As we look back at 2013, it's been a pivotal year for entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
We've seen several software and hardware startups launch on a global stage, online video and Twitter and Instagram use continue to grow- and give rise to new revenue streams- as efforts to reform education also expand access to massive online open courseware platforms (MOOCs). Crowdfunding and crowdinvesting, have also taken off, with startups of all stripes leveraging capital from the public to fund their ventures.
One of the biggest trends that we saw, as a team, this year, as we traveled to eight countries for our Mix N' Mentor events, is that the distance between various ecosystems is getting smaller, as more startups expand across the region and go global, boosted by the regional expansion of accelerators like Oasis500 and Flat6Labs, and the entrance and expansion of several funds targeting early stage and growth startups. As entrepreneurs in Casablanca and Tunis look to Paris and Dubai, startups in Amman, Beirut, Dubai, Ramallah, and Cairo are looking to Riyadh, Jeddah, and San Francisco.
Embracing failure was also a theme of the year, as several startups- mostly from Jordan- bravely came forward to tell their stories. TakTek, Wizards Productions, and YalaValet (below) were some of the pioneers that demonstrated to others that closing down is just a stepping stone to more experience and better success. We hope to see more lessons learned in 2014.
We've also seen several success stories emerge this year from startups led by women, along with the realization that women entrepreneurs might be more prevalent in ecosystems like Amman and Beirut than they are in Europe and the U.S. And a few of those startups also fell in the category of the Lebanese hardware startup trend: no less than four startups led by Lebanese entrepreneurs, including Instabeat and littleBits, which were both led by women- burst onto the global scene.
Here are some of our favorite stories from 2013, in chronological order.
1. Egypt’s Instabug makes bug reporting easy for mobile app developers, by Omar Aysha
This Cairo-based startup is one of my favorite discoveries of the year as it targets a very specific pain point, helping app developers to implement seamless feedback loops (including debugging data and the possibility of annotating screenshots) that can help steer the next iteration clear of glitches. -Stephanie Nour Prince, Community Manager
2. How a 24-year-old Lebanese entrepreneur found global success by beating Tamagotchi at their own game, by Nina Curley
At first, Paul Salameh seemed almost like the Howard Hughes of Lebanese tech entrepreneurs- a bit shy and unapproachable for a success story. But once he agreed to a phone interview, and proved to be one of the most humble, passionate, product-driven entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed. Nevermind that he's killing it, revenue-wise. -Nina Curley, Editor-in-Chief
3. The Arab Spring through the eyes of Zaid, by Fadi Ghandour
Zaid Farekh is not your average entrepreneur. By the time he was in his late twenties, he had “10 years of trials and error under his belt.” In this article, Fadi Ghandour tells us the story of this young Jordanian entrepreneur who lost his father and brother at a young age and learned to take risks and be brave ever since. - Reine Farhat, Arabic Editor
4. You left us so soon! To Karim Jazouani, Champion of Moroccan entrepreneurship, by Habib Haddad
This piece marked the saddest moment we had at Wamda this year: learning that Karim Jazouani, our contributor in Morocco, had passed away unexpectedly. Karim was a delight to work with, always exceeding the mark by far. One of our favorite pieces by him was his excellent overview of the classifieds sector in Morocco. -Nina
5. 10 reasons why exercise makes you better at your job, by Reine Farhat
A great piece that motivates you to get out of your office and exercise, because it’s good for your business. -Aline Mayard, French Editor
6. Don't make these 10 social media mistakes
Straight from Wamda's own community management guru, these tips offer some simple ways to really jumpstart your social media strategy. A little humility and a lot of relevance go a long way towards creating better-engaged followers. -Glen Dalakian, former Features Editor
7. How the founder of Hmizate raised $1.6 million in a plane, by Aline Mayard
This story takes the idiom “always be prepared” to a new level. While on a red eye flight to Wamda’s CoE E-Commerce in 2012, Kamal Reggad of Moroccan e-commerce startup Hmizate and his next-seat neighbour struck up a conversation about a book he was reading. It was 3:00 a.m., but the chat later resulted in a US $1.6 million in investment, resonating with the idea that building connections are essential. -Stephanie Nour Prince
8. What’s the biggest career mistake you would gladly make again? 11 leading entrepreneurs tell us, by Noor Shawwa
This was a fun exercise in seeing what many of the region's most well-known and most accomplished entrepreneurs could tell us about the mistakes they made and their lessons learned. Some went deeper than others, but each offered up insight into how the journey is not as easy as it seems. -Nina
9. The rise of online video in the Middle East [Wamda TV], by Zeina Tabbara
Kicking off Wamda's video series, this piece shows the huge power of online video across the region. Startups in the Arab world are only beginning to tap into the huge potential of providing quality Arabic content for users across interests and fields. -Glen
10. Why technology is not always the solution for better education, by Oubai Elkerdi
Until recently, I was a big believer that technology is transforming education. This article sheds some light and pushes you for deeper thinking on the topic. -Maya Rahal, Arabic Managing Editor
11. How one Saudi woman entrepreneur found success through Instagram [Wamda TV]
Instagram is one of the top social media applications for 2013, especially because of its viability in business. This video- the second in our new series- features a young Saudi female entrepreneur who uses the tool to promote her business, and gain a mass following- and she's only one of a new group of female entrepreneurs taking full advantage of Instagram. -Zeina
12. How one Jordanian entrepreneur failed, then built a better company: the story of YalaValet, by Aysha Al-Shamayleh
Failure is inevitable sometimes. At Wamda we often hear stories about entrepreneurs who have spent time and effort to build a startup then had to close it down. The experience could be highly discouraging but should they give up? Hani Saleh, a Jordanian entrepreneur, decided to stand on his feet again and built a successful company after his first startup failed. I found this story compelling as it shows how far perseverance and dedication can take you. -Reine
13. Gaming in the Middle East: an overview of game types, models, and revenues, by Glen Dalakian
I was really impressed with the work Glen did to pull this piece together; after spending a year and half working at Wamda and becoming our gaming expert, Glen put together what I think of as his thesis project: an overview of leading gaming companies in the Middle East, including the sectors, platforms, and revenue models they’re using. For anyone looking to get a quick overview of the sector, it’s a go-to resource. -Nina
14. Why Twitter needs Saudi Arabia, by Stephanie d’Arc Taylor
This piece was very fun to work on and I found this to be a cool intersection of what we do at Wamda, hunting down the hottest stories about tech in the Middle East. - Stephanie d’Arc Taylor, English Managing Editor .
15. Lebanon's Roadie Tuner debuts a device 'three times more accurate than the human ear', by Glen Dalakian
One of the best stories of this year is seeing Arab entrepreneurs moving from software to hardware- especially in the case of Roadie Tuner. It’s great to see how Bassam Jalgha and Hassan Salibi have been able to come up with the product in Lebanon; build several prototypes; and finally travel to China to begin mass production. -Zeina Tabbara, Video Producer
16. Meet the all-woman gaming community igniting creative culture in Saudi Arabia, by Nina Curley
I think it’s awesome to see such a huge event and platform really taking off and breaking all sorts of stereotypes. While job creation is an effect, the goal is ultimately to increase creativity; as Taseem Salim says, "We believe that societies that don't have a sci-fi culture don't evolve." -Glen
17. A way forward in Egypt: Rise Up Summit galvanizes entrepreneurship by Tahrir Square, by Nina Curley
This exciting profile on the conference in Tahrir gives us space to hope for Egypt in the midst of everything. - Stephanie d’Arc Taylor
18. 6 inspiring quotes for entrepreneurs from Nelson Mandela, by Leena AlOlaimy
It is amazing how businesses and the Arab ecosystem can benefit from a lifetime of devotion to humanity. This article shows you how. - Maya
19. 3 ways the Arab tech diaspora can stimulate regional development, by Samir Abdelkrim
The Arab world has an incredible strength: its successful diaspora looking to give back to its home country and region. This article explains why the diaspora play a key role in ensuring the success of the Arab world’s tech ecosystem. -Aline
20. Lebanese entrepreneur beats Google Glass with lightweight 3D glasses, by Nina Curley
I learned about Atheer One by complete coincidence; a previous colleague of mine- now turned super entrepreneur- linked me to their IndieGogo campaign and within two hours, I saw it go viral. The product offers a lot to dream about, and one can’t help but benchmark it to Meta SpaceGlasses and Google Glass, two very noteworthy competitors. Yet Atheer One seems more compelling, especially with its candid video and sense of humility. -Stephanie Nour Prince