Before protests swept Egypt, Alexandria-based Mohammed Gawdat and Samer El Sahn had been considering the idea of launching a startup incubator to foster creative technology in the country. As the dust has slowly begun to settle in Egypt, they decided to march forward with their plan, and have launched Tahrir², the first technology incubator of its kind in the Mediterranean city.
We spoke to Samer El Sahn to get a better idea of the how, where and why of Tahrir². Tahrir, the Arabic word for liberation and the name for the infamous square where Egyptians held their ground, has now become synonymous, throughout the world, with revolution and change. Tahrir² may have a less lofty aim but an impressive one nonetheless.
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“The whole world stood still watching the miracle taking place in Tahrir Square,” El Sahn said explaining their choice of name. He describes Tahrir Square as, “The symbol of young generations, miracles and technology driven revolutions.”
The incubator represents the next phase. “The ‘power of two symbol’ represents the second wave of revolution which is liberating our economy while empowering the youth by seeding this spirit, unlocking their potential and squaring their efforts while helping them reach the next level.”
El Sahn and Gawdat are certainly the right men for the job. Before founding Tahrir², El Sahn was the CEO of eSpace, one of the largest technology houses in the region, while Gawdat heads up Google’s emerging markets and businesses in Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Tahrir² takes simplicity as an essential part of its approach. “We try to keep it simple and flexible. We invest mainly in the early stages, even if it is just an idea on paper. Our focus is on Internet technologies, mobile. web and cloud computing,” El Sahn said. And, in keeping with the new spirit in Egypt, they are also investing in green technology, a relatively new concept to the country.
So if you’re an Egypt-based entrepreneur with a big idea, but you aren’t sure how to get it off the ground, Tahrir² can help. After studying the concept, El Sahn and Gawdat offer guidance in terms of business models, market needs and challenges, and more.
If the idea is ready to go from concept to reality, Tahrir² will help with the financing, work space and mentoring.
Tahrir² has the ultimate aim of building what El Sahn describes as a Startup Nation. “Entrepreneurship prospers in a creative environment where creative minds meet and exchange ideas. We take it as our duty to build and enable such meeting points,” he said.
With tech conferences, tweet-ups, and brainstorming sessions, Tahrir² is hard at work setting up a network of entrepreneurs in Egypt. “We do not care if the ideas that develop at such meeting points are not incubated by Tahrir² as it will help us achieve our mission and create the next wave of freedom for Egyptians. The freedom to innovate and build a leading economy.”
But the road ahead for Tahrir² is not an easy one. “The main challenge that we are looking at now is to enrich the entrepreneurial spirit, creating the first success story will encourage others to follow. Building the next Silicon Valley is not an easy job, but definitely a doable one, it just needs hard work and patience.”