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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: Culture
The story of Schaduf and its origins is one of remarkable chance and circumstance. Sherif Hosny, with over a decade of experience in product management and business development, left his lucrative job in Dubai to travel the world and “do something different.” In his travels through Africa, he encountered fellow travelers who spoke of their experiences with WOOF (Worldwide Opportunities for Organic Farmers), an organization that places volunteers to work in organic farms across the globe. Intrigued, Hosny and his brother signed up and found themselves on their way to the U.S. Volunteering on a farm in Louisiana, they learned about a soil-less agricultural technology called aquaponics. Their host, a farmer who aimed to use this technology to help families who had lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina, enlisted their help and expertise in developing a viable business plan.
“We came up with the idea of reducing the size of this farm so that people could install it in their backyards. It’s a soil-less agriculture; you don’t need an agricultural land [and] you can just do it anywhere. Then we thought about what we can do with Egypt. We have all these rooftops and they are pretty ugly and we have lots of people who need jobs. So that’s how we came up with the idea.”
In launching Schaduf, Hosny has faced a myriad of challenges. He admits that while he has the necessary business background, he is not a farmer. Much of his time is spent acquiring technical know-how. To compensate, Schaduf has found a creative solution by hiring graduate and post-graduate students with knowledge in agricultural technology. “We offered them to use our farms as testing labs… so we can pay them a bit and they also benefit,” he explains.
On a more personal note, Hosny confessed that one of the most difficult obstacles to pursuing his career as an entrepreneur stemmed from his family and friends. “I think the people who really care about you are the ones that oppose you the most. It’s natural because they are afraid. Not everybody has this idea of entrepreneurship and taking a risk and all that. It’s not that easy to face all these people in the beginning.”
Countering some of those pessimists, Schaduf had the benefit of meeting with venture capitalists, some of whom specialized in start-ups, at the 2012 MIT Business Plan Competition workshop in Abu Dhabi. In addition to the networking advantages, Schaduf came away from the workshop with new ideas and a fresh perspective on how to move forward with their company. The two most valuable lessons learnt, according to Hosny, were the importance of building a strong team and the vast potential of social media to build one’s business.
Since being named one of the 14 finalists if in this year’s MIT Arab Business Plan Competition – selected from a highly competitive pool of nearly 5,000 unique applications and 50 semifinalist teams – Hosny and Hosny have met with potential investors, but prefer to take the slow and steady road. Schaduf is now focusing on research and development in order to lower costs and make their farms affordable for everyone. They have also begun an awareness raising campaign about rooftop farming and are growing their network of contacts with investors, NGOs, volunteers, and potential customers.
Hosny has a grand vision for the future of Schaduf. “I think the sky is the limit because once this idea starts to spread, it can really go everywhere fast … We can replicate the model in different cities in different countries.” By exporting this social venture and bringing urban farming to the rooftops of Arab cities, Schaduf looks beyond its own entrepreneurial aspirations and reaches for something greater, the well-being of Arab communities.By Maria Teresa Vanikiotis, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: Walwyn
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