- A Google bus will travel Egypt looking for tech entrepreneurs
- The company is holding a year-long competition for tech start-ups
- The winner gets $200,000 from the Silicon Valley company
- Finalists get a chance to pitch ideas to start-up investors from the U.S.
Tech helped fuel Egypt's revolution. Now it could put the country get on the path toward a more stable democracy.
At least that's the hope of Google, which is kicking off a program called Ebda2 -- Arabic for "start" -- to fund and otherwise support emerging technology companies in Egypt.
"We believe technology will actually change the economics of this part of the world -- will change the culture of this part of the world -- and it will have a political impact," said Wael Fakharany, Google's country manager in Egypt. "We believe it is absolutely the right time to give people hopes and dreams -- not to be rich and famous, but hopes and dreams to be helpful."
On Monday, Google employees plan to start a tour of Egypt in a bus that's emblazoned with the Google logo. They'll be searching for would-be tech entrepreneurs who might be interested in entering a 7-month competition for tech start-ups. The winner, which will be announced in May, will get a $200,000 prize from Google. Other finalists will have a chance to pitch their ideas in front of Silicon Valley investors at an event in Cairo, Fakharany said.
"Google is looking for the next Google in the Middle East," said Maha Abouelenein, a Google spokeswoman. She added that Google was started by two entrepreneurs who got a check for $100,000 -- half the amount of the Egypt prize.
This type of project -- where Google has invested in a start-up competition to support the tech industry of a particular country -- is a first for the Mountain View, California, company, she said.
Google employees and Egyptian tech entrepreneurs will offer mentoring and advice to contestants along the way. Two independent organizations will administer the contest, in an effort to allow the start-ups to have a fair shot at the prize even if they build products using technology from Google's competitors -- like Microsoft or Facebook.
Hussein El-Sheikh, managing partner at ProSeed Advisory, a consulting group based in Cairo, Egypt, said he thinks the Google program will benefit young people in the country who want to start tech-focused businesses.
"I believe that very soon Egypt will become the tech hub," he wrote in an e-mail.
Much has been made of the role technology played in toppling the 30-year rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in a revolution that began on January 25. Some protestors used Facebook events and Twitter status updates to organize their movement in a country where public demonstrations and organizations were formally banned by the state.
In the wake of that successful revolution, some people again are looking to the tech sector to bolster the country's transition to a more-open democracy and economy.
Google believes it can support this transition.
"There is a negative sentiment, obviously, about Egypt (after the revolution)," Fakharany said. "We want to show people that in spite of the changes and the political turmoil that there is actually hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel."
But the company's plans to invest in Egypt's tech sector actually started in 2009, before the revolution, said Fakharany.
At that time, Egypt paid Google $10 million for advertisements designed to better position the country online as a tourist destination, he said. As part of that deal, Google agreed to invest $2.5 million in Egypt's Internet infrastructure. The $200,000 contest for entrepreneurs is the first project that comes as part of that investment, Fakharany said.