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Hesham El Gamal Headshot

Can Start-up Investment Encourage Stability in Egypt?

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On his recent tour of the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry announced $250 million in economic aid for Egypt, my home country. Though Congress blocked additional funding, that initial, substantial investment in Egypt will hopefully encourage other organizations from the public and private sectors to give Egypt a second look.

Egypt has a sizeable, untapped pool of smart, talented, motivated young professionals. Promised a grant from the Egyptian government, my co-founder and I initially started our tech company there in hopes of providing new opportunities to young grads of our alma mater, Cairo University. When the Egypt Revolution began, the grant fell through, leaving many things uncertain for our company. Even so, we forged ahead, paying developers' salaries out of our own pocket and launching our first product -- a widely acclaimed Arabic news aggregator. For many Egyptians, our app became their go-to source of news during this tumultuous time in our country's history.

I strongly believe that international business partnerships are critical to the future of Egypt and Middle East North Africa (MENA). As an entrepreneur, I am convinced that public-sector investments aren't enough. While I hope Secretary Kerry's commitment to Egypt will be seen as a sign of growing stability in the region, the private sector must follow suit. Simply put: We need established businesses, emerging entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to support economic development and the start-up community in Egypt.

Of course, there are risks to investing in Egypt, but risk is ever-present in the entrepreneurial world. Smart investments involve calculated decisions designed to mitigate risk. The same theory should hold true for investments in the MENA region. But, let's be clear: While some risks are legitimate, others are rooted in misconceptions that can be alleviated. We were fortunate that TechColumbus believed and invested in our bi-national company vision, despite the perceived risks.

As an Egyptian-American scholar and entrepreneur, I know there is no place like the U.S. for innovation, opportunities, following your dreams. Frankly, it's also the best place to secure capital investment for technology. We need to expose Egypt's technology community to the American start-up ecosystem, which is why we fly our developers to the U.S. for a few months at a time, on a regular rotation. Through these first-hand experiences, our developers learn about U.S. culture and establish meaningful relationships with Americans, who they quickly learn are nothing like the extreme examples portrayed on state-run television. The result? These young Egyptians strengthen their start-up acumen and internalize a culture of innovation that they can spread upon returning home. But, even more importantly, they leave with a better understanding of American way of life, equipped with the knowledge and experiences to convince their peers in Egypt that Americans are, in fact, our ally.

When I founded inmobly, I wanted to fix mobile video viewing and do my part to bridge the U.S.-Egypt divide, neither of which is an easy task. But, we're on our way to accomplishing both goals, thanks to this bi-national, collaborative model. It's certainly still a work-in-progress, but I hope our example, coupled with the ongoing show of support from the U.S. government, leads to additional investments in the region. Only then will Egypt stabilize and emerge as a viable force in the start-up ecosystem.