As we inch closer to the New Year, a number of urbantech innovators and enthusiasts are gathering under one roof – KMT House. Urban news platform progrss is teaming up with its sister co-working space District Spaces, with support from Drosos Foundation, to launch KMT (say: kemet) in January 2018.
Kemet is an Ancient Egyptian word that means the black soil of the Nile, and refers to creating order after chaos.
“Urbantech” is a relatively nascent field that encompasses the technological innovations and solutions developed by entrepreneurs to make cities more sustainable, liveable and resilient. KMT House is designed to embrace entrepreneurs, builders and executors of ideas around Cairo. who all strive to “make the city work.” It is an inclusive incubator of urban innovation, located in the heart of the leafy suburb of Maadi, right off of El-Lewaa Tahsen Shanan square.
“In the last two years, we have covered hundreds of startups and creative initiatives around the world that aim to make cities more resilient and smarter,” Mohamed Helmy, founder and CEO of progrss and KMT House. “We became so inspired by what we learned that we decided to create an open hub for innovation in our own hometown – Cairo – to host our team and lead the creation of an urbantech ecosystem in Egypt.”
Helmy established progrss in October 2015 to cover urban innovation in cities across the world. progrss believes that six core characteristics are necessary for any city to have a bright, inclusive future. Those are: soulfulness, sustainability, empowerment, resilience, innovation, and collaboration.
One key player in this tri-partite launch is District Spaces – a place for doers seeking a space to brainstorm and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs as they transform their ideas into real-life solutions.
“Since our launch back in 2011, we have been working with a clear vision and deep commitment to build communities of innovators and doers – in all domains – who are looking to disrupt the status quo. Through this strategic partnership with progrss to launch KMT house as the first urbantech hub in the region, we will be able to materialize and strengthen our community’s impact in more urban fields to re-imagine the city where our community lives,” says Mazen Helmy, founder of District Spaces.
Drosos Foundation is a private non-profit organization established in Switzerland in late 2003. The foundation aims to support people in difficult circumstances to live a life of dignity through projects in Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Switzerland, and Germany. In Egypt, Drosos Foundation focuses on strengthening partnerships and capacity-building through its supported projects on economic development, entrepreneurship, promoting creativity, and supporting creative economies. Drosos Foundation is ideologically, politically and religiously independent.
Drosos has been involved in some 100 projects working on combating poverty, promoting health, protecting the environment and increasing access to education. Through launching KMT House and inviting Cairene thinkers to act, Drosos aims to contribute to supporting an enabling environment for entrepreneurship in Egypt and for young innovators to contribute to Egypt’s development goals.
The building that will house KMT House dates back to even before World War II. According to Samir W. Raafat’s book Maadi 1904-1962: Society & History In A Cairo Suburb, the Pension Golf, later Pension Sporting (and now KMT House) was run by Martha Hochstein, a senior member of Cairo’s Central European community – most of whom were of Jewish ancestry. Members of the community came from across Europe, and many of them sought refuge in Cairo due to the ongoing wars in Europe. These “stateless” expats gathered at Hochstein’s place next to Maadi Club. Hochstein’s grip over the market was so firm that while all the other pensions went out of business shortly after the war, Pension Sporting remained open until her death in 1964.
Hochstein’s sister Ina, who helped her run the pension, later sold the house and its annex to Aziz Abaza Pasha, a well-known Egyptian author and poet. Over the next 50 years, the villa was repurposed many times over before finding its place as the country’s first urbantech hub.