What I know about going to Silicon Valley: Muyesser Taqi Eddin
A Google search of this woman won’t yield much, and yet she has been intrinsic in building bridges between Silicon Valley and the Middle East for over a decade.
Muyesser Taqi Eddin has been coming to Silicon Valley about 20 years ago, working in marketing and PR for trade shows and conferences for hi-tech companies, including Apple and HP.
Before Techwadi was the networking body we see today, it was a group of businessmen and investors informally getting together to discuss the ecosystem and to see how they could help. Then they brought Muyesser Taqi Eddin on board.
“I was told I was brought in for four different reasons,” she told Wamda. There was her marketing expertise, as with her large network she would be able to build their brand; she was a woman and they didn’t want to be branded a patriarchal group; she was a Levant Arab and as this was to be a pan-Arab group, she slotted in to this category; and finally, “they wanted a face and a feminine touch”.
She took their events to up to three a month, and added different tracks, and a year in she organised their first global Arab networking event, at which she managed to get Jordan’s Princess Soumaya to attend. Come September they’ll be celebrating their 10 year anniversary.
Taqi Eddin, now with Innovation Catalysts Institute, continues to host entrepreneurs from the MENA region when they come to Silicon Valley. She spoke to Wamda about what she learned about the Valley and the entrepreneurs drawn to it from the Middle East.
Silicon Valley is important. I think we need to have more of a concentrated effort on getting people out here in structured visits based on what they’re studying or what their business is. [We need] to give them tools to develop their ideas, go back home and build - not a replica but take the best advice and tools to build their own companies back home. One woman told me that if she hadn’t come here then she wouldn’t have thought she could be an entrepreneur. These pebbles need to be thrown to create and increase the ripples.
Don’t be under any allusions. Who you know will open doors for you but what you know will get you to where you want to be. I can get you in front of a minister of ICT in Jordan, or whomever, but once you cross that threshold, it’s up to you. People coming from the region are huge fish in a very small pond. And when they come to Silicon Valley they’re cogs in a wheel, even us who’ve been out there for years. You have to be as good if not better. I have some entrepreneurs tell me “but I won this and I have these awards”. It’s insignificant here. Or “I should be given an extra opportunity because my country is in turmoil”. Who cares? Half of the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are immigrants, so they’ve had to struggle just as much.
Have your eyes and ears open. I can’t think of very many [entrepreneurs coming from the MENA] who jumped in with both eyes open and listened. A lot of times, the culture of awards and putting people on pedestals, means we run the risk of them coming out there with an inflated sense of self. There were a couple that came out to 500 Startups. I remember sitting with them and saying, “we have to work on your pitch”, and they said “no it’s fine. Everyone tells me how great my pitch is.” When they pitched after three and half months they came in almost dead last on pitches.
The diversity works. In the Valley, about 52 percent of entrepreneurs are immigrants. In the US there are stories ad nauseum of janitors or high school dropouts, who spoke little English, and lived the American dream. If you can find the backing, whether financial or mentorship, if you can find your way here there’s nothing stopping you. Regardless of what Trump and his ilk say, the path is open to anyone.
Silicon Valley and the Middle East are not too dissimilar. The resolve and entrepreneurial spirit is the same. You’ve got people who want to solve global problems on a local scale and local problems on a global scale, the 52 percent puts us on equal footing.
The difference is the lack of support. The Middle East is kind of like the Valley was 30 or 40 years ago. Everyone is in a silo. Information and knowledge sharing is lacking and that is what we live by [in Silicon Valley]. In the Middle East there is no ecosystem that can support entrepreneurs. We have a lot of great incubators, accelerators and passionate people ready to make a difference, but there is a lack of knowledge on how to do it. I think acceleration is going to be much faster than it was in the Valley though.
It’s not a Utopia. Those [entrepreneurs] who don’t want something to succeed for the sake of it are weeded out pretty quickly, and even competitors come together, but it’s not a Utopia, it’s dog eat dog but for the most part they are gentlemen. Business needs to survive and compete. But at the end of the day we are going to make what needs to happen happen.