Since 2019, the Africa Business Heroes (ABH) prize established by the Jack Ma Foundation works to support African entrepreneurs with grant funding awards to the top 10 outstanding entrepreneurs every 10 years. 2021 presents the third edition of grant funding for this program and broader support for the African entrepreneurial ecosystem. PraxiLabs, one of the finalists is a platform providing 3D interactive and immersive online science labs for university students.
To mark the promotion to the top 10, Tech in Africa held a Q&A with Khadija Mohamed Elbedweihy, Praxilabs Founder.
You made it to the top 10 ABH female entrepreneurs from a pool of 20,000 applicants. How does it feel?
It definitely feels amazing and makes us all proud, not just myself, as all the team behind PraxiLabs was a reason for me getting this far. I believe in our vision and in what we want to do and the impact we can have on millions if not billions of lives out there and I guess it is our passion that came through to the judges and made them also believe in us.
How did you get to know about the ABH competition?
We have been following ABH since it started and are big fans of the work ABH does, we even applied last year but didn’t make the cut back then, but this year we believe we had more impact and progress to get us to be selected.
Tell us a little more about PraxiLabs and what solution it seeks to provide in Egypt and in Africa?
PraxiLabs is a platform providing 3D interactive and immersive online science labs for university students, not only to increase practice, but also to allow experiments that are usually not doable because of money, time, or safety constraints.
We focus on the lack of STEM graduates and on how to enhance science education to have more scientists who can solve more problems facing the world today – whether global warming or COVID or even economic challenges. We do that by allowing students to practice as much as possible in a safe environment which they can access anytime from anywhere until they learn the concepts at hand to improve their learning outcomes but also their motivation and retention.
What motivated you to create PraxiLabs?
My personal and professional experience and time spent during my Ph.D. around many science students led me to realize the importance of laboratories and experimenting for them in increasing their understanding of a specific concept and indeed their engagement and motivation to learn more. I realized both the importance and at the same time, severe obstacles/challenges educational institutions are faced with. Student safety hazards, high costs, ethical challenges, limited access for students, lack of engagement and student interest, and high churn rates are only some of the many problems that traditional science labs and science education are facing. This led me to want to make a positive impact on education and aid in creating better opportunities and advanced levels for future generations.
Entrepreneurship has its easy and tough times. How have you navigated past the Covid-19 pandemic in the current business climate?
Before Covid, our main challenge was about changing the mentality of stakeholders in the decision-making process to show them the value of virtual labs and all their benefits. The pandemic helped so much (like most EdTech platforms) in changing the educators’ resistance to try EdTech solutions. After that, now universities and professors have seen the value and know-how their students can benefit and improve their learning outcomes.
Fundraising is another challenge usually for all startups but even harder in EdTech and in the MENA region, but we are seeing progress now and we hope we will be able to close our next fundraising round by the end of the year.
What are the key takeaways from the ABH competition?
While I learned a lot from the great mentoring and the amazing process, I think what affected me the most is learning about all these other great startups coming from African countries and doing amazing work to build a better future for our home and one day position our continent amongst the leading continents in the world and not as emerging markets as we are today. Not to mention the exposure that we got after being selected as one of the top 10 in ABH which is not only very prestigious in terms of showing our impact to the world but also acts as credibility and assurance to what we do and a huge motivation to the whole team.
What advice do you have for young women in Egypt and elsewhere in Africa who would like to succeed as female entrepreneurs?
I believe women founders are adding to the ecosystem a different perspective as they have a lot of unique experiences. Women, especially mothers, excel at multitasking and working under pressure and stress. I believe they can do everything else too.
I have seen many female entrepreneurs in my network, and they are so committed, persistent, and resilient. Some of them act as role models like Amal Dokhan – CEO, Global Entrepreneurship Network, KSA. I believe this is what other young women should do – believe in themselves and their abilities yet at the same time be humble enough and open to accept advice when needed and indeed from the right person.
Besides the prize money you hope to receive at the end of the competition this year, what other opportunities have you reaped from the ABH initiative?
We have not only got exposure being in the top 10, but also received different networking opportunities, help from the whole ABH team, mentors, and other related parties where we got more feedback and more support to work closely with us on any challenges or objectives such as penetrating the African market.
Many other startups in Egypt may be interested in applying to the 2022 ABH competition to reap its benefits. Any tips you can give them so they prepare adequately?
It’s all about focusing on the impact, but not forgetting that it is still a business at the end of the day. So do focus on enhancing as many lives as possible and making a difference in Africa, but don’t forget the business side or you won’t be able to sustain it.
Any comments to the ABH organizers?
Nothing really except wanting to thank the whole team behind ABH. They are doing a great thing and impacting millions of lives implicitly by helping startups do that. They are doing it in the most efficient and effective way with organizers on top of everything. Everyone is very professional, great mentors, and hoping they can keep it up and keep pushing Africa towards where it really deserves to be – a rich, advanced, and prosperous continent.
We shall keep tabs on the progress of Praxilabs and its future developments through feature-length articles.