This Egyptian Entrepreneur Is Helping Women Empower Women In No Ordinary Way

Nzekwe Henry September 7

When Nayrouz Talaat took to the podium on Demo Day of the first cycle of this year’s EG Bank’s MINT Incubator which drew to a close this June, she spoke with passion and vigor that was as beautiful to watch as it was amazing to hear.

Pitching as one of ten Egyptian startups who were taken under the wings of the program and nurtured through workshops, mentorships, and a number of other activities geared towards providing the requisite support and guidance to the participating startups with a view to accelerating them into their next growth phases, she exuded a different kind of confidence – a certain conviction that is the stuff of deeply-seated beliefs and not mere business ideas; something that came across as somewhat otherworldly, as it was largely unmatched for the rest of the evening.

Nayrouz didn’t just show up in that majestic hall at Cairo’s Zamalek Cinema that evening to sing for her supper or woo investors, she had come to effectively correct a stereotype. She had her sight on fixing a social aberration, and in a manner that many would not have seen coming. Suffice it to say that she had to come to rock the establishment with her own establishment, which, pardon the cliche, is essentially a platform designed of women, by women, and for women.

There is something of a widely-held, although, wrong and unfounded opinion about women when it comes to driving. In spite of efforts to expunge this epithet and correct this stereotype – as is evident in the increasing number of women taking the wheel for both private and commercial causes in various parts of today’s world, as well as the more recent development in Saudi Arabia where women are now issued drivers licenses and allowed to take the wheel – women are still wrongly regarded as poor drivers, even though in actual fact, a lot of women can do just about as a good job as anybody, or perhaps even better.

It is not uncommon to hear obscenities being yelled at women for what would ordinarily pass for faultless driving and parking in “different circumstances” in parts of Africa and the rest of the world, by “some people” who for “some reason” claim an entitlement to their place behind the wheel while dismissing “others” as inept and incapable; a posture that could be construed to imply that women should have no business behind the wheel.

This ill has eaten deep into the fabric of society and even though a number of people in certain circles are quick to downplay its importance, it still poses a cause for concern as it echoes the menace of gender inequality in society, whilst also having all the makings of full-blown chauvinism and sexism. And it makes for even gloomier reading when the dangers and ills women in various parts of the world are subjected to in the process of learning to drive is taken into account.

But where most people see a social problem and settle for the easy option of sitting on the fence and sulking, this Egyptian entrepreneur has identified an opportunity to empower fellow women in the country. Nayrouz Talaat is the Founder and CEO of Direxiona; an online platform that enables women to book driving lessons in real-time with professional female driving instructors who are willing to use their own cars for this purpose, based on their chosen time and location – now you get why I had to use that cliche earlier. Nayrouz’s creation is known to also provide tips on such aspects as safety rules, defensive driving techniques, as well as the basics of maintenance and mechanics as it concerns automobiles.

“I am a kind of person who is always trying something different, it’s part of my character. After I studied the entrepreneurship ecosystem closely from the concept of doing something that will have a positive impact on society, I came up with the idea for Direxiona because it appeals to my character,” she reckoned in a conversation with WeeTracker.

She also revealed that the motivation behind the startup was born out of the need to offer assistance to women in Egypt and other parts of Africa and the MENA region who want to master driving in a safe and conducive environment, as she had experienced firsthand the difficulties, hardships and security challenges associated with learning the skill, especially for women – since there are hardly any organized bodies that serve this purpose for women in the region.

Thus, Direxiona was born; a platform that can be considered as adopting a two-pronged approach with respect to tackling the female driving problem, as it seeks to increase the number of professionally-trained and experienced female driving instructors on one hand, whilst upping the population of women who can hold their own behind the wheel anywhere in the world on the other – thus empowering women on both sides.

Before her foray into the entrepreneurial scene, Nayrouz had worked as a journalist at the Egyptian Gazette; a local English daily, after obtaining a Bachelor Degree in English/Literature from the Faculty of Arts at the prestigious Ain Shams University back in 2002. She rose through the ranks and soon attained the position of Business Reporter, and this may have her motivated her interest in entrepreneurship as she was exposed to a number of entrepreneurship-focused programs and events while filling that role.

“As a business reporter, I was covering the activities of entrepreneurs and attending many entrepreneurship-focused events. This somewhat inspired me to start a venture of my own as a way of giving back to society,” she said. It wasn’t long before she took to attending local programs, where she was furnished with preliminary knowledge on some of the underlying concepts of running an actual business.

It could be surmised that some of the knowledge she gathered on the subject of business models and business plans were self-tutored. She also admitted that her efforts were buoyed initially by the encouragement and support she gathered from what seems like a friendly posture on the part of the Egyptian government towards startups in Egypt, as well as her time at the Swedish Institute where she benefited from a program designed to impart business knowledge to women who are looking to launch enterprises that have a recognizable social impact.

Through sheer will and desire, and in the absence of any form of external funding, she has been able to set up a platform that provides a safe and conducive environment to women who are looking to take driving lessons without having to go through any form of harassment or through the hassle of finding instructors that are sensitive to their needs.

Her startup, Direxiona is a tech-enabled platform that enables women to book driving lessons with experienced female instructors at the click of a button. By virtue of its design, the service allows for instant matching of clients with instructors that are closest to them. According to the CEO, Direxiona incorporates an “Uber-like” business model, as it is founded on economy-sharing.

This allows for the business partners (i.e the instructors), to conduct these driving lessons using their own cars. This feature is actually central to the operations of the platform; something that could be considered a creative way of solving an identified problem, as it is low-cost and efficient.

The business model of the platform is designed in such a way that payments can be made online for any of the various packages that are available and tailored to meet the needs of different individuals.

“Customers can pay online for any of the different packages available and the instructors are themselves paid according to the number of hours that they have put in on the job. The smallest package on the platform goes for EGP 850.00 while the biggest package costs EGP 1.6 K and it lasts for twelve hours. The instructors themselves earn at an hourly rate of EGP 85.00,” she offered.

Direxiona boasts of having trained over 150 women as driving instructors since inception – offering them lessons in such aspects as traffic safety rules, defensive driving techniques, and basic car fixing tips. It also lays claim to over 50 female driving instructors who are currently active on the platform, as well as an impressive 3000 females who have used the services of the platform to become efficient drivers themselves in as many as 10,000 scheduled driving classes since the establishment of the startup in 2017.

But it was not always rosy in the beginning as Nayrouz cited challenges that threatened to derail the business initially – hurdles that had to be surmounted to get the business to its current respectable position. She hinted at having her work cut out for her in the area of correcting the stereotype and cultural reservations that surround both women in business and the idea of women as drivers during those early days when Direxiona was still at the idea stage. She also pointed out that learning the intricacies of running a business also posed a problem initially as she didn’t really have a strong footing on the technical front initially.

“Even when you have all the information, the execution of everything doesn’t come easy. At certain points, you’ll require funds, experience, and resources. I was able to get through these initial challenges by getting insights from like-minded people who pointed me in the right directions. They were mentors who gave me the knowledge and information I needed to take that step forward,” she told WeeTracker. Although the startup is largely self-funded, Nayrouz remains very aware of the importance of the support and assistance rendered to the business in the form of education and information from a number of both local and international organizations.

 

Female drivers who want to become instructors on Direxiona are required to have at least 5 years experience in driving. Such individuals can apply on the platform via the startup’s official website or recruitment agencies that are in partnership with the platform.

After which they go through a series of vetting, training, and evaluations on traffic rules and driving techniques to increase their proficiency; so as to guarantee that customers of the platform are getting instructions from individuals that are grounded on the subject, and in a vehicle that is road-worthy (documentation is demanded to ascertain the cars in question are 100% in maintenance).

In addition, the platform throws its doors open to private car owners who only want to sharpen their driving skills, without exploring the option of instructing. It also offers driving tips through its official channels which include social media handles.

Nayrouz has fond memories of the MINT Incubator experience as, according to her, it came as a very timely adventure. “EG Bank’s MINT Incubator came after a very long journey, as we had gotten to an advanced stage in the business. We were past the early stage and we wanted to grow, secure partnerships, increase revenue and sales,” she said.

“So the program was an accelerator that showed us how to go about all those details. I applied after I was notified of the program via email and we got selected amongst the first thirty. The list was soon trimmed down to ten and we were again selected. Participating in the program exposed the team to concepts that focused on business, marketing, sales, revenue generation, partnership, and recruitment of expertise. It was a really amazing experience and it served to put the business on track.”

Nayrouz is unfazed by the competition in the industry as she believes Direxiona is well-placed in the market on the backs of its keenness on bringing about positive social impact, rather than fixating on bottom lines. She opined that, although funds are very important when it comes to running a business, they shouldn’t form the basis of doing business.

To her, the idea is to first meet a need, and hopefully gather revenue while at it; and the latter just happens to always accompany the former naturally. This is what drove her to create the platform basically out of her own purse in the first place; and with its offerings tailored to meet the unique needs of women in a caring and friendly manner, she believes Direxiona has the edge over the competition.

And that assertion may indeed be justified on account of the platform’s aegis and value propositions which incorporates a large-scale, technology-driven approach, as well as an emphasis on nurturing professional female instructors that are sensitive to customer demands.

Nayrouz considers Direxiona to mean a lot more than just business or money; it is something of an innate burning desire to the entrepreneur, who interestingly appears to have not completely jettisoned her first love; writing, as she still freelances as a business writer on a number of media outlets.

She also expressed her pleasure and delight at the attention and recognition that the startup has garnered from both local and international media, as it is an indication that the business is definitely getting something right, whilst also serving as encouragement to put in more work in spite of the current challenges which exists in the form of financing and policies that are best suited to traditional business models.

Currently, Direxiona boasts a team of five, alongside the CEO, with an IT expert, a social media and PR specialist, as well as an operations and finance personnel, also on the company’s roster. The platform also welcomes interest from fresh graduates who are willing to look beyond unrealistically-quick-and-fat paychecks to garner the requisite experience and hone their skills in a real-life business environment.

Going forward, the startup aims to secure substantial investments to further scale its operations and possibly buoy its plans to expand into other countries in Africa and the MENA region; a move that should see it boost its capital and revenue. There are also indications that the platform is actively in the process of developing a mobile app that is expected to enhance customer experience and facilitate quick access to its operations. In any case, Nayrouz appears to have found fulfillment in helping women empower women.

Kenya’s Twiga Foods Raises USD 10 Mn In Series A

Nayantara Jha November 16

Nairobi based AgriTech Startup Twiga Foods has secured USD 10 Mn in a Series A funding round led by World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, Global Agriculture & Food security programme and TLcom Capital. The investment round was also joined by its previous investors DOB Equity, 1776, Adolph H.Lundin and Wamda Capital.

As per the announcement, the newly secured investment will help the startup in expansion and in introducing new products into the market. This round comes after a year of securing USD 10.3 Mn from Wamda Capital. The AgriTech startup which connects smallholder farmers to vendors, claims to have a network of 13000 farmers and 6000 vendors. A mobile application helps both the parties exchange money using M-pesa mobile money payment.

Interestingly, Twiga was also one of the top 10 funded startups in Africa in 2017.

Twiga Foods, in April, had announced partnership with IBM to add a blockchain based micro-financing feature to their platform for farmers in Kenya and across Africa.

As of 2016, agriculture was reported to have weighed in with as much as 32% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Africa’s food market was valued at about USD 313 Bn in 2013 and is estimated to hit USD 1 Tn mark by 2030.  Lately, Agritech startups in Africa are also becoming a top pick for investors, especially, for international investment funds.

Students In South Africa On Entrepreneurship & Startups: A WeeTracker Exclusive

November 16

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Egyptian Startup Fakahany Secures USD 700 K Seed Investment From Endure Capital And Angel Investors

Nzekwe Henry November 16

Cairo-based farm-to-door fresh produce eCommerce platform, Fakahany, has raised investment of USD 700 K in a seed funding round led by Endure Capital, who are also joined by angel investors.

Fakahany was established a year ago by the duo of Waleed Khalil and Ahmed Attia. The former also happens to be a partner at Endure Capital. The eCommerce platform makes it possible for users in Cairo and Giza to order fresh farm products like fruits and vegetables via its online platform and mobile applications for both Android and iOS. The startup is said to have its warehouses where it stores fresh produce sourced directly from partner farms.

According to Ahmed Attia, Co-Founder of Fakahany, the startup is focused on filling the void between farms and customers, as well as optimising the intermediate processes. This makes it possible for the startup to provide customers with some of the best quality produce at their doorsteps, thus, offering good value for money.

The startup appears to have witnessed significant growth since its launch, and this can be attributed to the impressive level of demand in the market for its services; a feat which the company claims has seen its revenues grow tenfold over the last one year.

Egyptian startup

Waleed Mohamed Khalil (CEO Fakahany) via LinkedIn

“We chose this vertical understanding the challenges of working with fresh produce and perishable goods. However, the great calibres that we have and the collective industry experience within our team has allowed us to build a powerful eCommerce platform and sturdy operations that enable fast growth and a seamless experience for our customers,” commented Waleed Khalil, Co-Founder and CEO of Fakahany, with regards to the development.

Tarek Fahim, General Partner at Endure Capital who lead the investment round, noted that continuous optimisation, automation, and vertical were required for sustenance in today’s business environment. He also suggested that the investment in Fakahany was borne out of confidence in the high and consistent growth which the startup has shown in such a short time while expressing belief in the ability of the startup to continue in its upward growth trajectory.

The investment is expected to be channelled into further developing the technology of the platform, as well as expanding its team, reach, and offerings. Details bordering on equity agreements are yet to be disclosed at this time.

From Selling Flip-Flops to Raking Millions in Revenues – Even War Couldn’t Break His Entrepreneurial Spirit

Nzekwe Henry November 15

Here’s the thing about humble beginnings; they are not some sort of wriggle room for the justification of mediocrity, or an excuse to settle for less. If anything, they are only a reflection of the starting point; they do not ultimately define the future of any individual.

Humble beginnings are just what they are; the beginning, the starting point — no more, no less. Not the end. And in between the beginning and the end, every individual has a choice to make between sitting on the fence and sulking over everything that is not right or taking that leap. The end is largely a function of that choice.

It’s easy to lament poor background and blame it all on the lack of opportunities for never really hitting the heights, and perhaps even justifiably so. But it does pay to view the scenario from a different perspective. Privations and hardship are undoubtedly tricky spots to get caught up in, and it’s easy to align with the popular view which attributes those to an impoverished life.

But doing a one-eighty can also reflect privations and hardship in a different light. They can also be viewed as an indication of the type of effort that would need to be put in to improve the situation, as well as a suggestion that life accomplishments have as much do with the ability to keep the prize within sight in spite of the fog as it does the decision to attempt any venture in the first place. And sometimes, it’s all about perspective. Some individuals epitomise, embody and personify this view more than others, and Fomba Trawally; one of the wealthiest men in Liberia is one of such individuals.

Having suffered untold tragedy with the demise of both his parents at an early stage in his life, the Liberian businessman had to do a number of odd jobs and petty trades to get by on a daily. At some point, he even resorted to walking considerable distances, wheelbarrow in front, selling bathroom slippers in different neighbourhoods in various parts of Monrovia.

And as if that was not difficult enough, he was also affected by the war that ravaged parts of Liberia in 1989. Rocked by the violent unrest, Fomba Trawally and family had to flee their home country and stay away for up to three years. When the violence died down, and the war came to an end, he made the return to his homeland. Upon his return, Fomba decided to start a small business even though all he could lay claim to by way of personal funds was a meagre USD 200. Fast-forward several years down the line, and the former wheelbarrow hawker now runs a company whose value is believed to run into millions of dollars.

But how could he have pulled off such a remarkable feat from such a disadvantaged position? Perhaps taking a trip down memory lane to how it all began, could reveal some answers.

Fomba Trawally, Source: BBC

Fomba Trawally was born in 1971 to poor parents in Liberia. He completed his elementary education at Voinjama Public School where he had first enrolled in 1975. He also joined Kataka Training School for his secondary education in 1981.

Kumba Beindu, Fomba’s mother, is said to have toiled day and night to fend for her children in the absence of her late husband. Getting them fed was hard work enough, let alone putting them through school. But somehow, she managed both, even though it required back-breaking work more often than not. She sold pepper and other farm produce, and it was from this small business that Fomba’s mother met the needs of her children.

Now, young Fomba was going through life one day at a time despite the privations with the future offering the only glimmer of hope, and then things took a turn for the worse. Kumba Beindu, the single surviving parent and the sole beacon of hope for Fomba and his siblings, passed on sometime in the 1980s and everything pretty much went downhill from there.

It was a very difficult time for Fomba, and his siblings as the demise of the sole breadwinner of the family left behind a huge void to fill. Before the tragedy, Fomba had had high hopes of going all the way to college, but those hopes were dashed with the death of his mother. Being the eldest in the family, Fomba had to step up to the plate and handle the baton that had been shoved into his unprepared hands at a tender age. To fend for siblings who now looked up to him, Fomba quit school and took to selling bathroom flip-flops in a wheelbarrow. He trekked several miles through various neighbourhoods in Monrovia, marketing and selling his wares. Daily income was small, but it was enough to take care of his siblings.

But that was not all he had to deal with.  Just when it looked like things were beginning to attain some semblance of stability, Fomba and his siblings soon found themselves fleeing their home country for The Gambia when war broke out in Liberia in 1989. They lived as refugees for three years before returning to Liberia when some semblance of peace resurfaced in 1992. During his time as a refugee in The Gambia, Fomba still busied himself doing odd jobs and petty trading.

Having returned to Liberia with around USD 25 in personal savings, Fomba opted to make a foray into business. And his choice of business can be said to have been a clever one. It appears Fomba’s brief spells in business both home and abroad had worked him into some kind of aptitude. Back in Liberia, Fomba Trawally identified a market opportunity which turned out a diamond in the rough.

It was the aftermath of the Liberian civil war, and the country was in a rebuilding process. The war had left a lot of ruins in its wake, and many people had had virtually nothing by way of personal belongings. There was an urgent need for footwear in the capital city, Monrovia, as a good number of people were trudging the streets barefoot. Fomba decided to start importing cheap slippers and shoes which he would sell to the many people that were beset by the situation. But with USD 25.00 in his pocket, that was never going to happen.

He began to source for funds, but in a country that was just beginning to recover from the ravages of war, it was going to be anything but easy. He did get some luck when a friend of his lent him the sum of USD 120.00 in addition to his savings, but that was still a long way off from what was required. But he decided to get started regardless.

Now armed with around USD 145.00, he established his business which he named Kumba Beindu and Sons as a tribute to his late mother in 1992. Within one year, the company had grown significantly to amass a value of around USD 3 K, which was quite a staggering sum at the time. The business expanded to include cosmetics, toiletries, and plastics as part of its products.

Gradually, the business gathered steam, and by 2005, it had become a very popular name in Liberia. An astute businessman, it wasn’t long before he diversified his trade and established three retail stores selling imported items like paper and cosmetics in Liberia. This was made possible by the networks he built in countries like China, U.S., Turkey, and Cote d’Ivoire, from where he imported those items. But he wasn’t going to rest on his oars as his next move proved he was anything but done.

In 2010, Fomba Trawally launched his next project which essentially saw him switch from importer to manufacturer. Fomba established National Toiletries Incorporated, which is considered Liberia’s first paper and toiletry products manufacturing factory. The company became fully operational in 2013, and it produces four different kinds of products: baby diapers, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper.

In a conversation with CNN, Fomba revealed that National Toiletries Incorporated supplies products to over 1,500 businesses in Liberia. It is also known to have spread its tentacles abroad with exports to neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. Revenue in excess of USD 600 K is said to be grossed by the company on a yearly basis.

But it would be wrong to think all of it is coming easy. Running a manufacturing business in Liberia — a country yet recovering from a civil war that left an estimated 250,000 people dead and destroyed much of its infrastructure and economy — is not without its challenges. In the CNN interview, Fomba cited power as a major concern.
“Number one, we don’t have the power or energy in our country at this time — we’re running on a generator,” said Trawally. “You tell anyone that I’m running a factory as big as this only on a generator, they’ll tell you that you are crazy,” he added. Unreliable power and the shortage of infrastructure, coupled with high energy costs and a lack of skilled labour, are all major problems for entrepreneurs doing business in Liberia.
Fomba Trawally, who currently serves as CEO of National Toiletries Incorporated, was recently honoured with the 2018 top African International award at the 9th edition of the Africa Economy Builders, based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Mr Trawally, widely considered one of the outstanding entrepreneurs of Liberia, was honoured in recognition of his immense contribution to Liberia’s economic growth.

Fambo Trawally (2nd from right) at the 9th Edition of Africa Economy Builders; Source: LiberianObserver

In another interview with BBC, Fomba Trawally reiterated that young entrepreneurs do not always need a lot of capital to start with. “It doesn’t cost you USD 1 Mn to start a business,” he said.

“My advice to my other friends around the world is that you should be encouraged and believe that you can do everything with the little you have. My mother started with five or 10 US cents which is nothing today.”

The remarkable feat pulled by Fomba Trawally is made all the more impressive by the fact that it is coming from a country whose population hovers around just 4 million people. Throw that in with the idea that all his accomplishments have been achieved in spite poor upbringing and the numerous rutabagas life hauled his way and it becomes evident how much of an impact can be made by just about anyone even in the face of militating challenges.

 

Features Image Courtesy: CNN

CoinAfrique Welcomes New Stakeholder – France’s Media Group Trace

Andrew Christian November 15

According to a publication that broke yesterday, Senegalese mobile classified platform CoinAfrique has given an undisclosed stake to Paris-based media group Trace, making it the third deal to be reported from the Senegalese startup.

CoinAfrique is reported to have developed what is held to be one of the first mobile marketplaces for Francophone Africans, having operations in no less than 15 countries across French-speaking Africa. The startup was founded and launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, by duo Matthias Papet and Eric Genetre.

The comments from the CoinAfrique arm of the development, according to the founders, informs that the deal is a confirmation of the strength of the startup’s growth model, also highlighting the avenue to bring about a pan-African francophone leader in the classifieds industry.

While the amount of the investment remains undisclosed, reports have it that the Senegalese startup will latch on to the audience of Trace TV to publicize CoinAfrique’s services to a wider Francophone market in Africa. This African service company currently has 400,000 active monthly users, and concerning this investment, it aims to level up the number to 10 million by 2022.

The narrative from Trace points that the undisclosed investment into the Dakar-based classifieds startup is in a bid to help the enterprise shoot up in terms of development. Oliver Laouchez, who is co-founder and CEO of Trace noted that CoinAfrique has already proven its worth, and with the potential displayed, the Paris-based media company is excited to concert efforts to the Senegalese startups’ development.

According to Oliver, Trace’s stake conforms to its investment strategy in mobile and digital service. It also is in line with the organization’s intention to bolster entrepreneurial initiatives that have significant positive effects on the African continent.

This is not the first of CoinAfrique’s feats, as it has raised € 2.5 Mn in April and sold a 15 percent stake to Investisseurs and Partenaires just last month. The startup was also among the 20 startups selected to join World Bank’s XL Africa program.

This information was first covered on Ventureburn.

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