Startup Weekend Damascus launches this month to create a 'paradigm shift' in Syria

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It goes without saying that Startup Weekend Damascus will be unlike the other Startup Weekends that have cropped up around the Arab world over the past three years.

Ever since it began in Ramallah, Amman, and Beirut, and soon spread to Cairo, Dubai, Casablanca, and beyond, Startup Weekend, the 54-hour business building blitz, has become a catalyst for students and aspiring entrepreneurs to hone their prototyping skills and take their first steps towards launching a web or mobile company in the Middle East.

In Damascus, where strife has all but annihilated small businesses, Startup Weekend will demonstrate the resilience of a community determined to create possibility and cultivate hope.

“This will be the first educational event talking about how to build a startup in Syria,” says Ahmed Sufian Bayram, one of the event’s organizers. On February 18th, 19th, and 20th, the event will gather aspiring entrepreneurs not just to develop new business ideas, but to connect to an international community.

Mentors and speakers will include Abdulsalam Haykal, the founder of Haykal Media, Rania Succar, Head of Brand Solutions for North America at Google, and several other Syrian entrepreneurs, including Kinan Sweidan of Shooofi, Anwar Almojarkesh of Braci, Fadi Mujahid of Game Power 7, Leen Al Zaibak of Jusoor, and Ammar Joukhadar of Elixir, among others, including Oasis500’s Karim Samakie, all of whom will join the event online. Wikilogia, a local group that promotes collaboration and an open source philosophy on the web, will join as a community partner to host a bootcamp on February 15th and 16th. 

“Our aim here is to establish a new chapter in the Syria entrepreneurial ecosystem full with actions, [to] draw the attention of entrepreneurs in all over the world to [its] untapped talent and creativity,” Bayram writes from Damascus, where he is an advocate for collaborative consumption and the MENA connector for community OuiShare. “In addition, it would show the world the power and enthusiasm of the entrepreneurs and their willing[ness] to change the world.”

The hope is that entrepreneurs still living in the country can reinvigorate their businesses and create new opportunities by connecting to developers and team members abroad.  “Several students and entrepreneurs have been building startups, but they lost members of their teams,” as those members fled or were affected by war, Bayram explains.

“For each business that doesn’t have a developer, we will have networking,” he says. The winner will receive investment, to ensure that the startup will continue beyond the event. While Syria doesn’t have a startup incubator, Startup Weekend Damascus is developing a partnership with one, Sufian says, and accelerators in Silicon Valley are also reaching out.

Thus far, demand is high. In the first 24 hours after registration opened, the organizers saw 120 signups. “We are creating a paradigm shift in the entrepreneurial culture here in Damascus,” Bayram says.

Interested aspiring entrepreneurs, mentors and speakers can register here, and contact the team on Twitter at @SW_Damascus.

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