Local investment fuels startup culture abroad

In early March, “The Washington Post” reported Secretary of State John Kerry’s release of immediate aid to Egypt in an effort to boost economic development and inspire additional reform. Columbus-based inmobly, whose PAUL app The Metropreneur recently spotlighted, was born out of the Egyptian revolution and the company strongly believes in the importance of investing in Egypt’s startup community. It’s what the United States is doing, and it’s an effort near and dear to inmobly’s founders.

Hesham El Gamal — President and co-founder of inmobly

When I founded my company, inmobly, I not only wanted to improve mobile video viewing, I wanted to play a role in bridging the U.S.-Egypt divide. On a recent tour of the Middle East, Secretary of State John Kerry announced $250 million in economic aid for Egypt. This will hopefully encourage investors to give Egypt a second look. Our funding ultimately ended up coming from a more local source, in the form of an investment from TechColumbus. Named one of the Best Cities for Tech Jobs, the Columbus community and TechColumbus are playing an important role in supporting tech jobs and opportunities in Egypt and the U.S. through their support of inmobly.

My co-founder and I started a company in our homeland after the Egyptian government promised us an entrepreneurial grant. We dreamed of tapping the country’s sizable pool of smart, motivated young people while providing new opportunities to recent graduates of our alma mater, Cairo University. However, when the Egypt Revolution began, the grant fell through.

Though the loss of our funding left much in a state of uncertainty, our determination never waned. We dipped into our own pockets to pay developer salaries and forged onward. Ultimately, we launched our first product, a widely acclaimed Arabic news aggregator. For many Egyptians, our app became the primary source of news during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history.

Realizing there was no place like the United States for innovation and opportunity, we founded inmobly in the U.S., and established our company headquarters in Columbus. We fly developers to Ohio on a regular rotation, with the goal of exposing Egypt’s technology community to the city’s thriving startup ecosystem.

It is our hope that by giving the team firsthand exposure to U.S. culture, they will establish meaningful relationships with the people here and come to understand Americans as much more than the extreme archetypes portrayed on Egypt’s state-run television. Inspired by their experiences with a culture of innovation, these young developers return to Egypt energized and equipped with the knowledge to convince their peers in Egypt that Americans are, in fact, our ally.

I hope this collaborative, bi-national model, coupled with the ongoing show of support from the local Columbus community and the United States government, will encourage other organizations from the public and private sectors to give Egypt a second look. With additional investments in the region, Egypt will be empowered to stabilize and finally emerge as a viable force within the startup ecosystem.