories, I am proud of the companies we've helped along their journey to growth in recent years, which range from regional ride-hailing star Careem, to local food ordering giant Elmenus. Looking towards the start of a new decade, I have my sights set on RiseUp playing a more prominent role in people's everyday entrepreneurial lives, feeding off of the energy of our ecosystem.

To do just that, we plan on innovating and diversifying our product portfolio, expanding into new countries, and engaging with untapped communities all over the region, and scaling the scope of our operations, growing the size of our team and infrastructure. Nearing the end of 2019, I don't think there is a better time to celebrate our ecosystem and explore innovative ways to take the regional entrepreneurial community to new heights in 2020. I am thrilled to enter a new decade certain that it will bring more diversity, strength, and resilience to the MENA ecosystem than ever before. Onwards on the journey to growth!

Related: Impacting Entrepreneurship: Abdelhameed Sharara, CEO And Co-founder, RiseUp Summit

Abdelhameed Sharara

Founder of RiseUp Summit

Abdelhameed Sharara is the founder of RiseUp Summit, the biggest entrepreneurship summit in Egypt and the Middle East. The summit is known to be the only event to bring the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem in Egypt and MENA together. Before founding RiseUp, Sharara worked at INJAZ Egypt for around two years, where he helped create the first startups pipeline in all Junior Achievement countries. The program design was awarded the MetLife Foundation Award for the most outstanding award in all JA countries.

Sharara had also worked as an English conversation and soft-skills trainer at Dale Carnegie and Berlitz, and was the co-founder and business development manager of Adams, a soft skills and training company. He graduated from Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Law (English Section), and was the founder of Ain Shams Model Arab League. Sharara’s interest in leadership and entrepreneurship, along with his background in Law, gave him the expertise to found the Summit, be a current member of Egypt’s Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC) Board to develop TIEC’s new strategy for entrepreneurship and innovation, and also be a Global Shaper, which is a network of young people (under 30 years) from all over the world, who are selected by the World Economic Forum, and are exceptional in their potential, achievements, and drive.

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