News

    Egyptian Entrepreneurs Hope Technology, Google Funding, Will Spur Economy

    Adel Youssef (middle) and the team behind the IntaFeen application, Cairo, Egypt, March 20, 2012.
    Adel Youssef (middle) and the team behind the IntaFeen application, Cairo, Egypt, March 20, 2012.
    Noel King

    The Egyptian revolution sent the country’s economy into a tailspin. Egypt was already plagued by high unemployment, particularly among those under the age of 30. Amid ongoing unrest, foreign investors have put projects on hold. Once-reliable industries like tourism are struggling. But several dozen technology entrepreneurs think they have what it takes to spur job creation, despite political uncertainty. They are taking part in a competition sponsored by Google, which will award a $200,000 prize to one business.

    In a conference room at the elegant Fairmont Hotel in Cairo, two young men are playing a fierce game of table tennis. Around them, youthful entrepreneurs slouch in bean bag chairs, pecking furiously at their laptops. Hundreds of Egyptians are jammed into small booths around the perimeter of the room. Each one is ready to explain how his or her tech business has the potential to be the next big thing.

    "With IntaFeen,you can share your location with friends and family on the go. Whether you are in a restaurant, watching a movie, eating ice cream, in a park, you share this information with your friends and family," said Adel Youssef, the founder and CEO (chief executive officer) of Wireless Stars. He said spent five years working in the United States but moved back to Egypt because he saw unexploited opportunity. He and his team have created a mobile application called IntaFeen. It’s a location-based social network. Users write reviews of restaurants and movies.

    They earn “badges” for places where they check in frequently. Youssef says the idea is based on the popular “Foursquare” application, but has a different cultural sensibility. "If you see the badges of Foursquare they are designed for U.S. culture or West culture. My favorite badge is gym rat. A gym rat in the U.S. is someone who is actively working in the gym. If you see someone here and you give him this badge, that is insulting," he said.

    About 110,000 people from Egypt to Ghana to Pakistan have downloaded the IntaFeen app.  

    Organizers say the point of the competition is not just for Egypt’s young techies to show off, but to address one of Egypt’s most pressing problems: unemployment. Egypt’s official unemployment rate is 12-point-4 percent, but many believe it to be much higher. Around 90 percent of the unemployed are young, under the age of 30.  But can tech companies really create jobs?  

    Maha Elbouennein, the head of communications for Google in the Middle East and North Africa, said "These are 50 companies that didn't exist six months ago. In order to be participating in the program, they have to be registered, legal entities. This isn't a business plan competition. So the evidence in itself, that 50 companies exist today that didn't six months ago is evidence enough about how it’s helping the economy and it’s growing. It’s creating jobs."

    Elbouennein says, of course, Google has its own financial interests in the region. "Google basically wants people to live on the Internet," he said.

    If technology businesses get bigger in Egypt, inevitably, so will Google.

    Some of the entrepreneurs have set their sights beyond North Africa and the Middle East.  Yasmin Elayat is the CEO of Groupstream, a storytelling platform that lets users interact with one another by adding photos, tweets and blog posts into an online “stream.” Groupstream is going to launch in the United States, first.  "The idea started when we noticed that during the Egyptian revolution, Egyptians were documenting our country’s history in real time on social media and Facebook and Twitter and on photos and videos on cell phones and cameras," she said.

    Elayat turned that initial spark of an idea into a crowd-sourced documentary project called 18 Days in Egypt. But she says she soon realized that the same technology could be useful for those who did not have anything quite so dramatic as a revolution to document. "It doesn't even have to be news. I see my cousin, she’s like 11 and her whole life is on social media. She doesn't even know what it feels like to hold a photograph anymore," she said.

    Google has narrowed a list of 4,000 entrants down to 20 businesses and will pick a winner in May. But win or lose, many of the entrepreneurs share the same hope: that Egypt’s youth, which have been at the forefront of so much political change and upheaval in the last year-and-a-half might now become the leaders of a technological revolution.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labori
    X
    May 05, 2016 6:44 PM
    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Donations Rescue Afghan Parents, Children From Forced Labor

    A Facebook campaign organized by a VOA radio host raised 150,000 Afghan rupees to rescue a family from forced labor at a brick kiln in Nangarhar province – the result of the father’s unpaid debt. Video by a VOA reporter in Jalalabad went viral this week and triggered the Facebook campaign.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora