THE INSTITUTE When Mohamed El Dallal was 16, he probably would not have described himself as an entrepreneur. But the shy, self-described “software and technology geek” was already running a small business from his home in Alexandria, Egypt.
That was in the 2000s, when Egypt had a closed economy. Access to computers wasn’t easy. El Dallal, now an IEEE member, sold and maintained cellphones as well as personal computers that he built by wiring together processors, hard drives, monitors, and other components. His bedroom resembled a warehouse. “I didn’t have a business model or strategy,” he says, “but I was good at it.”
Now almost 30, he has founded five startups in Alexandria. He runs a series of international business conferences, and he has given hundreds of talks on entrepreneurship and marketing in 28 countries. He is also an avid volunteer and has been a part of several nongovernmental organizations and active with local youth initiatives.
He volunteers for IEEE as well, serving as a member of several groups in IEEE Region 8 including its Action for Industry program, Entrepreneurship Initiative, and Professional and Educational Activities subcommittee. He was vice chair of IEEE Young Professionals and sat on the steering committee for IEEE N3XT, which seeks out ventures with engineering-driven innovation at their core that align with IEEE’s mission to advance technology for humanity. The program aims to help founders take their venture to the next level by connecting them with technical experts, funding sources, strategic partners, and news media exposure.
An early brush with IEEE as an undergraduate at Alexandria University changed his life, he says, setting him on an entrepreneurial path. He says it gave him confidence and taught him the public speaking, communication, leadership, and negotiation skills that have been vital to his success.
“I believe in the IEEE, and I believe in giving back,” he says. “It’s a cycle.” Knowledge increases by sharing, he says: “You learn more when you give.”
THINGS JUST CLICKED
El Dallal comes from a family of engineers. His father and most of his uncles and cousins are engineers. “Engineering was a natural career path,” he says. He studied both computer engineering and communications at Alexandria University while running his computer business on the side.
With the money he was earning, he decided to indulge in his other passion, photography, and bought himself a professional-grade camera. After trying his hand at photographing weddings and other events, he turned to photojournalism. He documented the 2011 Egyptian political revolution. His images were used by international news outlets and have been exhibited around the world.
His zeal for photography introduced him to IEEE. At the end of 2010, the university’s IEEE student branch approached him to photograph the speaker at a session being held by the IEEE Entrepreneurship group. The branch couldn’t pay El Dallal, but he decided to accept the assignment anyway.
“I believe in coincidences,” he says, “and this was meant to happen.”
Instead of leaving after the photo shoot as he usually did, he stuck around to listen to the talk, and he became fascinated.
“This was a tipping point in my life,” he says. “I started to see myself as an entrepreneur.” Even though he had been making money at his business for about seven years, he says, he didn’t really understand how to run a business.
El Dallal became an IEEE student member and then a volunteer for the branch. In 2012 he founded his first official startup, View Finders, a club that teaches the art of photography and videography. The venture is still in business, but El Dallal moved on.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in 2014, he helped to create Innovideas, a marketing consulting company that does branding, marketing campaigns, event and content management, and media production. His clients include embassies, governmental departments, and multinational companies in the Middle East and Europe.
El Dallal went on to enroll in an MBA program at the Arab Academy for Science, Technology, and Maritime Transport (AASTMT), also in Alexandria. While going to school, he helped to found another company, DCodes, which provided software solutions for Web development and mobile apps. It has since become part of Innovideas, where El Dallal is CEO.
He is a cofounder and board member of Techne Summit, a large, international entrepreneurship event that brings together technology innovators and business leaders.
“Imagine academics, local investors, startups, early-stage and mature companies, multinationals, government representatives sitting at the same table, networking, and learning from each other to build a better business ecosystem,” El Dallal says.
SKILLS FOR SUCCESS
El Dallal says he has learned just as much from his successes as he has from his failures. So, what does he think it takes to launch a successful startup?
“The team, the team, the team,” he says. “Investors pay for the team. Ideas are worthless on their own. I can give you a ton of ideas right now, but it’s all about implementation and presentation.”
In addition to a strong team of founders, another key to success is finding good employees—which can be difficult for startups because they are competing with large companies for the same talent.
“You might not get the best talent, but you need to get good talent and develop them,” he says.
El Dallal’s relentless focus on work took a toll on the high school swimmer and taekwondo champion. He fell ill and recuperation required months of bed rest and treatment. He recently started playing sports again and is training for a triathlon.
The serial entrepreneur has no intention of stopping. In January he started his doctor of business administration program at AASTMT. He says he is a planner and regularly establishes five- and 10-year goals. Pinned on his bedroom wall is a sheet of paper outlining his ultimate dream: to start a foundation that betters people’s lives by providing them with the knowledge, education, and financial help to pursue their dreams.
El Dallal says he owes a lot to what he learns by volunteering for IEEE, and paying that forward is just as important as fulfilling his dream. By contributing his time and knowledge about business with budding engineers, he says, he hopes to impact lives, just as IEEE impacted him.
He says that even if you have to travel many miles to give a talk, and you impact only a couple of people that day, you’ve made a difference.
“This is the best thing you can do in your entire life,” he says.