INTECMED and EMPHASIS guided aspiring entrepreneurs in their journey towards a more innovative Mediterranean
Early October 2023, ENI CBC MED programme interviewed two Egyptian ladies who have been actively involved in the implementation of two projects funded by this programme: INTECMED and EMPHASIS. Both projects tackle transfer of technology and innovation in the Mediterranean region. These two ladies, Mai Darwish and Nada Elsharkawy, accompanied students, researchers, and young professionals in their journey towards entrepreneurship.
Turn bright ideas into real innovative projects: supporting Egyptians from the governorates
In a centralized country such as Egypt where most of the opportunities are concentrated in the capital, Cairo, and to a certain extent in Alexandria, it is not always easy to find projects that are targeting other governorates. While there are still a lot to do to foster a good environment for entrepreneurs including tackling Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) issues, Egypt is on the track so that entrepreneurs can flourish.
Mai Darwish, INTECMED technical expert at the Confederation of Egyptian European Business Associations (CEEBA), explains that the INTECMED mentoring scheme for entrepreneurs included different parts. When the people were selected, they first entered an incubation period with a training, then they benefitted from a one-to-one coaching. Later on, they received the services of a specialised consultant in the field of their projects. Afterwards, they did a bootcamp and participated in B2B events nationally and abroad to match what they offer with the investors´ needs. In Egypt, 11 mentees took part and 3 of them received a grant to develop their projects.
For Mai, this way of accompanying these aspiring entrepreneurs is a complete and sustainable way of doing it as it does not only consist in supporting them financially but assist them in each step with a full range of tools and services. By targeting remote areas outside Alexandria governorate, it makes even more sense as there is a larger outreach but also it contributes to level up the standards in these regions.
Reaching governorates such as Kafr el Sheikh or Al Sharqiyah is one of the characteristics of ENI CBC MED as it targets territories that need more support than the capital.
As technical expert, Mai did not find difficulties in finding mentors to assess the mentees. However, it was more difficult to find consultants that can provide tailored services for each project. Besides reaching out aspiring entrepreneurs from other governorates and even if the level of English was low, one of great added value of INTECMED were the B2B meetings in other countries. It really helps broaden the scope, immerse these mentees in the business, share similar challenges with other Mediterranean researchers and meet possible investors to better understand their strategies.
Unlike INTECMED, EMPHASIS focused on the creation of an open innovation platform and provided support to SMEs but without grants as explained Nada, communication manager of EMPHASIS at CEEBA. In this case, they focused on other aspects. One of them was to present some business ideas to experts who audited their proposals and provided them with a detailed report. Besides that, training was provided in April and May 2023 as well as many twining activities that took place to match SMEs between both shores of the Mediterranean. In the case of Egypt, 4 SMEs benefitted from these open innovation support services.
Patience, embrace differences and open your mind: key lessons learned
For both Mai and Nada, managing such projects drastically changed them. They learned to be more patient, to embrace cultural differences within their own country, to support people in changing the mindsets regarding how we do business and to embrace the excitement of the aspiring entrepreneurs.
For Mai, it is crucial to understand the cultural differences that exists from one governorate to another before starting this type of journey which lasts for several months.
The project does not stop when the activities are realised. You have to follow up and adapt the communication through different channels and in a way it suits each personality. It is not about micro-management but about being involved and be part of the team.
For Nada, patience and learn different ways of working were the key lessons. Then, when you embrace the excitement of the aspiring entrepreneurs, you forget about the multiple constraints.
Patience, being open and learn to work differently: this is what I really learned from a project like EMPHASIS
Include mental health and psychology in the training and increase cross border meetings
When Mai was asked what she would recommend for future projects dealing with aspiring entrepreneurs, she immediately mentioned the need to include mental health and psychology in the content of the entrepreneurs’ trainings. One can´t image all the pressures entrepreneurs undergo. Many of them had a burn out. From changing the mindset (switching from the status of an employee, a researcher to the mindset of an entrepreneur), to work hard to be selected in one the funding programmes, negotiate, convince, focus on the technical part, let alone the obstacles related to the economic crisis. This is a lot and does not only concern entrepreneurs form Egypt but also from other participating countries such as Tunisia and Greece.
As for the cross-border dimension, it is a real added value. She would definitely recommend to plan more cross border meetings between entrepreneurs from different countries. It is essential for entrepreneurs and was also inspiring for us as project staff. For instance, when Mai went to Seville, Spain, she was impressed to see how the Spanish partner had organised the innovation hub inaugurated in the framework of INTECMED. From the decoration of the hub, attractive to the entrepreneurs, to the way they accompany them in each step, she compared it to a baby who goes through different stages to become an adult. The Spanish partner could immediately spot the strengths and the weaknesses of each project, offer solutions and be with the entrepreneur in his/her journey to achieve his/her dream.
Getting people together from both shore of the Mediterranean is promising and very useful.
ENI CBC MED programme congratulates Mai and Nada for managing such challenging projects and wish them a great journey in the world of cooperation projects!