In 2015, 8 students from the University of Alexandria, the Marine Academy and Pharos University formed a team to develop an underwater remotely operated vehicle to enter MATE’s local ROV competition in Egypt. MATE, a global ROV competition started in 2012 and has since spread to 9 MENA countries, where 2500 people from the Arab world created over 504 ROVs.
While the team didn’t win in 2015, they remained hopeful and participated again in 2017 where they made it to the international MATE competition in the United States of America and came in as 3rd. Winning the competition inspired the team to start their own company where they would for the first time in Egypt, manufacture ROVs on a commercial level.
So what is an ROV or remotely operated vehicle? The term refers to small underwater submarines that are operated by remote control from the water’s surface. They’re equipped with cameras, sensors, and robotic arms and can go deeper and further than a human diver can. ROVs are mainly used for energy pipeline inspection, scientific exploration, and internet cable maintenance.
One of the biggest challenges that Vortex faced was skepticism from potential clients. Abdelrahman Abou-klila, the company’s CEO, recalls how many companies were doubtful that such a small and new startup would be able to offer the same quality product at a more competitive price. Vortex says its ROVs and repair services can be up to ten times cheaper than that of their international competitors. However, when their first client received its ROV, the company was impressed with the level of service on offer. Soon after, Vortex began receiving more orders for its submersibles and have secured an order that will enable them to manufacture 50 of its submersibles per year. The company is set to deliver more submarines to clients across the Middle East, including in the United Arab Emirates.
Overcoming Industry Disconnect
Aside from manufacturing submersibles, they run programs offering education and training to aspiring engineering students. According to ElMaradny, “Most of the students said they had a life-changing experience with Vortex.” ElMaradny also added that all the knowledge and skills necessary to grow companies like theirs are present, but there’s little communication between all the different sectors.
That’s why Vortex runs training workshops for students at schools and universities with a passion for engineering. They teach them the processes involved in building an ROV, from software design to building hardware components. The company even started its own program Vortex Engineering Program (VEP) where it helps students enter the very same competitions their founders took part in. So far, its teams have managed to win first place at competitions in Seattle, USA and Cairo, Egypt.
“Most of the students said they had a life-changing experience with Vortex and it was a turning point in their lives… being able to make something with their hands and see the results of their design.” Abdel-Rahman ElMaradny, CTO, Vortex
The company hopes that by providing support and training to young students they’ll be able to inspire the next generation of engineers. So far more than 200 students have participated in the company’s program and ElMaradny says it has inspired many of them to pursue a career in engineering.
Vortex has big aspirations. Aside from fulfilling its mass production order, over the next six years, it hopes to ensure that 100% of the components used in its submersibles are made in Egypt, directly investing in the country’s manufacturing industry and engineering sector. The company is yet another example of how delivering quality products can allow you to compete on any scale.
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