Start Up Weekend Alexandria: Still the Best Entrepreneurship Event in Egypt

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The second Start Up Weekend Alexandria (SWA) was held on the 27th to 29th September 2012, and while it’s always nearly impossible to recreate the excitement and buzz of “the first time”, this year's team still put on a big and bold event that had every budding entrepreneur in attendance feeling elated and ready to climb the tallest mountain by the end.

But first the negatives:

While the hotel used, a Radisson Blu, was top quality overall, its location 23 kilometres west of Alexandria was a major point of annoyance to everyone I spoke to, and I spoke to a lot of people. To their credit, the SWA team had doubled last year’s total and arranged four buses, for multiple pickup points inside Alexandria, but there was only one trip a day, so if you missed your bus, you either paid exorbitant taxi fees, or took 2.5 hrs to reach the venue by public transport, and we all know how disorganised Egyptian public transport is.

While the hotel amenities were good, the area reserved for the professional stands was a minute’s walk away from the main hall and easily missed. The exhibitors, all of whom were entrepreneurs themselves, felt the foot-traffic was much lower than should have been expected.

Lastly it’s the food. Yes, I’m talking about food again, because even though we were treated to crab and cockles this time round, the consensus of opinion was that the food overall was merely ok this time. The SWA set the bar so high in the first SWA, every event since then has been compared to that high benchmark, and inevitably failed to come close.

Now the positives:

The organization had improved over last-time’s already well-organized event.  There was always a SWA member on hand to guide us, right from the moment we entered the hotel.

Attendance was large, with over 300 participants, over 60 ideas presented at the start and 32 start-ups pitched at the end.  The vast majority of attendees were first-timers, proving that the ecosystem is growing all over Egypt. Pitching skills were also vastly improved; most of the first-timers finished within the time-limit, obviously taking on board the advice from the more experienced people. 

Many of the ideas presented were not new; in fact one was a near carbon copy of sponsor Eventtus, so perhaps first-timers need to be told to do better research, but the whole point of events like this is to learn the classic starting-up process: come up with an idea, create a team, work like crazy on it to a tight deadline, then pitch the end result to investors.  Most of the 32 remaining teams at the end had at least a prototype to show, which I believe is an improvement on previous start-up weekends in general.

The final ceremony was held outdoors, and everyone liked the open air stage and the feeling of being at a small concert. When SWA co-lead organizer Mohammad Omara was MCing, he also lightened the mood by injecting lots of humour, although one laugh was unintended when he spoke in English of the teams presenting their pitches, but used the Arabic “b” sound instead of the English “p” when saying “pitches." It all added to the fun.

Winning the first prize of 10) EGP ($1.7K USD) was “Smart Post,” an interesting means of controlling dynamic advertising boards through a mobile app.

In second place came “One Cloud,” winning 5K EGP ($850 USD); winning 3k EGP (500 USD) in third was “Event Popper,” which was an event discovery web-app, similar in scope to Eventtus as I mentioned (as an aside, the Eventtus founders weren’t bothered by this, telling me “it’s normal, it just proves there’s a market for our service!”).

Finally, EDAvelopers won the Flat6labs prize of a seed fund of 70K EGP ($11.5K USD) and incubation for 3 months for their idea to develop software tools for hardware design.

There were also these important announcements by Egyptian entrepreneurs:

  • SweetyHeaven, top winners of first SWA, announced that they’d since found investment, set up in business, and the beta version of their “rewarding children for good behaviour” website is now live.
  • QHat, also winners of the first SWA, told us their “loyalty program management platform” is launching its live beta service at the end of October.
  • AskNative, winners in the second Start-Up Weekend Cairo (SWC) and graduates of Flat6Labs Cycle 1, revealed that their  mobile app that boasts “travel advice from natives”; it should be live in the Apple app store very soon.
  • Tabshora, winners in the 1st SWC and graduates of Flat6Labs Cycle 0, told us that their revolutionary “design feedback platform” should also be live by the end of October. I’ve been waiting for this one for too long.

All in all SWA 2 proved extremely enjoyable and showed that Egyptian entrepreneurship is progressing nicely.  It also proved that the SWA team still produce the best entrepreneurial events in Egypt.

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