Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI), a global open innovation program that invites fintech and payment startups across the globe to showcase their innovative products and solutions, was held in Egypt for the first time.
“We are very proud of the presentation of VEI in Egypt, as it proves our strong confidence in the promising capabilities of Egyptian startups and the great opportunity available to them to contribute to the process of digital transformation and financial inclusion,” Malak El-Baba Visa Egypt’s Country Manager told Daily News Egypt.
The five VEI finalists were ZealPay, Neqabty, Fawateerak, ElGameya, and Hollydesk.
Daily News Egypt interviewed El-Baba to find out more about the VEI goals, winners, and how the initiative would help fintech and payment startups in Egypt.
Tell us about the VEI recently held in Egypt?
Visa as the world leader in digital payments has a relentless commitment to innovation, it’s part of our DNA and we believe that fintech companies and other payment innovators are transforming the way consumers and businesses make payments, which makes it easier for more people to access the money they need when they need it. The pandemic has seen this become more critical than ever. In today’s world, there is an unprecedented, accelerated demand for secure, digital commerce solutions, and that’s why we are very focused on financial inclusion and want to make the benefits of digital payments accessible to everyone, everywhere.
The VEI is a global open innovation program that invites fintech and payment startups across the globe to showcase their innovative products and solutions, with finalists gaining firsthand exposure to key fintech stakeholders across banking, merchant, VC, and government sectors. This year we are running VEI in Egypt for the first time– in partnership with the Fintech Egypt initiative affiliated to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). This comes in line with the CBE strategy to support fintech and innovation in financial services, and provides a unique opportunity for Egyptian entrepreneurs to explore the global landscape, as well as connecting with fintech leaders.
This year’s program has put Egypt on the regional and global fintech map; and has expanded to include startups that are using Visa Direct, a payment solution that can help businesses move money to billions of endpoints worldwide via card and account rails using innovative ways.
It is worth noting that Visa started its journey as the first payment company in the market, so we consider ourselves the first fintech in the world, and this initiative is a solid proof on how we seek to develop a nurturing environment for fintech start-ups through partnerships and activities that introduce them to various ecosystem elements and fintech solutions to improve their services in different countries around the world.
Tell us about the winners, awards, and how many start-ups applied for the competition?
We were very excited to give the Egyptian fintech innovators the opportunity to meet and compete on a global stage alongside prestigious startups and fintech innovators in the world.
First, congratulations to our extraordinary winners, their pitches and ideas were remarkable and ingenious; and thank you to all who participated.
The VEI witnessed a huge traction in Egypt, and we were impressed by the number of applications that exceeded our speculations. We expected 80 to 100 applications, but we received 270 including some very prominent names. This is concrete evidence of having potential and promising ideas needed for developing the financial technologies. We have shortlisted 20 applicants, five of which were competing at the finals for top three places to win monetary awards. The five finalists were ZealPay, Neqabty, Fawateerak, ElGameya, and Hollydesk. Neqabty won the first place and received EGP500,000 cash prize and advanced to compete at the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East, and Africa (CEMEA) regional finals set to be held on 8 June to compete over a total of $45,000 (EGP700,000). Then the CEMEA regional winner will advance to the global finale in Qatar in November 2022, where up to $170,000 (EGP2,700,000) in total prize money will be awarded; and more importantly first hand exposure to key fintech stakeholders across banking, merchant, VC and government sectors.
Neqabty, also was voted as the audience’s favorite fintech, and won further EGP100,000 prize money. It was thrilling to see Neqabty, which is co-owned by a woman, win both awards. This shows how women are capable of excelling in the fintech field, how they are rapidly and strongly growing and changing the business game. We, at Visa, are committed to fostering women’s empowerment and enabling them to thrive and shine; as economies that include everyone, everywhere uplift everyone, everywhere; and women are at the center of all this.
The winner of the second place is ZealPay and received EGP350,000, while the winner of the third place is ElGameya awarded EGP250,000. Besides the cash prizes, they all are granted opportunities to partner with a global trusted brand like Visa. We wish them all the best of luck in their future efforts.
Why did VISA choose Egypt for VEI this year?
We at Visa believe that fintechs have a crucial role to play, in bringing positive disruption to the finance sector, and creating solutions to help the region’s SMBs benefit from digital transformation and become part of the economic recovery.
Visa has been a partner for the Egyptian government and Central Bank to advance digital payments to support the country’s digital transformation and financial inclusion agenda, and a key part of its mission is to support Egypt’s transition from a cash-based economy to a digital economy so that everyone in the country can benefit from the convenience, security, and reliability of digital payments.
Visa is also keen to develop the broader financial ecosystem and drive adoption of digital payments and strengthen consumer education efforts in the NALP region. The VEI is one of many other initiatives introduced by VISA in partnership with government institutions:
- Visa partnered with Egypt’s Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA) to support entrepreneurs and start-ups specialising in fintech.
- We also singed an MOU with the Egyptian government and the Federation of Chambers of Commerce to enable the acceptance of digital payments.
Visa also welcomed and supported the Central Bank’s mandate to modernize the industry while generating an enabling environment for the country’s digitization, including new regulations and the opening of the market for fintechs and non-traditional players.
We are very proud of the presentation of VEI in Egypt, as it proves our strong confidence in the promising capabilities of Egyptian startups and the great opportunity available to them to contribute to the process of digital transformation and financial inclusion in the country; considering the favorable policies and procedures of the CBE and all economic authorities.
Acting on this belief, Visa has already been working on enabling Egyptian fintech start-ups such as Klivvr, and NEXTA through partnerships that seek to deliver convenient, secure, and transparent financial solutions, and provide customers with digital financial tools that align with their fast-paced lives in an ever-changing dynamic landscape.
If we also look at the success story of Swvl as a 2021 VEI finalist, we can find a great example and catalyst for growth and to empowering more inspiring founders during their journeys. Swvl has recently made its debut on Nasdaq and is now the first $1 billion-plus Middle East unicorn to list on Nasdaq and the largest African unicorn debut on any U.S.-listed exchange. It is an inspiration to many entrepreneurs and one that paves the way for an entire generation of tech start-ups.
What is the size of the VEI network? What are the VEI’s targets?
We, at Visa, are focusing on fostering and bringing innovation, products and solutions that connect consumers, businesses, financial institutions, and governments in 15 countries. Visa also believes that for the economy to recover, SMBs, which are the lifeline of the economy, must first bounce back, and that’s why we continue to roll out new programs and resources that advance Visa’s commitment to digitally empowering SMBs and supporting business resilience.
Since launching in 2015, the Visa Everywhere Initiative has expanded to every corner of the world, recruiting more than 7,000 start-ups from over 100 countries, and has collectively raised more than $2.5 billion in funding, addressing one of the biggest challenges faced by early-stage entrepreneurs. Every year, the scope of VEI is expands to engage with unique startups and solve unique problems in the world of payments.
The VEI seeks innovative and ambitious entrepreneurs who are uplifting communities by solving payment and commerce challenges faced by businesses of all sizes and sectors. This year, the program will have a clear focus on CEMEA, a region with tremendous opportunity for fintech companies that are developing innovative products and solutions aimed at supporting the community.
DNE had the chance to speak with the experts judging the VEI. Visa was keen to select experienced panelists in the fintech and entrepreneurship fields to choose the top VEI winners. The five judges are all leaders in their areas of expertise to provide their valuable notes and feedback to help the VEI participants further understand their points of weaknesses and strengths and learn from this unique experience.
The judges were:
- Mohamed Abdelrahman, Head of Payment Systems Policies & Regulations- Central Bank of Egypt
- Mirna Arif, Country General Manager – Microsoft Egypt
- Dr. Ayman Ismail, Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed Chair of Entrepreneurship, Associate Professor, and the founding director of AUC Venture Lab and AUC Angels-American University in Cairo
- Alex McCrea, Digital Partnerships & Ventures, CEMEA region- Visa
- Ahmed Nafie, CEO – Masria Digital Payments
Now a question to the VEI judging panel, what do you think about presenting the VEI to the Egyptian fintech startups this year?
“As an advocate for the power of technology to drive innovation and believer in Microsoft’s mission to empower start-ups to achieve more, I was so proud to participate in the Visa Everywhere Initiative and support the empowerment of start-ups. Start-ups play a vital role in creating new opportunities for job creation and innovation in digital economies. By participating in this initiative, I hope to provide and empower more support to entrepreneurs in the field of financial technology with the latest technological tools needed to scale and succeed in the digital future,” added Mrs. Mirna Aref, Microsoft Egypt General Manager.
“With the onset of fintech and the digital economy the future of banking will evolve to accelerate business operations and challenges. The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a concrete example to showcase that start-up entrepreneurial spirit and ideas can accelerate various challenges towards financial inclusion. At MDP, innovation is at the cornerstone of our organization, and we take pride in working on harnessing our expertise to maximize creativity and fresh mindsets of emerging start-ups. I was honored to be at the judging panel for this year’s edition of Visa Everywhere Initiative; as we revealed the next big thing in payment experiences of tomorrow.” said Ahmed Nafie, CEO at MDP.
‘’Fintech startups in Egypt are at an inflection point, with the potential to empower and expand access to financial services to millions of citizens and SMEs,” noted Ayman Ismail, international expert in entrepreneurship and economic development.
““FinTech’s and start-ups drive positive change, expand access, and create exciting customer experiences. The Visa Everywhere Initiative is a fantastic opportunity to shine a light on these forward-thinking concepts, ideas, and initiatives, helping to provide start-ups with a global stage on which they can showcase their potential. I was really excited by this year’s finalists and the opportunity to support their growth story through collaborative partnerships with Visa”, said Alex McCrea, Vice President, Digital Partnerships, Fintech and Ventures, Visa CEMEA.