MENA corporates show a large appetite for startups at Mix N' Mentor Amman

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Mentors and startups share challenges and potential solutions at Mix N' Mentor Amman.

If the number of smiling faces and optimistic comments are any indication, Mix N’ Mentor Amman was a success.

The Jordanian edition of Wamda’s long-running entrepreneur mentorship program brought together more than 100 entrepreneurs, investors and advisors at Zain Innovation Campus [ZINC] last Friday. And thanks to the all-new Marketplace Edition feature, 28 startups left the event with high-potential meetings planned with corporates.

Marketplace introduced corporates to startups with the aim of helping startups overcome their business development challenges and give corporates access to the kind of innovation and creativity that is the hallmark of startups.

The session gave local and regional entrepreneurs the opportunity to directly request collaborations with MENA’s most successful companies, like Aramex, Choueiri Group, Payfort, Uber and Zain.

Marketplace also furthers Wamda’s efforts to improve MENA Corporate Entrepreneurship Responsibility (CER), a collaborative movement to lobby, mobilize and organize private sector efforts in building region-wide entrepreneurial ecosystems.

What do corporates want from startups?


Corporates present services and products they are willing to work on with entrepreneurs.

Marketplace began with a 30 minute plenary session where corporates described the type of collaborations they seek, and what services and products they would be willing to invest time and money in. Startups were then given 10 minute one-on-one sessions with the company of their choice to explore potential solutions.

During the first session, Ziad Khammar, Strategy and Development Director at Choueiri group, shared that advertisers want to scale a model that is proven and backed by investors with half a million unique users from the Gulf. “Every vertical has a huge opportunity to scale, even if it’s niche,” Khammar said.

Iyad Kamal of Aramex discussed how the company is “looking for address technology, mobile applications and internal courier applications. Even if the startup has the capacity and not yet the knowledge, we’re willing to work with them.” With last-mile delivery a region-wide problem, any improvements in the logistic space are potentially attractive for Aramex. Kamal expressed a willingness to partner with entrepreneurs who have the potential to disrupt the industry (like delivery drones, for example). “Our operations are very process oriented, so any solution or product that optimizes our process and makes it more efficient through technology or anything else is interesting.”

Uber’s General Manager Sebastien Wakim said he is interested in mapping applications or systems, in addition to acquiring users in Amman where Uber recently launched.

As for the online payment sector, Payfort cofounder Omar Soudodi said that the main solution startups should go after is cash-on-delivery, “since 80 percent of ecommerce purchases are COD.” Payfort is also interested in travel ecommerce.

Jordan’s biggest teleco, ZAIN, represented by its CEO Ahmed Hanandeh, is interested in acquiring more customers and adding value to existing customers.

After sharing these leads on what they would collaborate on with a startup, Zain Jordan, Aramex, Choueiri Group, and PayFort, evaluated pitches from entrepreneurs. Each entrepreneur was handed a red, orange or green card at the end of the session. Red meant that the company is not interested to pursue further partnership discussions with the startup; Orange meant that the entrepreneur should refine his pitch and come back to the company after his startup has matured; and green meant that the corporation is interested in pursuing further discussions with the startup, which is given a new appointment for detailed discussions.

The results came as the below states:

 

Red

Orange

Green

Zain

2

8

6

Aramex

0

2

6

DMS (Choueiri Group)

3

5

3

Uber

2

4

6

Payfort

0

4

7

The majority of startups pitched to more than one corporate.

But there was more. Fadi Ghandour, founder of the Mena Venture Investments fund, stressed the importance of open communication within an organization, and underscored the importance of exit interviews. “Keep an ongoing open communication channel with your employees, even when they decide to leave you,” Ghandour said. He further advised entrepreneurs to keep scanning the market for potential hires, even if they don’t have an imminent need. “When you find a good person, regardless if you don’t know where they might fit, get them on board.”


Fadi Ghandour tries out a Google Glass unit.

There were other activities tailored to give entrepreneurs as much knowledge and insight as possible on subjects relevant to the region.

Narain Jashanmal, Head of DR Advertising MENA at Facebook, led a workshop on user acquisition.

Con O’Donnell and Abdelhameed Sharara, cofounders of the RiseUp Summit in Egypt, offered a hands-on exercise in honing one minute business pitches. The two mentors gave entrepreneurs direct feedback and highlighted the main elements of targeted, one minute pitches.

But what does it take to forge a partnership?


Zain Jordan CEO Ahmed Hanandeh discussing partnerships during one of the sessions.

One of the hottest discussions centered on partnerships. Many entrepreneurs said they were wary of approaching potential partners that are not well known or well established. It is obvious that partnerships can help raise a company’s profile and credibility, and are easier to build with small businesses. Here are a few tips shared by mentors:

  • Ask yourself what businesses might benefit from your service/platform and what value you can potentially bring back to them.

  • Partner with the private sector first, because SMEs are more responsive and agile than government agencies.

  • Test the water with potential partners, on a low-risk collaboration before deciding whether to further expand the partnership.

  • Set realistic expectations from the beginning and ask partners about them for guidance. Because big players are not usually open to partnerships - you have to have a clear value proposition and explain what's in it for the partner.You need to make corporations trust that you can deliver what you're promising.

  • Getting that first partner on board builds momentum and facilitates future partnerships.

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