Meet the man behind Cairo’s co-working movement
As Middle Eastern governments push a high-priority agenda to nurture SMEs, co-work spaces are a crucial tool in strengthening local entrepreneurship ecosystems.
Co-working offices have begun to enter the regional market, but still occupy just one percent of Middle East office stock compared to rates of four percent in London, according to management consultants Deloitte.
It is estimated that there will be up to 30,000 worldwide co-working locations by 2022, up from 7,800 in 2015, representing a compound annual growth rate of 31 percent, says global co-working body GCUC.
Co-working spaces can provide critical access to like-minded peers, knowledge, SME services and mentors – as well as a sense of community. One man who is keenly aware of the benefits of shared working is Muhammad Nagi, co-founder and managing director of Egypt-founded workspace hub MQR (formerly AlMaqarr).
With three locations spread across Cairo and the Red Sea, MQR aims to provide a “synergistic” environment for idea-stage entrepreneurs and freelancers.
According to Nagi, the workspace network allows members to collaborate and transform their ideas into sustainable projects and businesses. Each office offers a range of features, such as physical office space, events calendars, online networking and meeting rooms.
Above all, MQR manages a vast community, which includes startups, student organizations, social initiatives and freelancers.
Nagi says: “We try to provide an organic environment for idea-stage entrepreneurs to collaborate and gain support to be able to further their projects and businesses.
“What we do is more than a physical space – it’s a collaborative, inclusive community where everyone supports everyone. We always think of how we can empower our members and connect them to the needed resources.”
But when MQR first launched in 2012, it was far from plain sailing. According to the managing director, the concept of co-working in Egypt – and even globally – was nascent. “No one understood what we were doing or believed in the value that we might bring,” he says.
In recent years, the MQR team has rallied to raise awareness about the value of co-working spaces for boosting entrepreneurial productivity and building diversified networks of like-minded individuals.
However, Nagi explains that validating the co-work concept also needed to be followed up by delivering on a profitable and scalable business model. “It took some time before we found a formula that made the co-spaces industry as attractive as other industries for investments,” he says.
MQR, which was the first regional co-working space to raise funds in 2018, is focused on both social and business impact. After a few weeks closure following the global COVID-19 pandemic, the offices recently re-opened with new branding.
Nagi says: “In times like this when the focus is on accelerating national growth, startups and SMEs should be considered one of the main economic pillars.”
The MQR co-founder says building, connecting and empowering the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Egypt is a “collective” mission that will lead to direct and sizeable economic benefits.
“Startups are key, and innovative ideas can dramatically contribute not only economy growth, but also to solving social problems, decreasing unemployment rates and helping the government create a well-developed infrastructure that is automated and digitised,” explains Nagi.
The veteran entrepreneur advises potential start-ups to simply ‘go for it’ when starting a new business venture.
“We have been dealing with creative people who have brilliant ideas in their heads and are afraid to take the risk to transform them into sustainable projects. We keep telling people not to invest too much time in planning because they will never be 100% ready,” he advises.
“Just gather your thoughts and draw your initial direction, then hit the market to validate what you are thinking about. Don’t be afraid to take the risk. Take a leap of faith and be assured that it’s going to be one hell of a ride with so many valuable lessons.”