When Islam Mahdy and Hend learned that their son, Anas, had been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, they wanted to focus on his skills and learning development through the use of interactive toys. However, they quickly realized that the Egyptian market is flooded with extremely expensive imported toys, very few of which are specialized in developing the learning capabilities of children with special needs. Their challenge was to find local alternatives that were high quality and affordable.
Seeing that this would potentially remain an obstacle in the learning and development of Anas and other children like him, Islam and Hend decided to begin their own line of local toy production, which would be high-quality and more affordable. They tested these toys with Anas, along with specialists (primarily doctors and psychologists), who validated the toys as useful for children with similar needs. The results showed that children were positively responding and that the toys were proving themselves to be extremely helpful in the learning process. Islam and Hend started the business modelling process.
At first, the couple began working on a very small scale, selling products to their own social circle and making up to EGP 2,000 revenue per month. In 2016, they participated in the Nawah Business Plan Competition, a national competition that runs on yearly basis during the global entrepreneurship summit and after winning EGP 110,000, they officially launched their toy-manufacturing business, 7agat, which in Arabic means both ‘needs’ and ‘things.’
In 2017, the business faced difficulties in the manufacturing process of the toys, which requires high-tech machines and operational know-how. At this stage, 7agat joined the “Start-ups of Alex” incubation program run by IceAlex, a community-driven technology innovation space. The incubator, which is supported by USAID’s SEED project, provided Startups of Alex with several capacity-building trainings and was selected, among 10 others to join an Incubator Study Tour to the United States, where participants visited incubators in Washington D.C, Pittsburg, and Detroit to learn about the challenges they face and the best practices they adopt to tackle them.
7agat benefited from IceAlex’s incubation program on many different levels. First, the team learned how to plan and run its business and establish a viable business model canvas. Additionally, the team gained technical knowledge through a variety of trainings and workshops discussing advanced concepts such as lean production. During the past 6 months, 7agat’s 11 employees were able to generate 15,700EGP as a total amount of sales.
As a result of USAID SEED’s assistance through IceAlex, 7agat was able to increase its cumulative revenue growth by 325% over the past six months. As a result, the team expanded its distribution channels and began selling its products to children in schools, stationaries, and rehabilitation centers.