Startup Weekend Dubai brings innovators from across the Middle East and around the world together for 54 hours of networking. One of the biggest challenges that Middle Eastern entrepreneurs face is a lack of networking opportunities, but events like Startup Weekend are unrivaled opportunities for creating and expanding a professional network. This year’s event took place at AstroLabs, a newly opened startup community and co-working space in Dubai. Over the third weekend of November, participants gathered under the inspirational motto “Build Community. Start Companies. No Talk. All Action.” Over the past three years since the launch of the event, which is also held in other cities around the world, more than 22,000 entrepreneurs have participated and more than 550 startups have been launched. Startup Weekend puts individuals in direct contact with angel investors and venture capitalists to get their ideas off the ground quickly.
Startup Weekend’s Inspirational Speakers
Over the course of the weekend, attendees had the opportunity to hear from several speakers who provided insight on the startup economy in the Middle East. This year, the speakers included Stefano Schintu, Tena Pick, and Yehia El-Katib. The executive creative director at MarkaVIP, Schintu is an innovative designer who devises unique means of connecting brands to their markets. He possesses expansive knowledge of the many ways to leverage social media, television, and web platforms to engage customers and drive growth. His career has received international attention and recognition through numerous awards.
Pick leads media operations at C3-Consult and Coach for a Cause, a nonprofit that fosters collaboration between social entrepreneurs and business professionals in the Middle East. She organizes workshops on social business change and helped organize a regional Social Enterprise Week. Her expertise has helped companies connect with the development work around them and use this collaboration to drive business growth.
A cofounder of The Gamifiers, El-Katib serves as the company’s commercial director. The Gamifiers is one of the first Middle Eastern gamification technology companies. He understands how to bridge the technology gap between customers, corporations, and government bodies. Over the years, El-Katib has led several major gamification projects in the Middle East, including the recreation of the online gateway to the federal UAE government website.
Other speakers included Younis Maqousi, Google’s analytical lead for retail in the Middle East and North Africa; and Chad Fox, a legal advisor at Bird & Bird, a leading international business law firm.
The Competitive Heart of Startup Weekend
At the heart of Startup Weekend is the collaborative approach to converting great ideas into industry-leading products. The weekend starts off with a networking dinner where individuals can share their ideas and refine their pitches. After dinner, participants can formally pitch their ideas to other attendees, and everyone votes on the pitches that they feel hold the most promise. Teams are formed around the winning ideas and begin working on business development immediately. During this period, attendees are encouraged to be open and direct about their histories and their skillsets so that the best possible teams can be formed.
The following morning, teams continue working on their projects through lunch, at which point they must give status reports on their progress. They also have the opportunity to reach out to other attendees for help with problems that have arisen. Afterward, coaches approach each of the teams to provide one-on-one help. Following dinner, groups once again check in with progress reports and have the option of continuing to work at the venue until it closes.
During the final day of the weekend, coaches arrive around 10 a.m. to offer any last-minute advice and guidance to groups as they prepare to give final presentations. After lunch, the final meeting with the coaches occurs, at which point entrepreneurs must ask any remaining questions about their business plan or other logistics. During the final hours that remain, groups are encouraged to put the finishing touches on their presentations. After dinner, teams give their final presentations, at which point judging commences. The winners receive rewards to help them continue working on their ideas and develop a product they can bring to market.
Other Opportunities for Connecting with Local Entrepreneurs
Startup Weekend is a project of UP Global, an initiative supported by Google for Entrepreneurs and other companies. Alongside Startup Weekend, UP Global also sponsors Startup Next, a mentorship program for startups not yet supported by an accelerator. The program helps startups secure seed funding by connecting entrepreneurs with a global network of investors. UP Global also delivers Startup Digest, a newsletter for the global startup community, and has launched Entrepreneurs Across Borders, an initiative that pairs 100 successful entrepreneurs with UP Global teams in the 600 cities where the organization operates. The entrepreneurs share their insights and knowledge with the next generation of business leaders in these areas.
Individuals can learn more about these opportunities, including how to get involved with UP Dubai in other ways, online at UP.co.