MEET MAZEN HELMY: THE YOUNG MAN WHO MAKES CO-WORKING SPACE WORK IN EGYPT
Mazen Helmy is the Founder and MD at The District, a pioneering co-working space in Egypt. In February 2014, Mazen was listed in Forbes 30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa.
It’s great to have you on Under35CEO today. Could you please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?
My name is Mazen Helmy. I’m a 27 year old Egyptian and I studied civil engineering at Cairo University. I started The District in 2011, a pioneering co-working space in the region.
Tell us about The District.
The District Co-working Space launched in November 2011 and at that time, it was the first Egyptian co-working space. Since then, The District has grown to become an attraction hub for Egyptian entrepreneurs. The District has seen hundreds of different people coming in monthly through its doors and its community of entrepreneurs is growing significantly. At the moment we’re proud to have a total of 1000 sqm of co-working, meeting and event spaces and our own deli space.
How did you get started with The District?
The District as an idea has been developing and evolving since 2009. At the time, the idea was just a social gathering place for visionaries and entrepreneurs. Eventually it has been growing to cover a wider array of activities; allowing for professional and social life to coexist under one roof. We started the space from personal savings from the 4 founders (myself and 3 others).
What has been your biggest challenge (and/or sacrifice)?
Since we started, we’ve been through many challenges; starting from actually finding the right location and getting the landlord to understand what we wanted to do. Another challenge was trying to introduce the concept of co-working and collaboration into Egyptian society. Luckily, with every major challenge we have been through, we came out with a priceless lesson learned.
The District was all funded through personal investment. We started very basic and stayed for two years injecting all revenue we made into improving the space and growing our community.
We don’t measure profitability just by the amount of members we need to sustain it. We consider anyone engaged by any means with The District as valuable community members. To sustain ourselves, we operate through several revenue streams including membership fees, rental of meeting spaces, events and workshops and of course, The Cairo Deli cafe. We believe diversifying our revenue streams might also lead to diversifying our community and help it grow.
You’re the first to make co-working concept work in Egypt. Tell us how you did it.
I think The District actually worked because of our community. Since day one, we started with zero community members and now we’re proud to have thousands. We managed to do this by having a strong belief in what we’re building, persistence and ongoing reflection of our mistakes and how to avoid them.
How did you grow The District into what it is today?
The District grew into what it is today by bringing on board the right team members; people who are driven by passion and strong belief. In addition we’re constantly trying to keep our community always flat and decentralized.
What are some of the biggest benefits of co-working?
Personally, I think the benefits of co-working is the constant amount of inspiration and energy you can get through this very dynamic experience and the exceptional people you might interact with.
Is The District specialized towards a particular audience or generally open, and has that worked for you?
Our community is open. We leave our model to select its own candidates. The community welcomes or rejects unanimously its members. This is truly our concept. If it doesn’t represent you and you’re beliefs, then you don’t fit.
We generally classify our community members are usually characterized by 4 main things: Doers – Positive thinkers – Innovators – Collaborators.
What terrified you the most at startup but turned out to be nothing?
The legality of the startups and business in general. Also, the acceptance of the market is usually difficult to determine when starting out.
What’s your next big project
A huge art space for everyone involved in the creative industry.
What do you think about Under35CEO.co?
Great initiative to facilitate the access to experience, knowledge and success stories of young visionaries and entrepreneurs.
Best bit of advice for someone considering opening a co-working space?
Strong belief, persistence and empowerment of the community.
Thank you Under35CEO for the opportunity to further expose our concept. I’m looking forward to reading more stories about successful entrepreneurs in our region.
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