7 Things You Need to Know about Dubai’s STEP Conference

step conference logoAs entrepreneurship continues to blossom throughout the Middle East, the region is experiencing a growth of activities that cater to the needs of startups. The STEP Conference is perhaps the largest gathering of this kind. Regularly held at the Dubai International Marine Club in the United Arab Emirates, this event serves as a vehicle through which startups and other specialists in the technology sector can connect with one another.

Since its inception in 2013, the STEP Conference has also expanded to include activities aimed at those in the entertainment and digital sectors. Overall, this event aims to disrupt the entrepreneurial landscapes of the Middle East and the rest of the world. As the 2017 STEP Conference approaches, here are a few things that you should know about it:

  1. Its founders are entrepreneurs.

Several years ago, two Middle Eastern entrepreneurs, Ray Dargham and Nizar Fakih, burst onto the startup scene when they cofounded the STEP Group. This digital media firm has since flourished into a more expansive enterprise with three different products: STEP Conference, StepFeed.com, and YallaFeed.com. However, the most prominent of these is the STEP Conference.

Dargham boasts a long entrepreneurial background that began when he helped establish the technology startup Spiderfrogs soon after graduating from college. Cofounder Fakih earned a degree from the American University of Beirut in 2007 and went on to pursue a career in project development before joining Dargham to create the STEP Group.

  1. It is fueling venture capital (VC) investments.

Since its inception, the STEP Conference has helped drive the number of VC investments among startups across the region. During the 2016 meeting alone, participating venture funds totaled almost $1 billion due to a focus on bringing in some of the region’s most influential investors. As such, a number of high-profile VC executives, such as Ahmed El Alfi of Sawari Ventures and Walid Mansour of MEVP, attended the event. This push for more VC participation signaled the creation of a unique conglomerate of funding opportunities both at the conference and across the entire Middle East.

  1. It is gaining popularity with each passing year.

The STEP Conference may have boasted only 300 attendees in its first year, but it has since exploded into a local startup phenomenon. Within two years, the conference grew into a well-known event with a guest list of more than 2,000 entrepreneurs, business executives, and investors from the Middle East and beyond. However, the progress did not stop there. By 2016, the STEP conference nearly doubled its attendance rate, with over 4,000 interested parties coming together to celebrate the very best of entrepreneurship. The conference’s organizers hope to see attendance skyrocket even further in 2017, with a lofty goal of 10,000 participants.

  1. It attracts some of the world’s biggest names.

In addition to its growing number of guests, the STEP Conference has also attracted the attention of some of the world’s most prominent entrepreneurs and companies. Nowhere else can guests see such a diverse range of entities offering their expertise on industry topics. Every year, the STEP Conference welcomes global firms such as YouTube and The Next Web, but it also places particular emphasis on regional players. In the past, personalities from Cinema Akil’s Butheina Kazim to twofour42 Investment Head Issa Aghabi have spoken during the event.

The number of STEP Conference speakers continues to grow. At the 2016 event, an unprecedented 120 individuals and groups sat on panels and provided presentations to guests. Each speaking guest plays a pivotal role in the event, as he or she provides more avenues through which entrepreneurs can learn, network, and promote their startups.

  1. It welcomes startups to participate in a pitch competition.

The STEP Conference is also home to a number of events specifically aimed at the growing startup community in the Middle East. One of these is the pitch competition, which allows up to 50 budding entrepreneurs vie for funding or placement in an incubation program.

All startups that exhibit at the STEP Conference are eligible for entry into the pitch competition, which takes place over the course of two days. During the first round, all participants deliver a short elevator pitch, after which the panel selects a handful of finalists. These parties then move on to the second round, when they must provide a more comprehensive, five-minute pitch for the judges and audience.

  1. It operates a unique Startup Basecamp.

Another activity that is unique to the STEP Conference is the Startup Basecamp. Regardless of their current funding status, location, or sector, startups are welcome to join more than 400 other young companies in this vast exhibition arena. Throughout the STEP Conference, entrepreneurs can use the Startup Basecamp to showcase their startups and products to specialists in their industries, potential investors, and their fellow business owners.

  1. It is packed full of other events.

Concurrent to the pitch competition and the Startup Basecamp, the STEP Conference runs a wide array of other events for the benefit of its guests. Entrepreneurs who are looking for help with their startups may participate in the Mentor’s Corner, which provides exclusive access to industry influencers and experienced mentors.

STEP Conference guests can also attend discussions at one of the gathering’s three stages. In the past, these arenas have housed dialogues on topics ranging from new media to cloud-based gaming.

Outside of its startup-centric programming, the STEP Conference regularly hosts a food festival for its attendees. This one-of-a-kind affair helps introduce food lovers to some of the best food that Dubai has to offer.