Signs were encouraging for Dubai’s start-up community as the Al-Quoz industrial district played host last month to this year’s AngelHack Dubai, the city’s largest hackathon yet.
The weekend event was organized by US-based developer relations platform AngelHack, challenging newly-formed teams of coders and entrepreneurs to develop original startup ideas within 24 hours.
More than 100 people attended the event and formed 23 teams. Many groups worked through the night to develop their ideas, with some even making use of sleeping bags and couches provided by host venue The Cribb.
On Friday morning, team leaders and solo entrepreneurs gathered to present their ideas in a bid to recruit floating coders who had turned up without a team.
After the 24-hour coding period, teams presented their ideas to a panel of expert judges, who were tasked with choosing the regional winner based on originality, technological difficulty, viability, and usefulness.
The top prize went to Moonbeam, an idea originally pitched by Shawn Swart, who won the HackAccelerator Grand Prize. The prize includes seed capital, admittance into a 12-week HACKcelerator program, and an invitation to a Silicon Valley Demo Day where he'll pitch his idea in front of established investment firms.
Moonbeam is a messaging app that attempts to recapture the meaningfulness of a hand-written letter in the age of instant messages.
“If I receive a handwritten letter from my wife then that is a really meaningful message and I really know she put time into it. But if I receive an SMS message it is less meaningful,” Swart said in his original pitch.
His idea is to create a special type of message where the receiver has to go outside and point their phone at the moon, enabling both people to share a moment.
“The concept is to create a sense of scarcity about the message because they have to actually do something to receive it and it ads a sense of meaning to the message,” Swart pitched.
AngelHack has hosted a global hackathon series spanning about 30 countries.
“I’m shocked by how big this is becoming. We have been trying to get this community together for years,” says Kamal Hassan, founder and CEO of Innovation 360, the company behind The Cribb.
Hassan explained that it is especially hard to find tech entrepreneurs in Dubai as most developers move to the city from overseas on big-money contracts at established companies.
“It’s a hot market for developers and people pay really well, so they’re not coming to start their own tech business,” says Hassan. “This is not Egypt or Jordan where there are a lot of techies but not a lot of big companies.”
“If we started a training program, for example, they’ll come because they want to get the certificate and get another highly paid job and not to get the training to start something,” he explains.
In discussing the merits of the hackathon format, Hassan likened the concept of a hackathon to a greasy spoon cafe where the focus is on the food rather than the service or the ambiance.
“Developing for a startup is all about agility, quick and simple functionality, things that grab the customer, and adaptability, whereas in an established enterprise it is more about planning robustness, scalability, and the in-depth analysis of business users,” he says.
“By avoiding these big projects, in a hackathon you get [a product] in 24 hours,” Hassan explained.
Hassan said that AngelHack Dubai was the largest event of its type in the city following several successful events during the Startup Weekend 2013 series.
The event even pulled in people from outside the UAE, with one attendee flying in from Kuwait looking to join a new team of coders.
In addition the top prize, Moonbeam, plus other ideas hacked at the weekend, Scribill, Box6, and Social AP (AccessPoint), won pre-qualification to enter the seed accelerator TURN8, launched by Emirati marine terminal operator DP World, with an investment of $30,000 USD per team.
The prize for a three-month internship at Pixelbug, the Emirati marketing technology services compay, worth $10,000 USD went to Wafaa Ayish. His idea Cart-It! envisioned a futuristic shopping cart integrated with Apple’s indoor proximity system iBeacon.
Three more teams Viduim, Minglees, and µFAQs won More@TheCribb Membership for three months valued at $2,000 USD per team.
In addition to the main hackathon, the event included presentations and tutorials by representatives of New York University in Abu Dhabi, Rochester Institute of Technology in Dubai, Global Development Group in Abu Dhabi, Blackberry EMEA, and Microsoft Gulf.