x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 25 November 2017

Start-up incubator Flat6Labs to expand throughout Mena region

Flat6Labs, the start-up incubator based in Egypt, is planning to expand to other countries in the Gulf and Middle East, and is in talks with potential partners in the UAE.

Participants piece together their new business ideas in the offices of Flat6Labs in Cairo. David Degner / Getty Images
Participants piece together their new business ideas in the offices of Flat6Labs in Cairo. David Degner / Getty Images

Flat6Labs, the start-up incubator based in Egypt, is planning to expand to other countries in the Arabian Gulf and Middle East, and is in talks with potential partners in the UAE.

The Cairo-based incubator, a partnership between the American University of Cairo and the venture capital firm Sarwari Ventures, was founded at the start of 2011 just as unrest first swept the country. As a result, its launch was postponed for a few months, with the first intake of entrepreneurs in October that year.

But the unrest has done nothing to dampen Flat6Lab's work or the energy of Egypt's entrepreneurs since, says the chief executive Ramez Mohamed.

"The turmoil in the streets, whatever is going on in Cairo … we've been fully operational for the past two years without any pause or stops," he said. "Our start-ups are not really affected by the revolution from an operational point of view. From an entrepreneurial point of view, it has really fuelled their passion … made them really want to achieve something and fulfil their potential."

Flat6Labs gives start-ups accepted into its scheme 60,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh33,109) to75,000 pounds, a space to work and access to expertise and mentors. In return, it takes a 10 to 15 per cent equity stake.

Flat6Labs is modelled on Silicon Valley's Y Combinator, which is generally considered the most successful technology incubator, having produced Dropbox and Reddit.

"We are following very closely the US or international accelerator model," Mr Mohamed said. "We are the first one in Cairo, in Africa, in an Arab country. You could say we are running a local start-up accelerator with global standards."

Mr Mohamed said that Flat6Labs had talked with potential partners in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

"I think there is a lot of potential", in the Arabian Gulf, he said. "Doha, Dubai, Jeddah - they are developing cities and any developing city requires small businesses to drive the economy."

Flat6Labs has taken in 24 companies in four cycles. Of those that graduated in the first three cycles, nine got a second round of funding. Attracting fresh investment is one of the criteria Flat6Labs uses to measure success. Others are generating revenues, acquiring customers and usersand hiring more staff.

Ogra, which develops software to serve the taxi business, is among the most successful graduates. It secured funding from Vodafone, moved into its own offices and is running operations across Cairo.

In the fourth cycle, the first business from outside Egypt - from Yemen - was admitted.

 

lgutcher@thenational.ae