NOOR ADSL Founder and Chairman Basel Dalloul shares his success story from startup to successful communications enterprise.
by Noha Mohammed
Even though Basel Dalloul comes from an academic background in electrical engineering and computer science, the founder and chairman of NOOR ADSL has made a career out of managing dot coms and steering fledgling companies to local and regional success.
"This strong academic foundation, years of experience, and an endless love and curiosity for technology and its ability to seamlessly facilitate our daily routines — where technology works in the background in an unobtrusive way — set me on the journey I’ve been on for the past 30-plus years,” explains the self-proclaimed tech exec who admits he has what he calls “an insatiable appetite for all things tech, especially those which help the world we live in be a better place.” In an exclusive interview, he tells Egypt Today what it took to turn his fledgling company into a successful enterprise and talks about NOOR Cube, a recently launched incubator to help startups take their first steps.
NOOR is a startup that has managed to transition not only to a successful company but also an industry giant across Egypt. Can you tell us the inspirational story of your journey and success and what you’ve achieved since you first began?
NOOR is the internet service provider that is always associated with premium quality service, professional customer support and out-of-the-box non-traditional solutions. NOOR is deeply passionate about entrepreneurship; we ourselves began as an internet dial-up startup more than 16 years ago. NOOR was the first in the region to introduce the free internet dial-up concept 0777, ADSL Broadband, MPLS-VPN, and Carrier Class Data Center services, not only in Egypt, but in the region as a whole. NOOR left the consumer market in 2004 and chose to focus on the enterprise market, which it currently dominates. Today, we are very much the enterprise network of choice in Egypt. We boast clients such as Egypt’s Central Bank, the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchanges, the army, various ministries, multinationals, banks, brokers, hotels, malls, universities, schools, industries, airports, airlines, and enterprises around the country, including the international consortium that built the second artery of the Suez Canal.[caption id="attachment_480191" align="alignnone" width="620"] Basel Dalloul[/caption]
What are the challenges facing startups in Egypt? Do you feel these challenges are the same as the ones NOOR faced a decade and a half ago when it was starting up?
The challenges facing startups today are more or less the same as before, especially when it comes to legislation, finance and marketing needs, however the startup concept has become mainstream. Recent government announcements pertaining to encouraging micro and SMEs with subsidized access to funding may revolutionize the sector in the few years to come.
NOOR recently launched their own incubation services for startups. How are you helping new entrepreneurs?
As an ongoing part of NOOR’s vision, we take proactive steps to help others improve our world by investing in local communities and companies. NOOR Cube was established mid-2015 as a startup incubator designed to support the successful development of entrepreneurial companies that utilize technology and value-added services for the purpose of enhancing employment, poverty alleviation and citizens’ quality of life.
We support startups by providing an environment that helps foster, speed up the growth and enhance the success of selected opportunities through the provision of venture funding, access to mentorship, expertise and networking. Most importantly we adopt a hands-on approach. NOOR Cube serves the dual role of acting as an incubator and an accelerator, and makes available an entire ecosystem of resources and services, provided by partner companies, at the disposal of selected startups in order to help maintain their focus on their core competency. NOOR Cube has an LE 6 million fund aimed at opportunities that require financing that is halfway between seed funding and series A venture capital. The initial round of investments will be directed at 4-6 opportunities with ticket values ranging from LE 0.5 to 1.5 million. NOOR Cube has already invested in startups that work in the healthcare sector such as TabeebNet and the services sector such as Zabatnee.
Yousra El-Sisi landed our first ticket in NOOR Cube with Zabatnee, an online reservation platform that manages and automates the reservation and back-office processes of activity providers allowing them the capacity to better engage their customers. It is a convenient tool for users to access the various activities available in their communities such as nightlife, gyms, summer camps, car washes, training centers, car maintenance, hair salons, spas and much more. Zabatnee is a turnkey ICT service that adds value by providing software, hardware, connectivity and web-based services for the purpose of managing the activity provider/customer relationship.
What needs to be done to encourage the startup environment in Egypt? Particularly in light of rising unemployment rates and Egypt’s dire need to fill the huge gaps in certain sectors (including the environment, education, healthcare to name a few) with innovative solutions?
The startup ecosystem in Egypt needs to work on two main areas: the legislative and the financial. Legislation needs to support and not impede startups from working with the flexibility and dynamism they enjoy elsewhere; vesting shares in a startup should be facilitated by the law. The financial ecosystem should encourage work with startups, encourage access to funds from formal financial institutions and not impose restrictions that only robust, large organizations can meet. Moreover, access to funding beyond the initial seed funding phase is extremely limited in the country and is a significant impediment that most startups face when they need to scale.
The vast majority of start-ups the world over are tech-based, but here in Egypt internet services often leave much to be desired. How is NOOR countering this problems?
When a startup is offering a service/product (where possible) we make sure that the proper ecosystem the end customer is receiving is instilled in place. Accordingly, it is common practice for us to equip our target customer with the necessary technology over the core service being offered by the startup. This may include providing the necessary hardware, connectivity, support and maintenance and training needed to ensure that a seamless tech transition takes place and the focus is primarily on the core service being offered by the startup. This helps to significantly improve the chances of success for the startup.
The ISP market is heavily monopolized by one company, which has a lion’s share of 65%, despite rising customer complaints of increased prices and poor quality services. Last year, NOOR pioneered the move against this monopoly but talk of it gradually died down. What is the latest on this?
We expect talks with all the relevant stakeholders to resume soon as the dissemination of internet services has a significant impact on GDP and employment. Based on a study by the World Bank, every 10 percent increase in the broadband Internet penetration rate in emerging economies is correlated with an incremental GDP increase of 1.4 percent and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs. NOOR plans on playing a significant role in expanding the broadband user population from the existing 3 million (roughly 15 percent of all households) broadband subscribers to the government’s target of 9 million subscribers by 2020.
What is next for NOOR?
NOOR sees great potential and opportunity for growth in the Egyptian market across all of our services, especially our consumer broadband service. We will be investing aggressively in Egypt especially in the governorates and are looking to expand our offerings.