Egyptian, Jordanian Startups Take the Day at MITEF Arab Business Plan Competition Awards

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Last year, the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition awarded first place to Hind Hobeika of Instabeat, a heart rate tracking technology for swimmers that has now launched its first IndieGoGo campaign to fund its first prototype.

This year, the Arab Startup Competition in Doha, Qatar, continued the trend in catchy names by awarding the top prize to Instabug, a bug-tracking software for app developers, this past weekend. Instabug, a graduate of Cairo accelerator Flat6Labs, allows app developers to add a single line of code to their prototypes, which adds several features that allow users to submit feedback in intuitive ways. Led by Moataz Soliman and Omar Gabr, the platform has now been adopted by over 120 developers since its launch last September.

Second prize went to Darebni TV, an online vocational training portal that delivers technical training and soft skills, in Arabic. Led by Marwan Ziadat, Omar al Azzeh, and Waleed al Baddad, the startup has made over $900,000 in sales since its launch 8 months ago, by selling its online videos, exercises, and projects, mostly to universities in Jordan. They hope to reach 100 million of the region's youth by 2020 to combat some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world.

Two companies tied for third place: Gallery AlSharq, a graduate of Amman-based accelerator Oasis500, provides Middle Eastern stock photography and digital content, and The Home Page, an online furniture fair from Egypt.

MITEF also awarded its Female Entrepreneur Award to Diana Dajani of EduTechnoz, a curriculum-based gaming platform that aims to entertain and engage children while teaching them Arabic.

Other favorites noted by a few judges included Ubility Net, a platform designed to help telecom operators classify mobile application traffic and eTobb, an online medical portal designed to connect users to doctors, both based in Lebanon.

While Egypt and Jordan won the day, entrepreneurs attended the Doha event from every corner of the Arab World, including Algeria, where it's notoriously hard to launch a startup. "The ecosystem in Algeria just doesn't exist," said Tahar Zanouda of Dialife, a diabetes tracking system that won third place internationally in Microsoft's Imagine Cup competition.

The hope is that events like the MITEF Arab Business Plan Competition, and Wamda's Mix n' Mentor Doha, which gathered entrepreneurs and mentors together for in-depth conversations, will continue to support the region's leading startups to overcome local hurdles.

"I think we're going to come back in 10 years and see that many of these 50 finalists have turned their ideas into successful companies," said Ahmed Alfi, Founder and Chairman of Sawari Ventures.

The $50,000 prize is more than a drop in the bucket; it could help Instabug achieve profitability, he pointed out. "The financial prize will sustainably help them along their way. I'm hoping next year we’’ll have more teams from Flat6Labs; now we'll have to work hard to replicate it."

The event, in partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives and supported by Enterprise Qatar and Silatech, was co-organized at Katara alongside AlFikra, the Qatar National Business Plan Competition.

The three teams winning AlFikra focused on building companies within Qatar. First place winner QPay is creating a payment gateway for Qatar, while EduTechnoz, launched in Qatar by Palestinian entrepreneur Diana Dajani, took second place.

Third place was awarded to Rawe, a local animation development studio that employs local Qataris and helps boost their careers.

Overall, the event showcased the evolution of the ecosystem, says Fadi Ghandour, Chairman of the Board at Wamda and Vice Chairman at Aramex.

"I have done lots of business plan competition judging and this one is by far the best. The entrepreneurial teams, their ideas and businesses were very sophisticated, including clear ways of either building the business or scaling it, and they understood their markets and are ready to fly," he says.

"This says a lot about the Arab world today and how far it has come in the past three or four years in terms of building the entrepreneurial ecosystem," he added, "but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Give it a few more years and we are going to see an entrepreneurial revolution."

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