Exclusive Q&A with Amir Hegazi, Author of Ecosystem Arabia
Author of Startup Arabia and Managing Partner of intoMENA Group, Amir Hegazi, has published a new book, Ecosystem Arabia: The Making of New Economy.
Amir Hegazi is a lifelong entrepreneur, with over 20 years of startup, tech, e-commerce, and digital media experience. He is the Managing Partner of intoMENA Group, a consulting firm that helps international companies do business into the MENA region. Amir was previously the Director of Marketplace at Souq.com, the region’s largest e-commerce platform (acquired by Amazon). He helped build Souq.com’s marketplace from the ground up to account for a sizable portion of overall sales volume. He is also one of the early pioneers of digital media in the region, having launched the largest online TV network in the Arab world at such companies as JumpTV and Talfazat. He is also an adviser on tech startups, entrepreneurial ecosystems, and go-to-market and e-commerce strategies for ministers, policy-makers, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. Hegazi is the author of Amazon bestsellers Ecosystem Arabia and Startup Arabia, which was recognised as one of the top global startup books of 2019. Amir is Egyptian-American. He grew up in California and has been living and working in MENA since 2005.
MAGNiTT had a brief opportunity to chat with Amir virtually about his new book, with an excerpt of that discussion below:
1- Tell us a bit about your journey creating this book.
First and foremost, I hope everyone is healthy and positive. I also must emphasise how important it is—as individuals and communities, and nations—to continue moving forward even in the midst of uncertain times.
To answer your question, I became very interested in the topic of ecosystem development in general and as it pertains to the MENA region specifically around four years ago. This was around the same time I was working on my first book, Startup Arabia. However, it wasn’t until August, 2019 that I decided to put pen to paper and go full force on this extensive undertaking and utilising the research methodology I had ultimately used, namely sourcing and organising the best perspectives and ideas out there on the subject and presenting into a coherent, comprehensive form. Initially, I didn’t have a particular outcome in mind. I simply approached the project with a blank slate and the sense that, “If I’m able to engage the brightest, most impactful, and most passionate individuals on the topic, including both global and regional thought leaders, experts, and players, there will be plenty of interesting content that will help provide many answers to common ecosystem problems.”
On one hand this assumption proved to be spot on. On the other, I had not anticipated the number of new issues that surfaced as well. As I delved deeper into the subject, the scope of the project significantly magnified and it became quite apparent that there are layers upon layers of topics that need to be addressed and straight-forward answers were not always available, i.e., things were rarely black and white as you might expect from the outset. So, it was never as simple as, “If you want to develop your ecosystem, do X initiative or Y program.” Just like any commercial or entrepreneurial venture, there are no sure-fire formulas that guarantee success. Certainly, there are guiding principles and best practices out there which can be of value, nevertheless there are no shortcuts so to speak. There is no substitute for “doing one’s homework” when it comes to ecosystem development; context, timing, and execution are all critical factors.
It also became quite clear to me early on that while there are plenty of committed, hard-working, seasoned players shaping the regional ecosystem as we speak—many of whom are subject-matter experts in their own particular line of work—there is what I call “fragmented wisdom.” When, in reality, what is needed was more of a sort of “collective wisdom,” in the form of an informational or repository or reference destination, that can be harnessed by all stakeholders and serve as common framework for communication and ground for collaboration in general.
Finally, call it patriotism, I felt compelled to help shed light on the “other side of the story” about the region, which is often misrepresented or at least under-represented in mainstream global media. So, that’s also one of the key objectives of the book.
I’m proud of the final product and trust that readers will see its value as well. I’m deeply grateful to the dozens and dozens of generous contributors who made this book possible—whom without this work would have been a mere one-man bias take—and instead it has evolved into a rich, diverse, and balanced coverage of the MENA business environment from just about every aspect there is. That said, it’s up to us now to process these ideas and findings contained in book, share with other ecosystem participants and like-minded individuals, develop our own thinking, and ultimately put in action where appropriate.
2- In a nutshell, what is Ecosystem Arabia is all about?
Ecosystem Arabia aggregates 100+ of the most influential experts and thought leaders on the topic of entrepreneurial ecosystem development, as well as some of the most impactful figures on the MENA ecosystem. In essence, the book is a selected collection of one-on-one interviews with top global and local leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, accelerators, service providers, media professionals, educators, policy-makers, and ministers.
It covers topics such as the building blocks of a thriving ecosystem; what is not working in ecosystem development globally; the current state of the MENA startup and tech ecosystem, its evolution and outlook; where are the gaps in such areas as funding, talent, cost, and regulations; the main challenges entrepreneurs face in this region and what can be done to tackle them; how to attract international talent, companies, and investment; how to foster practical education and 21st century skills training; how to create a more innovation-friendly culture and regulations; the most exciting sectors and tech opportunities in this part of the world; and international best practices on ecosystem development.
3- What do you hope readers of this book take-way after reading?
My biggest hope is that Ecosystem Arabia will become the go-to reference tool for ecosystem builders in the region and beyond—not merely in terms of providing some answers (ecosystems, by definition, are dynamic environments and there’s no one solution-fit-all), but more importantly in terms of surfacing issues and raising questions, and providing food for thoughts and framework for approaching the topic in general. Ultimately, Ecosystem Arabia provides a comprehensive blueprint of how cities and countries can approach nurturing and growing their own new, knowledge-based economies.
To quote a brief excerpt from the book: ultimately, my “moonshot” aim for Ecosystem Arabia is to help educate and inspire ecosystem builders—both in the Arab world and around the globe—to make the further necessary changes needed to build their local ecosystems and revive their new economies.
Meanwhile, I hope to provide an insider view into the current state and inner workings of the MENA region for globally minded individuals and organizations interested in doing business there. Additionally, I believe it’s the right time for those players to step back and take a fresh look at the evolving realities of the region and take account of the tremendous opportunities within. I acknowledge that this is not an as easy feat in the midst of all the surrounding negative noise from the media and elsewhere. It certainly takes curious and courageous minds that are willing to unlearn much of what they already know about the region and be willing, instead, to put on an entirely new lens and see it unfiltered.
I invite readers to join me and all of the contributors who collectively made this book possible, and who are as passionate as I am about helping to make a positive change. To them, and to the rest of the ecosystem builders in the MENA region and worldwide, and to you, I say: thank you for your invaluable efforts. I wish you a rewarding journey ahead.
Please stay safe.
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