A Startup Week first for the Arab World

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Salwa Qattan, left, from Careem, Fouad Jeryes from CashBasha, and Rahmeh Abu Shweimeh of She Cab. (Image via Tala El Issa)

For its first time in the Arab world, Startup Week launched in Amman. They hosted 24 different events, 800 attendees and more than 20 speakers.

The eventful week which took place at Zain Innovation Campus (ZINC) during the first week of May, intended to shed light on Jordan’s entrepreneurial challenges, needs and successes. The event was organized by Startup Weekend Amman (SWA) and Zain Jordan.

“Startup Week is like a festival or carnival that celebrates the entrepreneurial community of a particular city” said Ali Hilli, Startup Week’s lead organizer.

The events were divided into 11 different tracks including financial, startup, design, and technology. Field visits were also organized as part of the tour track in which participants got the chance to visit Oasis 500, Arabia Weather, and Gaming Lab, all of which are located in King Hussein Business Park (KHBP).

On the first day, keynote speaker Fadi Ghandour, Wamda’s chairman, encouraged big corporations to walk hand in hand with startups and be part of  the Corporate Entrepreneurial Responsibility (CER). Entrepreneurship is a grassroots solution to poverty and unemployment he explained.

Startup Week is a worldwide celebration backed up by Techstars, a worldwide hub for entrepreneurs. Techstars also manages other programs including Startup Weekend, Startup Next and Startup Digest, in addition to its acceleration and investment tracks.

In 2015, Startup Week was hosted by 10 different countries in more than 20 cities. This year 75 communities are hosting the event in different locations including London, Thailand, Australia, US, and Greece.

Selfie time with Fadi Ghandour
Selfie time with Fadi Ghandour. (Image via Startup Week Amman)

The battle track: competitors in the same room

On the third day, the battle track joined competitor startups Careem and She Cab from the transportation sector, and Jo Bedu, Mlabbas and Fanella from the merchandise sector to openly discuss their competitive advantages, in front of an eager audience.

Competitors were tolerant and diplomatic to one another. “I didn’t create the T-shirt... we don’t have the right to monopolize [the market],” said Jo Bedu cofounder Tamer al-Masri. “The more people enter the market, the more the audience has options. From a business side, the smart thing to do is to know how to satisfy your customer. The way you do that is keep on doing what you do best. Stick to your values.”

Similarly, Rahmeh Abu Shweimeh, founder of She Cab, believes that if a company succeeds in attaining loyal customers through sustaining a high quality service, competition will not pose any threats. A competitor might emerge at any point of time she said, but it all depends on your customer satisfaction with your service.

While some might consider competition a rivalry Ghassan Halaweh, battle track mediator and Zain’s innovation advisor, believes other wise. “If we want to build a successful ecosystem, we need to believe in collaboration instead of competition” he elaborated.

Startup Weekend Amman: corporate edition

During the last three days, SWA organized its 'corporate edition' for 60 participants and nine ideas. The teams had to develop solutions to nine corporate challenges presented by six Jordanian corporations including Zain, Arab Islamic Bank and Aramex.

Most of the challenges were related to developing apps that can provide technical assistance to the corporation. For example, Aramex asked for an application that would allow freelance couriers to register with Aramex. Winners will receive 500 Jordanian dinars (US$700) each and take their idea into implementation.

“It’s true we developed a coherent entrepreneurial community, we have a lot of facilities, venues and many corporate companies are focusing on developing and enhancing the entrepreneurial scene, but we need the venture capitals to be more aware,” Hilli said. VCs need to realize that Jordan has a great potential to become a hub regardless of its small population and low GDP. We have the infrastructure and facilities to grow bigger he said.

SWA organizes two events each year; a general edition as part of  Global Startup Battle, which takes place in November during Global Entrepreneurship Week, and a special edition in May. Since Hilli’s team started managing the SWA community in 2014, they organized eight events three of which are special editions; ‘women’s edition’, ‘government edition’ and most recently the ‘corporate edition’.


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