First Startup Weekend Byblos Welcomes Pitches from Lebanon, Jordan, and Cyprus

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On March 1-3, Startup Weekend came to Byblos, Lebanon for the first time, bringing together participants from across Lebanon, Jordan, and even Cyprus to take part in the event. 

Located just outside Byblos, between Beirut and Tripoli, the American University of Technology (AUT) offered a great space for participants to gather, break into teams, and pitch to the panel of judges. The participants and mentors also came from a range of backgrounds, with a strong number of both developer and non-tech team members at the event.

One participant from Cyprus, who ended up winning 3rd place, explained that she had really wanted to take part in a Startup Weekend; since Cyprus hasn't organized one, she decided to travel to Lebanon and join a team.

Although the turnout was smaller than expected, the event went well for being the first Startup Weekend held in Byblos. Lebanon has had several SW events in the recent past, and the tech community continues to shine with powerful and creative ideas, which we saw during the idea phase on the first day.

Some ideas were better than others, but ultimately it was the teams’ implementation that decided the outcome.

Here’s a list of the 11 teams that formed at the event, in order of their pitches:

  1. Prinout – A website and mobile app for photographers to display and sell their event photos.
  2. W.H.I.M. – “World History In Minutes” is a crowdsourced timeline of historical information for countries, brands, and other topics.
  3. Cookloud – A mobile app where users can order homemade food from home cooks in their area.
  4. Dotty - A location-based live tracking management application using Google Maps.
  5. Invenio – An educational prototyping tool that enables users to create robotics and automation projects without the need for programming or electronics skills.
  6. TechTown – An institute that aims to introduce coding to young students via building their own video games.
  7. Mobeen - A social website to help people find proper translations in Arabic for English terms.
  8. Namenator - A startup name generator.
  9. MCC – A mobile medical center.
  10. MeeNeeMe - An application that creates a virtual character of yourself, based on your daily activities on foursquare and facebook check-ins.
  11. Youtopia - A class management website for teachers, parents and students to share and exchange online.

After finalizing their teams and getting to work on day one, the teams pushed through all 54 hours, some without sleep. “I haven’t slept in three days, but it’s worth it,” said Jihad Kawas, a developer on the Namenator team.

Since it was, in fact, my first Startup Weekend event, I didn’t know what to expect. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much energy the teams had.

“There are no bad ideas. There’s bad implementation, and there’s bad timing,” said one of the judges Georges Abboudeh. You could clearly tell from each pitch which teams had synergy and which teams had the drive to build their project even after the Weekend.

The judges didn’t go easy- some really pushed the teams to think critically about what they were doing, offering mentorship while asking questions. It was a little tough to see a few teams that poured three days of their life into their idea unravel in just a few minutes (Namenator, for one, ran out of time and never got to show their cool mobile app), but presenting well is the name of the game.

Ultimately, I think the participants appreciated the feedback and by the end the cream rose to the top:

1st Place - MeeNeeMe
2nd Place - Prinout
3rd Place - Cookcloud

I found the Cookloud and MeeNeeMe ideas to be particularly innovative. MeeNeeMe actually creates a character of you that evolves based on places you check-in, either on Foursquare or Facebook. Cookloud is sort of Couchsurfing for homecooked meals. Users can see where home cooks are making food within a certain radius of their location and offer to pay for delivery, pickup, or join the family meal. I asked the team if they would build the project after the event and, after looking at each other, one said, "Yeah, I think we will. Could I get your e-mails?" I hope they do.

Hopefully the next SW Byblos will attract a larger crowd and continue the momentum started at this first event. I look forward to seeing if the best teams stay connected, especially the international ones, and actually push their ideas past the Weekend.

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