• Day 5 in Egypt – One Journey Ends, Another Begins

    Every day in Egypt has felt like two days squeezed into one. Today was different. It felt like a week had been squeezed into a day. Early in the morning, all the delegates took a bus to the Smart Village for the final day’s activities. That’s when the fun began. All 18 teams made their final business pitches. What did their companies do? What was their revenue model? How would they stand out? It was wonderful to see how far the groups had come in just 5 days. They were articulate, confident, and had taken our feedback to heart. We knew that choosing the final four winners would not be easy. After all the Egyptian teams had pitched, but before we tallied up the scores, we all had something on our hearts and minds. We wanted to share what this experience had meant to us. The U.S. and Danish delegates thanked the Egyptian entrepreneurs and the organizers for inviting us to mentor, and expressed our deep delight at the progress of all the companies. Read more

  • Day 4 in Egypt – Done in 60 Seconds

    I now know what it feels like to run on two hours of sleep because that’s exactly what I’ve gotten for the past two nights. And, oddly enough, it seems like there is enough energy and excitement in the air to keep me going. We heard that there were riots in Cairo, but were safe in our hotel from the hubbub of the rest of the city. At breakfast Wednesday, I posed a question to all the U.S. and Danish delegates. If you weren’t an entrepreneur, what would you be? This lead to a discussion about what entrepreneurship really means. Is it about making a profit or doing good? Did the intention behind starting the business matter? As a Millennial/Gen Y, I feel strongly that our generation has a much stronger sense of social entrepreneurship. Ryan Allis, C.E.O. of iContact, summed it up best when he said (and I paraphrase) that our generation believes social good and social responsibility is an inherent and understood part of entrepreneurship. The word “social entrepreneurship” becomes redundant. Read more

  • Day 3 in Egypt – The Gloves Come Off

    For two days, the young Egyptian entrepreneurs we’ve been mentoring have been focusing on business challenges my fellow U.S. and Danish delegates and I have given them. On the third day, we told them it was their turn to challenge us. We picked four of their suggestions, which we felt would apply to the majority of their fledgling companies. But they still had work to do—they had to come up with solutions. The first group I met with had an excellent start-up idea revolving around group-buying websites. They didn’t have any business plan, nor a PowerPoint. They just had a really good idea with some sense of the direction forward. I decided that I wasn’t doing them any favors if my feedback wasn’t honest. I was straightforward. I told them that they must have their plans written down, that they had to answer some basic questions. When would they launch the website? When would they start to approach other businesses? To their credit, they took these tough questions in great stride. I introduced these eager entrepreneurs to a group I had worked with on Monday, the second day of this week-long experience. Monday’s group shared their plan with Tuesday’s, and…

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  • Day 2 in Egypt – An Entrepreneurs Pursuit, Passion and Perils

    It’s day two of the NextGen boot camp for young Egyptian entrepreneurs in Cairo, and the day starts off on a disappointing note—four teams dropped out of this week’s event, forfeiting the business competition. I couldn’t believe anyone would give up such an amazing opportunity, and was told the reasons were rooted in the realities of life here. Some of the entrepreneurs couldn’t make it because of the disastrous transportation system in Cairo, while others had been called into work. I felt deeply for them, because I realized that it couldn’t have been an easy choice to make. It boiled down to a matter of their current jobs versus their future entrepreneurial dreams. Their dilemma weighed on me as I looked over the keynote I’d be delivering in a few moments. My talk was to be about how to make a business viable—the theme of the day. My gut reaction was to say “A great idea and apparently solid transportation!” But, as I looked around the room at the now familiar faces eager to hear my story, I decided to get personal and shared my own journey in a presentation called “Pursuit, Passion, and Perils: The Story of One Young…

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  • Day 1 in Egypt – Let the Entrepreneurship Begin

    Recent images of protests in the streets, the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and Rick Riordan’s fictional Kane Chronicles (about ancient Egyptian magic) were the first things to cross my mind when I was planning this trip to Egypt. Not exactly helpful, but it was all I had before I arrived here Sunday for my first day as an American delegate at the Egyptian Competitiveness Project’s latest initiative—a boot camp for aspiring Egyptian entrepreneurs. The genesis for this trip took place in 2009, when President Barack Obama and Denmark’s prime minister decided to do something to help Egypt’s economy, and they felt entrepreneurship was the answer to reviving it. Obama gave a speech at Cairo University, where he stressed the importance of individuals stepping up and creating their own economic opportunities. Many of the people I’ve spoken to here felt that the sentiment resonated deeply. They felt like someone believed in them. Read more