Outside of a few specific locations, such as Tel Aviv or Dubai, the Middle Eastern region may not appear as a hotbed of innovation. If one digs a little deeper, however, one quickly realizes there is no shortage of start-uppers. Take the example of Cairo, in Egypt: whether they specialise in design, online shopping or healthcare, local start-ups do flourish. And those who founded them are determined to succeed both within and beyond their country’s borders. They certainly do not shy away from the difficulties and challenges they have to face, but they keep striving on entrepreneurial spirit, see the entire Middle East as their domestic market and are convinced they are the new faces that will help shape the future.
Yara Yassin is a young 26 years old Egyptian woman, from Cairo. She studied product design at the University of Cairo, and, in 2015, along with Rania Rafle, she founded Up Fuse, a start-up specialised in up-cycling discarded plastic materials and making them into bags and suitcases. With a social ambition as well. Over the last three years, Up-Fuse has grown enough to now employ 15 women from a local community. “They are working full time”, says Yara Yassin, “We’re teaching them how to recycle, and providing them with the education they need to become active women and mothers and to, in turn, properly educate their kids.”
Yara’s remarkable achievement did not go unnoticed: in April 2017, Up-Fuse received $50,000 for winning first place in the WeMENA Challenge1, a business competition created by the World Bank and YouNoodle2. Out of nearly 2,000 applicants, the program selected 200 women entrepreneurs providing solutions for improving the livelihoods of people in six countries across the MENA region.
To her, the start-up momentum Egypt is experiencing is above all “a reaction to the drawbacks of working 9 to 5 jobs. There is a lot of young people who want to do something. It is a trend, something fashionable which has developed in reaction to what has been going on in the past. I think it will keep evolving and result in the creation of new ways of working and fostering innovation”.