When ArabNet kicks off tomorrow, it will be a new conference.
We've all come to know and love the Beirut-based tech and entrepreneurship conference; I've at least enjoyed watching it grow since attending the very first one, that forged its reputation for allowing the crowd to disrupt the panels over Twitter.
This year, it's no longer simply "ArabNet"- it's ArabNet Beirut. Now that the brand has gone regional, hosting ArabnNet Cairo in October 2011, and ArabNet Riyadh last November, and hopefully launching in Dubai this May, the Beirut event will be focused on a new set of local strengths.
At Cloud5, Wamda will also be co-hosting a new pitch event, along with ArabNet and Oasis500. Join us at 6pm at Cloud5, downtown, to see pitches from 7-8 Oasis500 and Wamda portfolio companies, which have built traction and are looking for their next round of funding. For directions and more information, read here. (It's free).
Aside from that, what else is different at ArabNet this year?
It will focus on the Levant's position as a creativity hub for the region.
"I see Lebanon, and the Levant and Egypt more broadly, as a hub for production, whether design, development, or content creation. A lot of companies are basing their production here, and this will be an opportunity to highlight that talent" says founder and CEO Omar Christidis.
It's bringing in a fresh focus on local strengths.
Last year's ArabNet covered the major tech tracks; this year's conference is honing in on those that are especially strong in Lebanon, including Food + Beverage, Mobile Music, Digital Advertising + Social Media, and Social Impact. Bringing in the F&B sector will nicely widen the scope of the conference and bring something fresh into our tech discussions, especially with the entrance of Turkey's Yemeksepeti in to the Arab market, and in the music sector, seeing Anghami, Yala.fm, and Deezer face off should be an event highlight.
It's delving offline. Another sector that should be interesting is taking a look at offline publications and vendors going online. Antoine Online will be there, likely discussing just how difficult it is to translate offline popularity into online sales, and several print media outlets will be discussing similar issues with translating print to digital.
It's getting sleeker. Last year, it was a touch too long. This year, the conference is only 3 days, and instead of last year's developer day, it will start with a Design + Code day. By looking at product design, user interface, responsive design, and similar topics, "the vision of the day is to bring developers and designers together the build better web and mobile platforms," says Christidis.
It's expanding its competitions. The perennial Ideathon and Startup Demo competition's- ArabNet's signature events- will continue this year, asking entrepreneurs with ideas and those with startups to pitch for cash and incubation prizes. A new addition is the Creative Combat, which asked young talents (under the age of 29) in advertising, communications and media industries to join teams and pitch effective digital marketing campaigns. Finalists will pitch onstage on the final day of ArabNet Beirut.
It's showcasing Beirut. A final new addition to the conference is an evening program, that will bring attendees on a "designer tour" of some of Lebanon's up and coming designers in Saifi and Mar Mikhayel on the first evening, and introduce them to food and drink from some of Beirut's top restaurants (from Bread Republic to Gustav). "We wanted to introduce people to Beirut's real flavor; this tour reveals Beirut as a dynamic metropolis," says Christidis.
What's free: For those that aren't registering for the main event, the Social Impact sessions on the second day are free and open to the public. These will focus on social entrepreneurship, digital citizenship, advocacy, Beirut's strong, diverse community of NGOs, and freedom of speech and expression; a discussion about digital activism is one that Lebanon is also perhaps uniquely positioned to host.
It all starts tomorrow. Those interested in attending can register on the ArabNet page and join our @WamdaME team there.
Be sure to also join us for the Free Oasis500, Wamda, and ArabNet Angel Investor Event at 6pm this Thursday, March 21st.