When Egypt’s Mostafa Hemdan saw a video a few years ago about how electronics thrown in the trash pollute the environment with hazardous metals, it got him thinking.
The video said that by recycling such items, people could keep hazardous materials out of landfills and recycle the parts for reuse in other items.
“I said to my friend,” Hemdan recalls, “‘Why not start a company in this field?’”
Five years later, Hemdan is the chief executive of RecycloBekia, one of the first companies in the Arab world to recycle electronic waste. The company’s name plays on the Egyptian Arabic term ruba bekia, which translates as “old stuff.”
Headquartered in Cairo, the business collects e-waste — ranging from old computers to cellphones — from nearly 50 companies and safely sorts and recycles the material. Some of the material is shipped overseas for further recycling.
Since launching in 2011, RecycloBekia has recycled 500 tons of e-waste from around Egypt. “There were a lot of challenges at the beginning,” Hemdan says. “I mean, there were a lot.”
Partners near and far
But global partners who believe in the power of Egyptian entrepreneurship have helped RecycloBekia overcome many of its challenges.
Like most fledgling entrepreneurs, Hemdan, 25 and from Tanta, and his peers (19 other students who shared his vision) needed capital to launch. They entered their business plan in the Injaz Egypt entrepreneurship competition and won the $10,000 first-place prize.
“Injaz played the best part in making us believe that you can make a company when you are a student,” Hemdan said. “It is very supportive to us and is always talking to people about RecycloBekia.”
Junior Achievement — an American-based, nonprofit youth-empowerment organization — started Injaz Al-Arab in 1999 to promote youth education and training in the Arab world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also connected RecycloBekia with Egyptian investors, who provide additional funding and guidance.
Charles Cooper, an executive MBA student from the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, mentors RecycloBekia employees in business practices through a local “think and do tank” called RISE Egypt. “[Cooper] is trying to help us in the operations setup, an employee handbook and an operations manual,” Hemdan said. “He is guiding us toward being a professional company.”
It’s working. RecycloBekia recently expanded to Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia and plans additional growth in the region.