Techpreneurs are often lauded for their business acumen and the disruptive power of their companies, but along with nous, behind almost every startup is a story of personal courage and persistence. This may be even more so in countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where 'safe' careers in large, established organizations or the public sector are often perceived - by society, family and friends - to be more legitimate than entrepreneurship.
Despite this, startups and entrepreneurism are considered key by those who feel an overly traditional, conservative approach to business impedes economic progress in the region. Many MENA countries are facing significant macroeconomic challenges, including high youth unemployment, underachieving education systems, high levels of public sector employment, and large informal sectors - and the deck is typically stacked against SMEs.
The Berlin-based magazine Zenith recently hosted a talk featuring the CEOs of four successful tech SMEs from the region, namely Rania Reda (ITQAN, Egypt), Mohamed Hamada (Ennota, Egypt), Ramzi El-Fekih (Creova, Tunisia) and Khaled Bouchoucha (IRIS, Tunisia). The event was designed to generate European exposure for the companies - and MENA startups more generally - including through connecting them with investors and the tech ecosystem in Berlin.
Despite the disparate backgrounds and business foci of the speakers - from mobile payments to honey production, to small business software and IT solutions - common themes emerged. I interviewed Rania and Ramzi for a feature on tech startups in the region for Zenith's first English edition last year, and found them to be engaging, inspiring and smart. Here's the video from their talks.
Written in collaboration with Stian Overdahl.