From a historical and archaeological perspective, Egypt’s reputation as the cradle of civilization can be considered to be both unrivaled and unmatched in a lot of respects. From the revered Sphinx, to the famous pyramids, to fine pieces of arts, and even the much-vaunted trapdoors and tunnels leading up to scores of Mummy-laden tombs believed to hold the remains of ancient Pharaohs, the North African nation’s ascent to the helm of global affairs, at certain points in history, appear to have been enmeshed with some flawless displays of artistry and architecture.
But fast-forward a few hundred years down the line from the era of ancient Egyptian dominance, and out went the “Art-Decor era.” In its stead, in came a chain of historical events; most notably, The Renaissance Era, The First Industrial Revolution, The Oil Boom, The Second Industrial Revolution, The New Millenium, and most recently, the Era of Globalization and Digitization. A lot appears to have changed since Alexander The Great and Cleopatra, but Egypt’s culture remains rooted in arts and crafts. And three young Egyptian entrepreneurs, straight out of college, are making headway towards exploring the potential of arts in putting the country back in contention for global reckoning and recognition (in an era where economic, infrastructural and social development is the yardstick).
This time around, the approach is different. Nothing outlandish or ostentatious; no gigantic Sphinx, no enormous pyramids, hardly any hidden trap doors or intricate nexus of tunnels that lead up to tombs or treasure chests. The current paradigm, as pioneered by these prodigious talents, is looking to incorporate entrepreneurship via arts, as a means to empower individuals and improve the country’s economy.
Their creation, Flareinn, could be considered as one of the first of its kind in the country and it represents a break from the norm. Founded in 2017, the e-commerce platform is looking to become Egypt’s go-to online marketplace for art. Flareinn targets young artists and provides artworks to customers at decent bargains. The platform provides artists with personalized accounts, which act as a shopping gallery for their pieces. The artists that are registered on the platform have the creative control over the pricing with the help of the pricing guide featured on the website. Flareinn does the job of ensuring the quality of the art pieces by subjecting them to thorough scrutiny before featuring them on the platform. The startup also charges between 20-35% commission on every artwork sale. With features which supports the easy showcase, convenient purchase, and doorstep delivery of the finest pieces of art from some of the country’s most promising artists, it is tailored to meet the needs of the creators, curators, and collectors of art. And it could not have come at a better time.
In recent times, entrepreneurship has been identified as a veritable tool for triggering people-oriented impact and development amongst people living in the developing parts of the world, and this is highlighted by a recent report published by the United Nations Development Project (UNDP), in collaboration with the African Development Bank (AFDB). As pointed out in the report, the African entrepreneurial scene has witnessed a lot of activity in the past decade, with a number of enterprises debuting in the startup ecosystem. This trend appears to have been helped by the enabling environment created by the influx of angel investors, grants, accelerators, incubators, mergers, acquisitions, seed investments, Series-A funding, and other vital enablers of the sector. From the Egyptian angle, there has been a significant proliferation of these startups with interest in such areas as e-commerce, fintech, e-health, cleantech, and a number of other fields.
Quite fittingly, WeeTracker’s recent H1 funding report for African Startups and VC ecosystems indicates that the first half of 2018 saw a total of USD 168.6 Mn being poured into 118 deals across various African startups; figures that have already eclipsed the mark set by the entirety of the previous year. On a similar note, the said report highlights Egypt as the standout performer in the e-commerce sector having accounted for 6 out of the 9 e-commerce startups that attracted investment in the period under review. Overall, the North African nation ranks third in terms of top investment destinations on the continent; second only to Nigeria and Kenya, having seen startups headquartered in the country amass an impressive 21 deals (all of which are better figures when juxtaposed with that obtained from the years gone by). These premises give significant credence to the notion that the Egyptian startup ecosystem is coursing through an upward trajectory, and there may never be a better time to hop on the bandwagon than now.
With its business model, drive, and vision, Flareinn seems poised to take advantage of the untapped opportunities that lay in wait in an uncharted aspect of e-commerce; the art scene. Egypt boasts a vibrant contemporary art scene with notable personalities in the likes of Britt Boutros Ghali, Ibrahim El Tanbouli, and Assem Abdel Fattah. There also exists an impressive crop of up-and-coming contemporary artists who are pushing the limits and writing new chapters in Egyptian art folklore, and it is this group of artists that are particularly integral to the Flareinn model.
What began as a eureka moment for an artist who was faced with the challenge of getting his artwork out there, now looks set revolutionize the art scene. Abdalla Amin, a 21-year-old final year student of Computer Engineering at the time, from the Faculty of Engineering at Ain Shams University, Cairo, had some trouble finding the right market and buyers for his works, being an artist himself. Frustrated at the lack of opportunities which hamper the progress of artists these days, he collaborated with fellow engineering students at the same university; Omar Ibrahim (who majored in Electronics and Communications Engineering) and Emad Zowail (of the same discipline as Abdalla Amin); who were both 22-year olds at the time, to create a tool that will help artists like himself profit from their work.
With a view to solving this problem, the trio opted to create an online platform, which seemed a perfect fit and a no-brainer given the global tech revolution that is upon us and the tech-savvy nature of the founders’ academic backgrounds. These young, fresh graduates now represent the executive arm of Flareinn with Abdalla Amin at the helm of affairs as CEO, Omar Ibrahim running operations as COO, and Emad Zowail handling the company’s technology as CTO.
L-R: Abdalla Amin (22), Omar Ibrahim(23), and Emad Zowail(23) [Co-founders of Flareinn]
The journey has been a long and arduous one, bringing the idea to fruition has been anything but easy. Being that they were college seniors at the time, juggling their academic work with the demands of running a new business took a lot of effort. Sheer will and determination were all they had to get by at various instances during the business’ early days. Sometimes, the trio even resorted to delivering some of the art pieces themselves to maintain efficiency and service quality. The challenges have been daunting and seemingly-insurmountable at various points, but sheer will and determination have seen these three youngsters come a long way from many of those makeshift brainstorming sessions in some of those dorm rooms at Cairo’s Ain Shams University.
And there have been successes. Moments of triumph to reflect upon, tether to, and keep going even in the face of setbacks. Remarkable work ethic and dedication on the part of these youngsters have seen the Flareinn journey move from school dormitories and hallways, to the Injaz Incubation program, then to a booth at Riseup. Most notably, the trio and their startup were featured in last year’s edition of the prestigious StartupScene’s 25 Under 25; an event that is dedicated to unearthing and recognizing some of Egypt’s youngest visionaries and game changers of the entrepreneurial scene. And it gets even better. Most recently, Flareinn had the opportunity to pitch at the first demo day of EG Bank’s MINT Incubator program; having done battle with 140 other Egyptian startups, seen off most of the competition, and emerging as one of the 10 startups who was given the chance to pitch in front of investors.
Going forward, Flareinn aspires to be more than just an online marketplace for art. The platform has set its sights on becoming an online art community that nurtures the presence and importance of art in the Middle-Eastern-North-African (MENA) region. As stated by the company’s COO, “we are doing this to raise art appreciation in the MENA region. We are also battling the ‘starving artist’ stereotype and trying to integrate being an artist as a job that can provide financial independence for the talented youth out there.” The young entrepreneurs hope to achieve this feat by incorporating a blog on the website further down the line, which will help artists interact and help each other via exchange of ideas, questions, tips, and other information. Central to the platform’s vision is the mission to help young artists garner the recognition they deserve; something the company hopes to achieve by featuring certain posts on selected artists and their works on the blog or setting up critiques that can help them improve their art.
Since the launch of Flareinn’s beta version in January 2018, a growing number of artists have signed up on the platform already, and it now boasts a roster of over 120 artists and a catalog of over 250 pieces showcased on the website. And all that early success have come in against the run of play; without any textbook marketing efforts on the part of the company’s management. Indeed, the omens look good for the company, and there are inspirational and motivational stories which support that assertion. Jomana, an artist of remarkable skill and potential and one of the many now featured on the platform, was particularly skeptical about her chances of making a decent living from what was mostly leisure to her initially. She was not very optimistic at first because she had never sold a painting in her life. Now, here is the testimony: she sold her very first painting within her first week of signing up and setting up her shop on Flareinn and seven more paintings within the first month. Astonishing, isn’t it? Well, there’s more. Muhamed El Shanawany; one the platform ’s crop of buyers purchased six pieces of art in his first ever interaction with Flareinn, and eight more in his second. Both stories evoke emotion and inspire more intent on revealing to artists and buyers how art can be a pillar in their lives and how making this art easily accessible and profitable is a feat worth achieving. And it is not just for the connoisseurs, enthusiasts, and aficionados of fine arts, but also for those to whom the world of arts may come across as unfamiliar territory.
The startup aims to leverage the immense financial potential of the Egyptian and MENA art scene. Although poverty still poses a problem in certain regions within the target market, there is a sizeable market for the Flareinn team to zero in on. For starters, Egypt is also home to a large population with considerable wealth at the top, and one of the largest middle classes on the African continent. The market opportunity is evident in home decors, gifts, art collectors, hotels, hospitals, cafes, restaurants, startups offices, and even co-working spaces. Preliminary research on the global market reveals an estimated market size of USD 64 Bn, of which USD 7 Bn was accounted for by the e-commerce scene in 2017. However, only 2% of this amount is found to be coming from Africa, and the startup is looking to capitalize on this untapped wealth and potential that is in the offing from the rich art market in Egypt and parts of the MENA region. In view of that, Flareinn is looking to bridge the apparent chasm that exists between the art collectors and the creators of fine arts who are facing challenges in showcasing their works under the current market structure, within Egypt and beyond.
And it may take some doing. The current misconception about arts in Egypt and some parts of the middle east poses a problem. A number of young and enterprising artists hold hackneyed convictions about the profitability of their art, as some of them are wont to believe that their skill set could actually be transubstantiated into meaningful income. Throw that in with the idea of investing in arts is still regarded as something of an alien concept in some quarters within the region, and there appears another daunting challenge on the horizon. This is one area where the company has its work cut out for it, and Flareinn intends to channel efforts toward altering the mindset through the formation of a formidable marketing communications team.
And it could indeed pay off. As pointed out by the COO, “online platforms present today showcase and support creative talents. Content creation has been transformed into a full-on career, and we believe artists are missing out on the leaps technological platforms can help them make towards a stable income.” In those few words, the company’s vision and motivation are encapsulated.
Barely one year has passed since these youthful and vibrant entrepreneurs were clutching textbooks, carrying backpacks, and thronging lecture halls and workshops as college seniors at Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Engineering. Largely borne out of sheer dedication, will, and determination, the leap to their current position on the threshold of global reckoning is quite remarkable and somewhat unprecedented. It serves as an inspiring point of reference for young individuals who are scouring the fringes and frontiers of technology for new methods of solving identified problems in their respective communities.
Currently, the platform is operating a beta version of its website, and Flareinn’s official launch is expected in the last quarter of the current year. Even though Flareinn is yet to benefit from any form of an official capital injection or external funding, and despite still awaiting the platform’s official launch, the trio of Abdalla Amin, Omar Ibrahim, and Emad Zowail, have come a long way. From doing a number of odd jobs to learning from their experiences on the job to meetings with CEOs and investors, these young Egyptian entrepreneurs now look set to rewrite the narrative, revitalize an ailing sector, rock the establishment, and blaze the trail as young entrepreneurs in an emerging field with significant potential. And it all started at college. Now, there is a way wherever there is a will.
Image Credits: Flareinn