AASTMT’s Entrepreneurship Matrix sharpens focus for incubation support

Innovation and Beyond

The Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport (AAST) is a private university run by the Arab League, and operating from several sites in and around Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. It has its own incubator, the Entrepreneurship Center of Excellence, which aims to be the top entrepreneurship center in the Middle East and Africa.

The center focuses on developing young entrepreneurs in the region

The center was established in 2014 as a capacity-building program. It was seen as an essential step towards motivating young people to become entrepreneurs. Since then, it has built a network of mentors and investors to support entrepreneurs and to help with its plans to build a series of domain-focused incubators. The center focuses on developing start-ups by changing mindsets in schools, universities and the wider community. It receives government funding and is also supported through sponsorship from some large businesses and banks.

Staff at the center drew on a wide range of expertise in developing services

Before the center started, staff travelled to other universities to explore global best practices in academic incubators. They visited George Washington University, Oakland University, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgetown University, Wayne State University, Babson College, Koef Entrepreneurship Foundation in Korea, and Startup Thailand. They also hired experienced consultants such as Susan Amat, the CEO of Venture Hive, USA from the Advisor Global Entrepreneurship Network to support the launch and to help to develop the center’s strategy.

The center’s Entrepreneurship Matrix enables it to provide the right support at the right level

The center has created an Entrepreneurship Matrix to allow it to support entrepreneurs and businesses at different stages of growth. Each stage has its own program and the purpose of the matrix is to identify the best program for the entrepreneur. Businesses do not need to go through all the programs, but the incubator prefers them to have been through a pre-incubator program first, such as its Yalla Startup program, or have come through the Rally competition. Businesses are expected to have a clear business model, and a minimum viable product.

The center runs a range of programs and an annual competition

As well as the main Center of Excellence, there are also domain-specific incubators, including the first supply chain and logistics incubator in the MENA Region and the Mashreq Incubator, which is focused on the tourism sector. The center runs programs for both students and staff at AASTM, as well as an annual competition, Rally, that attracts over 1000 applications each year. The center has also partnered with the National Bank of Egypt to provide online entrepreneurship training to around 50,000 people each year.

The center and associated incubators take on quite a lot of participants each year

Each year, the center accepts around 40 students onto the student program, around 20 start-ups into the tourism incubator and around 10 start-ups into the supply chain and logistics incubator. However, the numbers in the Rally competition are usually much bigger. Over 1000 start-ups apply, and around 400 of those enter the pre-incubation program, whittled down to about 20 winners who all receive financial awards. The process involves several stages, and takes around four to six months in total. The Yalla Start-up program lasts just 1.5 months, but the domain-specific incubators take companies for at least a year. Success is measured by the number of start-ups that attract investment, and develop real traction.

The wide range of programs mean the center offers a lot of different support

In the early days, a US incubation management platform was licensed to manage the incubators, upload data, make needs assessments, and provide consultation management to ensure that the center offered the right support. The support now has some common core elements, but is tailored to match the start-up stage. For example, participants in the pre-incubator and students’ program get training in ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ methodologies. The center now has 15 full-time employees providing support, plus a big network of mentors, domain consultants and “believers”. Participants also have access to co-working spaces and other facilities.

Future include more domain-focused accelerator programs

The center’s main focus for the future is more domain-focused accelerator programs. It is actively seeking corporates and industry to provide domain-specific knowledge sharing and support. It would also be open to partners who want to work directly with start-ups in specific sectors to address key business challenges.

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Ahmed Kamal

Ahmed Kamal

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Passionate about solving customer problems and driving business growth strategies with more than 14years of experience and established record of accomplishments