The Middle East has built one of the most renowned entrepreneurial climates in the world, fostering growth among budding companies in nearly every vertical. To further support its growing network of startups, the region has established an array of thrilling events that allow entrepreneurs to meet their peers, find mentors, and acquire funding. Here is a look at some of the best startup events that the Middle East has to offer:
Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival
The largest startup-focused event of its kind in Sharjah, the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival provides an avenue through which young innovators, supporters, and industry leaders can meet and share ideas. The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center (Sheraa) held its inaugural festival in 2017, featuring more than 80 startup mentors and expert speakers from across the globe. Throughout the event, attendees had the chance to hear these panelists’ presentations and interact with them during private sessions.
The Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival is also home to a pitch competition, which takes place over the course of two days. This gives participants the chance to highlight their best ideas before a distinguished panel, which selects one winner to receive a cash prize of 150,000 AED ($40,000). To further recognize the important work of UAE-based entrepreneurs, the festival hosts the Seffy Awards. With categories ranging from Sheraa Rising Star of the Year to Entrepreneur of the Year, this accolade highlights those whose work is breaking new ground.
GITEX Future Stars
Held on an annual basis, GITEX Future Stars has become the go-to event for entrepreneurs who are looking to become major influencers in the technology industry. GITEX holds this event as part of its famous Tech Week, thus giving participating entrepreneurs a unique platform from which they can share their ideas with more than 100,000 attendees from over 130 countries.
Throughout the event, startups can exhibit their products and services at their own “pod,” a unique space that includes all the furnishings, signage, and promotional materials that they will need to market their businesses to passersby. Future Stars provides this curated space to startups in every sector ranging from fintech and e-commerce to artificial intelligence.
Aside from its exhibition space, Future Stars features pitch competitions with a prize worth $180,000. In 2017, the event also hosted its inaugural competition for startups in the tourism sector.
Seedstars World Competition
Seedstars World is a Switzerland-based startup competition that takes place in more than 80 countries every year. It has a particularly large presence in the Middle Eastern region, which has hosted Seedstars events in countries such as Kuwait, Dubai, Jordan, and Beirut.
These events are focused primarily around a pitch competition, which takes place across several sessions. Between these sessions, Seedstars World hosts networking meetings, keynote speakers, and presentations from former participants. Attendees also have the chance to meet and collaborate with local mentors. Winners of the regional competitions receive an invitation to Seedstars’ annual summit in Switzerland, where they vie for the top prize of $1 million in seed funding for their startups. Past winners include the UAE’s Asafeer Educational Technologies and Jordan’s Mind Rockets.
Mix N’ Mentor
In 2012, Wamda established its Mix N’ Mentor event to promote the growth of entrepreneurship across the Middle East by creating new connections between up-and-coming entrepreneurs and the specialists who can help them achieve success. Unlike other startup events, it doesn’t feature any big panels or pitch competitions. Instead, Mix N’ Mentor participants meet for a single day of intimate mentoring sessions. In small groups or one-on-one interactions, entrepreneurs have the chance to address their unique challenges with the help of their assigned mentors. Attendees can also take part in Mix N’ Mentor workshops, which cover such topics as company branding and business growth.
More recently, Mix N’ Mentor has altered its structure to focus more on roundtable discussion sessions. Each host city will feature different topics, which will highlight the most current developments and challenges in local startup ecosystems.
The STEP Conference is one of the biggest startup events that the Middle East has to offer, regularly bringing together hundreds of startups and thousands of attendees for two days of inspiring activities. Designed specifically for the digital and tech industries, this event began as a small get-together featuring workshops for local entrepreneurs. It has since blossomed into four unique conferences, each of which addresses different topics and challenges that entrepreneurs may face.
STEP Start, for example, provides the groundwork that startups need to grow. During this event, entrepreneurs can participate in pitch competitions, connect with mentors, and more. The STEP Conference also features the Startup Basecamp, which allows individuals to exhibit their startup ideas and chat with local investors. Attendees may otherwise participate in thematic workshops or listen in on panels that take place on five different stages throughout the conference floor.
Entrepreneurs who are looking for topic-driven material can attend one of the other STEP Conference events. Where STEP X highlights technologies of the future, STEP Money addresses pressing topics related to the field of financial tech.