As a founder of Injaz Egypt, a pioneering organization in the Egyptian entrepreneurial ecosystem, we had the utmost pleasure of interviewing a person as inspiring as Dina El Mofty and to hear about what she has learned on her journey and her advice for any entrepreneur at the beginning of their own journey.
El Mofty started by giving us a little insight into her background as a fresh AUC graduate (and also a newlywed and mother !!!) receiving an opportunity to pilot a program focused on promoting entrepreneurial programs in schools and universities by the name of *drum roll* Injaz Egypt. The initial idea was to spread a culture of entrepreneurship and work on developing students’ abilities and skills that could aid them once they enter the job market. This was done by “Egyptianizing” programs and curriculums that they had access to and introducing them to schools and universities in the country to be taught by volunteers. Eventually, the major success of the program that reached more than 800,000 students across Egypt resulted in countless of the program graduates catching “the entrepreneurial bug.” From there came the launch of Injaz’s startup accelerator in 2011 to support entrepreneurs launch and scale their businesses.
El Mofty, then, started reflecting on how much the Egyptian culture, and in turn, the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Egypt has developed and grown in the past two decades. The change from “nothing 20 years ago to a booming ecosystem” today fuels her belief that “it’s only going to grow bigger” and “get better.”
We moved onto the topic of fear as El Mofty recounted her feelings of self-doubt as a fresh graduate starting Injaz Egypt and she shared her belief that being extremely focused and passionate can fuel you and allow you to move forward despite any self-doubts. In her own words, “you become kind of unstoppable.” She continued by describing the non-stop obstacles that will inevitably come up in anyone’s journey trying to create something and advised entrepreneurs to be very self-motivated so that they are not influenced by other people’s doubts or negative opinions. “When you’re confident in what you’re doing, it gives you this sense of certainty. [So] when you work on yourself from the inside, you are kind of invincible from the outside.” And yet, she did highlight the difference between being open to feedback and being affected by people’s doubts of you by stressing the importance of not being easily influenced by others’ opinions while also being open to constructive criticism.
Because of Meet Silicon Valley, an extremely important initiative that takes Egyptian entrepreneurs on a tour of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurship ecosystem, we had to discuss with El Mofty networking and its importance. “It’s irreplaceable,” she described it, as she talked about the line that separates an “ecosystem” from an “ego-system” where everyone is working on their own, thus not allowing growth as a collective to occur and not allowing the ecosystem to flourish. “I would definitely advise anyone who wants to start a business to surround themselves with mentors.” She also reassured anyone who feels that they need advice, mentoring, or support to always reach out because “anyone would be willing to help.”
She also shared with us her recent realization that she did not need to be as shy or apprehensive as she used to be when it came to pitching or putting herself out there, especially as a young woman, as she recognizes that there really is nothing to lose. “Just try it out and if it doesn’t work out, it’s okay, and you move on.”
As for being a good leader as an entrepreneur, El Mofty’s opinion was that it consists of multiple things. Firstly, she stressed the importance of working on yourself from the inside in order to develop the emotional intelligence required when leading. Secondly, when it comes to building a team, she pointed out the importance of picking people who are “as passionate about what you’re doing as you are.” She explained that “if you recruit these kinds of people, they will be with you in the long term.” Lastly, she believes that a leader must work on the culture of their organization. And this also extends back to the importance of hiring people who share your same values and mentality and who will, therefore, be able to fit into the culture you are trying to build. She described how in the early days in Injaz Egypt, they made the mistake of hiring people who were very impressive and experienced but who did not fit into the organization’s culture. And from that, she learned how irreplaceable it is to hire people who fit into the culture that you are building.
When asked about whether she believes entrepreneurs should be focusing on the end goal or if they should allow themselves to fall in love with the process itself, she discussed how a lot of people got “excited by the whole hype, growth, and success of a lot of startups and entrepreneurs.” And so, she would advise anyone feeling that excitement to really be honest with themselves and not simply be “lured in by a trend” because being an entrepreneur is extremely challenging. Therefore, you need to be completely honest with yourself about if running a business is for you and whether the entrepreneurial space is the right space for you or not. “It’s not about the journey, or the process, or the end goal. It’s really about being honest with yourself about what excites you and interests you and taking it from there. I think that is the starting point.”
And finally, because, as an entity, we aim to support entrepreneurs and spread the spirit of entrepreneurship, we wanted to understand what El Mofty looked for in an entrepreneur. To that, she said, “someone who is very confident in what they are pitching but also knowledgeable in the ins and outs of their business.” “It’s experience paired with confidence,” she added.