From leading his University to win the 2009 Enactus World Cup to joining Afrilabs in 2016, Moetaz Helmy, is one of Africa’s tech success stories and with his election as Board Chair of Afrilabs, Africa’s largest network of hubs, he is excited and ready to usher African talents and startups into a new era of more growth, stability and recorded successes.
In an interview with Dreams Talks for Africanian, he talked about his plans and goals for Afrilabs!
Dreams Talks: What is your plan and vision for AfriLabs?
Moetaz Helmy: The startup ecosystem in Africa is on its way to being a leader in the global space and with every milestone achieved, we are getting closer to our vision of building a thriving innovation economy on the continent. The successes recorded so far are not coincidences but the dreams of several entrepreneurs over the years. As a community of innovators, we have been intentional about our goals and what we need to do to make Africa enough for its people aligned with the African Union’s Agenda 2063. We recognised that our hope for a better Africa is in the ability of Africans to build for Africans. This mindset is what has positioned the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem as leaders in the economic transformation agenda for Africa.
AfriLabs has been a part of this revolution and has played a role in structuring innovation support in Africa. As we enter the next decade of our existence, we continue to be intentional about our interventions to enable innovation in all of the continent’s regions. More than ever, we strive to be more inclusive and to foster more collaboration between stakeholders in the ecosystem. We recognise that the solutions we need are within us. If we leave the doors open to our brothers and sisters from all African regions and African diaspora, we will achieve more.
We have taken stock of what we have done so far and we are ready for the next phase. We are at the finish line and also at the start of another journey. What a time to be alive!
Dreams Talks: Can you share more insight into Catalytic Africa and how Hubs can benefit?
Moetaz Helmy: The Catalytic Africa initiative is a cross-stakeholder initiative of AfriLabs in conjunction with African Business Angels Network (ABAN) that aims to strengthen entrepreneurs, startups, hubs and angel investors, while delivering impact results to institutional funders.
Catalytic Africa raises funds (debt or grant) from various institutional partners to add to a pool. This pool serves as a matching or co-investment fund to encourage investment in viable AfriLabs-affiliated startups by verified angel investors. The criteria for accessing funds from this pool are; Affiliation with hubs that are members of the AfriLabs Network. These hubs will help to administer and track use/impact of the investments. Offer of investment from investors affiliated to angel networks that are members of ABAN.
Hubs can benefit from the Catalytic Africa by an Increase in the investment made by angel investors in African start-ups with innovative digital solutions & measurable impact. As well as access to reliable ecosystem data, insights, and impact reporting for all stakeholders.
Dreams Talks: What will your leadership be doing in terms of liaising with government institutions to create favourable policies for the growth and advancement of technology on the continent?
Moetaz Helmy: One of AfriLabs’s strategy pillars is Policy making and advocacy. We are working closely with decision makers, and policy advocates across the continent to promote Startup acts and regulations to support entrepreneurs and innovators. We are trying to boost policy dialogues, new regulation framework and support mechanisms that can attract the development of new African solutions in different sectors like financial technology, Digital payment, Internet of Things and Artificial intelligence, etc.
Dream Talks: What challenges is Afrilabs facing today, if any?
Moetaz Helmy: AfriLabs is expanding very fast across the continent. This forces us to adjust our support programs very fast to address different needs, languages, regions and skills. We are working very hard with our secretariat, member hubs and network to be agile and create a ripple effect.
Dreams Talks: Describe your journey from the beginning to where you are today. Successes, lessons learnt, challenges faced.
Moetaz Helmy: I started my journey in the entrepreneurship and development sector in the French University in Egypt. In 2009, I led a team of students to win the Enactus World Cup against 1,400 Universities worldwide, creating more than 14 development projects using entrepreneurship and new innovatives approaches. Afterwards, I co-founded District as one of the first innovation hubs and coworking spaces in Egypt. In 2017, I co founded kmt house for urban innovators and smart cities, followed by Nwt House for creative industries and Rdna for small scale agribusiness. Meanwhile, I joined AfriLabs in 2016 while attending the Annual Gathering in Accra. In 2017, I hosted the AfriLabs Annual Gathering in Cairo, leading the annual gathering to a new scale in AfriLabs history. In 2019, I was elected board Secretary and Board Chair in October 2021.
Dreams Talks: What are the key goals for AfriLabs this year?
Moetaz Helmy: Some of the key goals for AfriLabs this year are; Recruit more hubs into our network. There are close to 1000 hubs across Africa, many of which can benefit from the ever growing list of resources we offer in our network. Develop, grow and support national hub networks; they are critical for growth of national and subnational innovation ecosystems, through these national networks we will support the launch of new hubs, support the contextualisation of the work that local hubs do to support their communities, build partnerships with national and subnational public and private sectors to support curation of relevant data that all parties need to develop and validate national innovation agendas.
Develop and deploy more inclusive, more valuable membership models, we understand hubs have different capacities to engage and contribute financially and we want our membership packages to reflect this.
We will also focus on developing a network of investors, corporates, media and academia interested in Pan African impact, provide thoughtful leadership and leading convenor on innovation and entrepreneurship policy issues across Africa. AfriLabs will bring together the key players in the field of innovation, policy and research on innovation to nurture the interaction between innovators and entrepreneurs, civil society organisations and public and private policy bodies at regional, national, sub-national level. We will shape debates, and contribute to advocacy efforts of AfriLabs members.
Diversify our team; in the course of the year we will ensure that the diversity of our membership is reflected in our presence and work across the continent as well as developing strategic partnerships.
Dreams Talks: What is your message to Afrilabs members?
Moetaz Helmy: Our Member hubs have so much power, skills and resources. We have to work all together to empower each other and be the change we want to see in our regional ecosystem. The sky’s the limit.
The 2022 Afrilabs Annual Gathering will be held in Lusaka, Zambia, from October 25-28, and will be hosted by Jacaranda Hub.