A couple of weeks ago we had the pleasure of speaking with Tamer Azer,  Investment Director at A15, a  venture capital fund in Cairo, Egypt.  In July 2017, he attended Startup Connect’s delegation trip to Berlin alongside 5 other Egyptian investors and 7 startups from Cairo, Dubai and Krakow.

When I was first introduced to the venture capitalist fund A15, I saw that they had all of the characteristics I now look for when choosing to invest in a startup: they wanted to solve a real problem, the solution was aimed at real people, and they were building the right team to do it.  In Egypt, there exists a lot of distrust between entrepreneurs and investors because of a legacy of issues with either inexperienced or non-institutional investors; at A15, we believe that in order to build a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt, we needed to build a more positive relationship between these two groups.

The way we function at A15 is different than other VC funds: we incorporate all of our portfolio companies into our investment decision-making process.  

While VCs always say that they are building an “ecosystem of products,” we go a step further and give the citizens of that ecosystem a vote on who joins by giving CEOs of our portfolio companies a seat on what we call the investment committee at large.  This also gives our portfolio companies an inside look at our decision-making processes, which makes them more prepared when they need to request additional funds.  Our system has turned our portfolio companies into some of our biggest advocates.

But because the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt is still young, we understand that we need to provide more than just money to our portfolio companies.

When choosing startups to bring into our portfolio, I not only have to feel confident in the team itself, but also in my ability to add value to their work and their growth.  So, I invest in things I know about. I see entrepreneurs all the time that I would love to work with, but I don’t know anything about the sector nor do I have a network that would be useful to them.  I want to give our entrepreneurs  the best opportunity to expand and develop, and my investment will go further if I can add value on multiple fronts.

I first learned about Startup Connect when I met one of enpact’s founders at the RiseUp Summit in Cairo.  I was immediately excited by what they were doing and wanted to be a part of it. While growth can happen in Egypt, true growth comes from expanding into new markets.  There is a lot for us to learn from the Berlin ecosystem – a system that, like Egypt, is still developing.  Startup Connect’s delegation trip to Berlin and Tech Open Air conference was an opportunity for me to plant the seeds for Egyptian startups in this new market, create awareness around what we are doing and to learn from the experiences here.  I met individually with local investors in Berlin and we discussed the emerging ecosystem in Egypt.  For many European investors, Egypt is not on their radar; I used these meetings to change the narrative and make them aware of its potential.

Startup Connect leads delegation trips to top conferences in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.  If you are interested in expanding your network and exploring new ecosystems with us, join one of our upcoming delegation trips!

by Melissa Berkowitz