Entreprenelle: unlocking the potential of Egypt’s female entrepreneurs

Nehal Samir
13 Min Read

Driven by passion and love for the entrepreneurship, an Egyptian woman, Rania Ayman, has founded in 2015 the social development and business impact organisation named “Entreprenelle.”

Entreprenelle mainly aims to support local women economically by educating, training and linking them to all the possible entrepreneurship resources. 

Since 2017, Entreprenelle holds an event called “SHE CAN”, that addresses entrepreneurial activities for women from all ages in four areas: education, media, technology, and creative industries, becoming the leading female entrepreneurship event in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. 

Daily News Egypt interviewed Ayman to learn more about her journey with Entreprenelle, and She CAN, shedding light on the female entrepreneurship in Egypt, highlighting the challenges and the opportunities there. 

What is the main idea behind Entreprenelle? How did the idea of ‘SHE CAN’ originate?

When I used to work in development, I noticed that women rarely attended our entrepreneurial events; few women attended the events that focus on technology and entrepreneurship. This reflected the harsh truth of the entrepreneurial scene then, where at some events, the only woman attending would be a fiancée or wife of a speaker. This was a wakeup call for me, and after intense research, I decided to create Entreprenelle, as a social entrepreneurship model that would enable Egyptian women to establish their businesses, and assist them in doing so through networking and marketing.

Afterwards, we wanted to create a hub to celebrate and support women entrepreneurs, and become a centre for sharing experience, support, and invest in rising female entrepreneurs.

Rania Ayman

What is the goal that SHE CAN aims to achieve?

We work through three main pillars at Entreprenelle: awareness, education, and resources accessibility. We consider SHE CAN the pinnacle of our annual activities, through which we conclude all of our successes and functions, and celebrate the most improved businesses. SHE CAN event targets elevating female entrepreneurs, and provides them with access to a vast network of investors and experts in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. It also seeks to enable female entrepreneurs, decision-makers, and market leaders through matchmaking activities with corporates and investors.

What is the difference between the first and latest edition of SHE CAN events?

SHE CAN had humble but great inception at the Great Cairo Library back in 2017, where no more than hundreds of successful ladies gave talks about their businesses for about 500 ambitious attendees. The first SHE CAN event theme was ‘They did it. So can you!’, we wanted to encourage ladies who wanted to establish their businesses by creating a network of women helping each other, by presenting the most inspiring successful female entrepreneurs.

Since then, and through hundreds of sessions and workshops over four years, SHE CAN has grown to become the biggest event for women entrepreneurs and “want-preneurs” as we call them. We have hosted 3 SHE CAN events that saw over 8,000 attendees seeking encouragement and inspiration from our partners, and this year we managed to host 6,000 attendees.

This year, SHE CAN’s objective was to enable and inspire women to start fresh after learning from the challenging events of 2019.

What was different in this year’s edition?

Every year, Entreprenelle seeks to innovate its approach through SHE CAN, to support female entrepreneurs. Generally, 2019 was a challenging year that hit the entrepreneurial community as a whole. Therefore, we decided that SHE CAN 2020’s theme should be ”Fresh Start”, to encourage female entrepreneurs to start over and start better, regardless of their failures in 2019. SHE CAN 2020 also was seeking to appraise women entrepreneurs who made progress and achieved remarkable milestones and allow them to reflect on their successes.

How many participants and speakers attended this year’s event? How many panels and workshops were held?

Following last year’s success, several influential figures showed great interest in attending as speakers and panellists. Similar to last year, we held training sessions, workshops and masterclasses, where over 100 experts delivered their knowledge to SHE CAN attendees. Moreover, we held multiple panel discussions and talks on the main stage, including numerous successful entrepreneurs from different fields.

What is the average age for participating female entrepreneurs?

SHE CAN brings together women in one place for empowerment and inspiration, disregarding any differences between them, that’s why our participants’ age range varies, there is no standard. This comes from our immense belief in ”equality” regardless of age or origins.

Does Entreprenelle provide financial assistance for female-owned projects? If yes, how many startups did you assist?

Entreprenelle does aim to empower women economically, however, we target to achieve that through more sustainable solutions. That can be implemented through education, training, and entrepreneurship resources. We hold several functions to benefit women entrepreneurs through workshops, crash courses, and master-classes with field experts. We became a hub and a strong network of encompassing veterans and beginners of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing access to knowledge, market, and capital. In several cases, we provided graduates from our programmes with contacts to assist them in their production and facilitate their operations.

To what extent did the government and concerned bodies help in launching this event?

One thing that makes us proud is how diverse our partners’ list is. We have collaborated with public and private entities that believed in the power of SHE CAN in its early years and helped us attain the current stature that the event has today. Among our partners were the National Council for Women, the UNICEF, the US Embassy to Egypt, the Embassy of Sweden, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN WOMEN). Our partners’ list also includes the most prominent international and Egyptian corporates such as PepsiCo Egypt, IBM, Unilever, and AVON.

How do you evaluate the success of female entrepreneurs now?

The success of women entrepreneurs mainly depends on the nature of their businesses. Yet, we believe that evaluating successful entrepreneurs is based on how far they take their projects after receiving the proper support to do so. How does the project contribute to the development of the Egyptian community? And finally, how much have they contributed to the upscaling of the female entrepreneurial ecosystem.

We apply this method of evaluation to all the projects we graduate from Entreprenelle, and we constantly seek to empower our graduates to provoke a meaningful change in their communities. 

Throughout your journey with Entreprenlle, which fields do female entrepreneurs prefer?

After years of experience with female entrepreneurs, we defined four sectors that most of our partners and graduates are interested in joining. Namely; Fashion, Food, Crafts, and Events. Accordingly, we assist women by educating them on business modelling, marketing basics, branding, pricing, sales, business development, and financial literacy. Furthermore, we will be focusing on a new vertical that supports women in the natural products sector. 

What are the sectors that you hope to see more women join?

Believing in gender equality, we wish to see more women in all fields and sectors, which is the main purpose of SHE CAN; celebrating success stories and most improved businesses to inspire women to establish their businesses and achieve the ambitions. SHE CAN also brings together an enormous pool of new startups who want to kick off their businesses, and showcase their products, as well as expose them to different potential investors. This leads to promoting innovation within the entrepreneurial sector, as well as empowering and encouraging women to set up their businesses, hence reducing the gender gap.

What are the obstacles facing female entrepreneurs in the MENA region and Egypt?

In general, Entrepreneurs in Egypt face three main challenges; access to formal training for business management, access to digital communication for business purposes, and access to research and development. Specifically, female entrepreneurs suffer from gender stereotypes, as potential business partners do not perceive them seriously as business leaders. However, this is changing in Egypt, as we are becoming one of the leading countries to accommodate women in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, as younger women between the ages of 18 and 24 are starting businesses at more than twice the rate of men in Egypt.

In your opinion, how can Entreprenelle or SHE CAN help entrepreneurs overcome the obstacles they face?

Being a social development and business support organisation, Entreprenelle’s main goal is to assist women in overcoming challenges they face as entrepreneurs. We connect women to a network of investors, experts, and mentors from which they can benefit, as well as other women entrepreneurs in situations of mutual benefits. Additionally, Entreprenelle activities span all year long, incorporating entrepreneurship incubation and acceleration programmes, and crash courses for the benefit of female entrepreneurs.

What are the opportunities of women economic empowerment in Egypt and the MENA region?

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, the highest rates of women’s entrepreneurial intentions globally were reported in the MENA region at 36.6%. This reflects both the enthusiasm and potential of women in the MENA region towards entrepreneurship. This percentage, which is currently on the rise, is a green light for us to continue our efforts of empowering women in Egypt and the MENA region, and one of the reasons why Entreprenelle will be expanding in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia soon. This move will be our first towards regional expansions, where we hope to empower more women to achieve their dreams.

How do you view Egypt’s women empowerment efforts?

Women empowerment is growing exponentially in Egypt, and having nine women as ministers in the current cabinet is a testament to the government’s keenness on achieving equality and women empowerment. The announcement of 2017 as the “Year of Egyptian Women” was a progressive step emphasising Egypt’s commitment to supporting women’s empowerment and rights. The Egyptian entrepreneurial field also saw a surge in the numbers of women both leading and joining startups, where the highest rates of women’s entrepreneurial intentions globally were reported in the MENA region at 36.6%.

What are your aspirations?

From the beginning, Entreprenelle’s goal as social development and business impact organisation is to support local women economically. We have reached significant milestones within 4 years; impacting more than 50,000 Egyptian women and generating more than 1000 Projects, yet a lot of work remains to be done. We hope that all Egyptian women can achieve their ambitions and establish their businesses, and we are working to attain this vision by supporting the female entrepreneurship ecosystem in Egypt. 

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