• Hani W. Naguib

Mentor Journey: Ecosystem Notes 2020

Updated: Apr 6

To some, 2020 has been a challenging year, for most, a very humbling one.

I am one of those people that saw that very humbling effect take overwhelming domination over myself. There is nothing worse for a mentor than feeling the limits of what can be done to support panicked mentees in a fast hardening culture/market under the influence of an unpredictable pandemic. And yes, the panic was as real as the impact of the sudden suspension of everything we defined as "normal" and took for granted. Yes, we are definitely facing a new normal that is still taking shape and yet to take a tangible form.

The fun part was to watch how everyone rushed into predicting that "new" normal. They even used big words, invented new buzzwords, and made some exciting projections that turned out to be absolute fiction only a few months later. I salute the very few who offered sincere, calm, and conservative advice. For my favorite one, please go here.

COVID-19 impacted people and businesses heavily at first. But we, the people, always find a way to adapt. And that we did, and fast. It was not perfect, but good enough to endure, at least until we figure things out and/or things get a bit clearer. I spent some time researching and discovering what people around the world doing to adapt are. If you want to learn more about some of my early thoughts, please go here.

I followed that by spending most of my time listening to entrepreneurs, their immediate challenges, and how they perceive the future. During that same period, I did my very best to help the entrepreneurs find the blind spots in their business logic, makes them feel empowered by acknowledging their struggles in the face of fearful odds, by not judging their limitations as human beings and prompting them to focus more on preparation and less on planning. If you want to learn more about my findings and advice, please go here.

The pressure that 2020 put on human psychology was definitely evident all around. I must admit that women founders showed a lot more resilience and creativity in responding to the challenges of 2020. I am certainly proud of all the entrepreneurs I work with, and I do not play favorites. But I must say that I am especially impressed with the Egyptian Women Entrepreneurs performance in 2020. Ladies, you rock.

The 2020 pressure also revealed the real character of almost everyone in the ecosystem. Some were supportive, while others were exploitive. I am not a judge, nor jury. But, I think it is ok if I applaud a good deed and highlight a bad one.

I want to congratulate Gemini Enterprise Africa, AUC Venture Lab, FEPS Business incubator, Enpact + Startup Haus Cairo for going out of their way to help and support entrepreneurs in Egypt during crisis times.

That same pressure drove some angel investors to decide to build kind of a mass startup factory. They attend pitching events to scout for potentially good ideas, extract insights under the pretext of serious discussion with the intent to fund. Entrepreneurs who are desperate for funds to keep their startup afloat, oblige them, and share everything. The "angel" investors then hire, what they deem to be talented individuals, give them a budget, and ask them to deliver profitable revenue streams. They absolutely ignore the entrepreneurs after that.

I don’t know if this is a sign of angel investors losing hope in Egyptian entrepreneurs, investment cold feet manifestation, or simply a perceived practical way to make the investment safer. But what I am sure of is that this will create an even greater mistrust between entrepreneurs and investors. Not ideal in the current conditions.

Another interesting observation is bullying. Yes, you read this, right! The ecosystem has much bullying going on in 2020. It was always there, but this year, unfortunately, it became much more obvious and for all to see. A special type of bullying on the rise lately is bullying by funding, where better-funded competitor startups bully less funded startups. One of these bullying founders, who happen to hold very high esteem in our beloved ecosystem and, until recently, my respect as well, is actually targeting a much, much less funded startup with really unethical (not in a good way) online tactics.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, 2020 has been somehow generous to ecosystem stakeholders. Our ecosystem is growing in the number of programs. One can only assume that this is a direct result of an apparent increase in donor funding.

These two versions (2018-2020) of the great infographic by Dr. Eng. Nabil Shalaby is a great visual display of the increase in density in the number of programs in the past 2 years. I hope that some of these much-needed funds find their way to the startups at the end.

I believe that donors are spoiling our ecosystem with huge funding without setting good metrics to evaluate the success of the programs they fund. For example, metrics like we trained 100 startups and 300 entrepreneurs, etc., are nothing more than vanity metrics that don't really say anything about the entrepreneurs' quality, the programs, or the impact on the ecosystem. Instead, consider following up with the startups, maybe six months/ one year after graduation from the program, and see what they have accomplished with the money they cashed, their training, and the mentoring they received. This can help in upgrading the programs you fund the year after.

If you are going to excessively photograph/video entrepreneurs with the large checks they receive at the end of the program and post it all over social media, the least you can do is make that check cashable as soon as possible. Some of these founders are actually in dire need of money to keep the startup going. In reality, what happens is that it sometimes takes almost a year to get the money in the startups' bank account. This is irresponsible and ridiculous. So, please, donors, make sure to include a clause in the contract with programs, the competitions, or whatever, that they have to pay the startups in 30 days or less from the actual big check ceremony.

I can keep going about many other things, but I feel that what I will describe can be too real for some people and not in a good way. So, I will end here with the following: entrepreneurship is not a job, a career, or a title. Entrepreneurship is faith in tomorrow, displayed in courageous actions made today. Entrepreneurship is a cause, a strategy, and a national security net. Do not undermine it with your limited targets for a win in the now.

Goodwill and Respect!

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