High-Impact Entrepreneurship

eMBA field report: in Egypt, change is in the air

Nate Wong is an MBA student at Yale University’s School of Management. He is interning with Hindawi in Egypt through Endeavor’s eMBA Program.

As I disembarked the aircraft in Cairo, I was not fully prepared for the mix of excitement and frenzy that would take place over the next few weeks. I arrived at the peak of Egypt’s runoff elections – an historic time for Egyptians and a culmination of the infamous 18-day revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak last February. For the first time in history, Egyptians would usher in a democratically-elected president. For much of the younger generation, it would be the second president they had ever witnessed. The next couple weeks were an emotional roller coaster. Tensions rose over the election results and rumors sparked of Mubarak’s impending death. They proved to be false. “Shafik or Morsi?” seemed to be the dominant question in the streets as everyone eagerly tried to learn which candidate others had voted for.

Tahrir Square, the famous location of Egypt’s historic revolution, was again full of protests, which I was able to experience firsthand. Tahrir is separated into two or three “stages” where different protesters state their claims and rally the crowd. One night, there was a large demonstration of Morsi supporters. The massive crowd became denser as I walked toward it. It was still relatively small in comparison to the revolution crowds last January and February. Vendors were interspersed among the protesters. The smell of freshly grilled corn wafted through the air. Supplying a host of items from flags and lights to corn, candy, and even clubs, these vendors were very entrepreneurial in their business endeavors: they had mobilized quickly to accommodate the swarms of assembled people.

This entrepreneurial attitude pervades Egypt as a whole, perhaps as a result of its changing political landscape. The Arab Spring has brought with it numerous challenges both political and financial. For examples, the revolution created a sharp decline in tourism, which was a major source of revenue for the country. These challenges have pushed Egyptian companies to innovate and think beyond country borders to capitalize on opportunities.

This summer, I have been given the opportunity to work for Hindawi Publishing Company, a company which has taken the entrepreneurial mantra to heart and created a new model for “open access” in the publishing world. The company has grown exponentially over the past few years, tripling its revenues and expanding its operations to over 500 employees, with further plans for expansion underway. Largely based on lessons learned from the publishing world, in 2008, Hindawi created a new division called uFollow, a website that allows users to follow their favorite bloggers and columnists, no matter where they publish, all in one place. uFollow’s author-centric model flips the conventional blog search on its head by expanding search criteria from content and sources to authors and citations. uFollow currently tracks more than 150,000 bloggers and columnists from over 4,800 leading blogs, magazines, and newspapers. It is the brainchild of Endeavor Entrepreneur Ahmed Hindawi, along with Paul Peters. They anticipated the increasing trend towards electronic publications and blogs and the need to develop a highly-parsed and clean database for the blogosphere. After four years, uFollow has developed into a robust blog search engine and a resource for users to follow their favorite topics, authors, and sources.

In my role this summer, I am helping Ahmed and Paul to launch uFollow’s Top 100 Author and Sources site, which is one of the first sites to calculate top authors. Its algorithm is based on the number of citations that a given author receives from other articles in the uFollow system, excluding any internal references from the same source or self-citations.

Aside from my time in the office, I have taken full advantage of being in Cairo during this monumental time. Nestled on a small island in Cairo, I am staying in Zamalek, which is about a 10-minute drive to Tahrir Square, with great views of the Nile. Despite the traffic, I have been able to explore Cairo and other sites in Egypt, including the famous Giza pyramids; Khan el-Khalili, one of the oldest markets or souks in Egypt; the Egyptian Museum, which houses King Tut’s mummy and a myriad of other artifacts from Egypt’s great past; and even experienced Faluka sailboat ride on the Nile. The food in Egypt, despite the high prices of wine – only found in certain restaurants and expatriate communities – has been another highlight. From traditional Egyptian dishes such as Molokheyya, Koshari, Taameya (falafel), and Foul, to the fresh guava, peach, mango, and watermelon juices, my foodie palette has been very well rewarded. But one of the most unique experiences within Cairo by far is the ability to order just about anything from food to medicine – it’s just a quick phone call or, in many cases, click away! I am looking forward to my remaining weeks here in Egypt, especially with Ramadan quickly approaching. I am excited to continue to work with the team at Hindawi and uFollow and am hoping to explore sites beyond Cairo, including Alexandria, Luxor, Sharm!

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