Fun startup events are possible, just ask this #YMEstartup organizer

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Your Middle East is one of a new generation of media sites focusing on the Arab region, seeking to shift how news here is covered. Similar to the contributor-based Huffington Post model, the platform publishes stories written mostly by people from the region which deal with news, as well as lifestyle stories, all in an attempt to be “agents of positive change, and to be different from a lot of mainstream media that is already out there,” says COO Aurore Belfrage on a call with Wamda.

As a result of the popularity of entrepreneurship as a topic on the site, as well as “the positivity surrounding it,” the Your Middle East team has launched an eight-city events road show, which kicked off in Istanbul in April. “We wanted to inject energy and fun [into the ecosystem] while addressing some of the real topics” that entrepreneurs face every day, Belfrage said. The team has also engineered the events to be as inclusive as possible towards people who might not always feel welcome in the entrepreneurial fold.

The event structure consists of two parts: first, remarks and mini master classes from a panel of successful entrepreneurs and business people. Next, Belfrage herself jumps in, moderating model pitch sessions with entrepreneurs for the benefit of the audience. “I interrupt between slides asking the panel questions to [help the audience] get a feel for how investors think and what are their trigger points,” she says.

The two events so far have been successful, Belfrage says, hosting between 100 and 150 entrepreneurs each in Istanbul and Dubai – but most importantly, she continues, they’ve been fun and uplifting, something of a rarity in the world of business conferences and startup events.

We asked Belfrage to share the reasoning behind the events, as well as tips for planning a valuable startup event for people who may or may not already have experience in the ecosystem.

"How to host a fun startup event, from a #YMEstartup organizer

"Your Middle East is a grassroots movement and an agent for positive change in the Middle East and North Africa region. Through our media platform and various meeting spaces we connect people within and outside the region and highlight key issues shaping its future.

"Part of that effort is to contribute to the MENA startup ecosystem. Why? Because it creates hope, empowerment, and jobs.

Your Middle East's Aurore Belfrage with an attendee of the Dubai #YMEstartup event in June.

"As serial entrepreneurs ourselves we also know that the challenges facing anybody who wants to take the leap are structural, practical, financial and – let’s not forget – emotional. We launched what we think is a no-nonsense event series to salute the naïve and crazy who are willing to take a risk.

"Our ambition is to highlight the practical challenges with real stories of mistakes and successes, and most importantly to remind current and future entrepreneurs in the MENA region about the joy and fun of launching your own company. To do this successfully, and to remain accessible to people who are new to the startup world, it’s important for the event to retain a playful energy, allowing people to laugh at the buzzwords of the ecosystem – and even themselves!

"Two bottlenecks for most small businesses are time and money. Therefore, Your Middle East Startup events are short, after work hours, and free to attend.

"Also, while the events address universal entrepreneurial challenges and the peculiarities of each market we visit, it’s important to deal with the sometimes boring, but fundamental details that entrepreneurs have to face every day. These reality isn’t always as sexy as a TED talk, but is crucial to the success of any company. These details include admin, contracts, equity structure, office layout etc.

"Events – however short – bring people together. The best ones gather brave and lonely entrepreneurs (and wannabes) for a relaxed few hours to laugh about the everyday craziness that comes with innovating and breaking barriers – and learn how to do better.

"Entrepreneurs tend to be busy, visionary, and strategic all day long, but events can be an opportunity to drop your shoulders and have some working fun. If they’re fun and community building, startup events can be an important contribution to the ecosystem."

The next #YMEstartup will be held in Amman on September 8, followed by Tunis, Erbil and Suleimaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan, Tehran, and Riyadh. 

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