MIT Busines plan competition featured in TIME Magazine
Read Full Story At Time Business
Gathered together around a wide table, the group of entrepreneurs in Dubai for this year’s MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Business Plan Competition represented a key constituency of the Arab Spring generation: Young, educated, and reform-minded, seeking to create their own opportunities.
Among them was Manar Moursi, the principal behind Studio Meem, which repurposes ordinary Egyptian objects into eco-friendly furniture. Being around like-minded people energized her. “It’s easy to access this support network,” she said.
Her fellow entrepreneur, Hind Hobeika, was committed enough to pursue her idea that she left a good position with a prestigious company, a move that displeased her parents. “It is tough for them to understand why we are quitting jobs with multinationals,” she said.
The others nodded with knowing approval. Challenging the status quo is just one aspect of pursuing their goals. “There is a feeling that you can do it, that you have share of the responsibility,” said Shadi Tabbara, operations manager for brate!, a social network and search engine for regional businesses. “It’s now in our hands, and we can’t blame anyone now.”
The winner of the competition would be Hobeika’s Butterfleye, which has engineered a prototype of swimming goggle that monitors performance, including heart rate. The company has 15 Olympic swimmers from the U.S. and New Zealand testing the product at this year’s summer games in London.
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Ambitious and talented, the next generation of Arab entrepreneurs is readily seeking out opportunities to develop and grow, testing ideas in venues such as MIT Enterprise Forum’s competition. Yet they acknowledge their efforts happen within a social sphere in disarray, and that traditional interests still dictate most of business and politics. Dissatisfied by the stalled promise of the Arab Spring, they say that entrepreneurship in the Middle East can yield truly lasting and beneficial change for the region.
“I think this is like a revolution, a refreshing of ideas and tastes, people are open to new ideas,” Moursi said. “It’s the power of spreading ideas.”
The events surrounding Egypt’s elections and the civil violence in Syria were not far from any discussion. Continuing tumult in the region post-Arab Spring has had an undeniable effect on the plans and efforts of young entrepreneurs.
But for the finalists, this competition — now in its fourth year, while Wharton held its first innovation tournament earlier this year — and other regional tournaments provide a space to focus on building skills and refining ideas. “The good thing is we’ve been exposed to the entire region,” said Sherif Hosny, CEO of Schaduf, which sells micro rooftop farms to low income Egyptians. “You learn a lot about what’s going on. People are looking for new ideas.”
Hosny admitted the eight month-long competition was grueling. Yet it had provided him not only with ways to better himself as an entrepreneur, but also pushed him to evolve his business idea. “The feedback we’ve gotten here had us change our concept,” he said. “We’ve had to think bigger.”
Some entrepreneurs at the competition have been dealing with uncertainty long before the Arab Spring’s revolutions. Being a tech startup based in Palestine has meant overcoming a number of logistical issues, explained Emad Ammouri, general manager for Ibtaker, which builds educational kits for Arab students.
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Ammouri enjoyed being at the competition partly because of the simple freedoms he enjoyed in the United Arab Emirates, such as being able to drive wherever he wanted, without worrying about checkpoints. “It’s not easy, but there’s something to human nature and challenges,” Ammouri said. “Call it survival, but we’ve adapted to hardships.”
The Diaspora’s Role
Politics may be one reason why more successful Arab émigrés haven’t returned to the region, but supporting emerging entrepreneurs is a way to engage, said Ossama Hassanein, chairman of Techwadi, an organization founded four years ago to link up Arabs working in the tech economy. “This is the best time for entrepreneurship in the Middle East,” he said.
Hassanein was in attendance at the competition final, and took time to meet all the competitors, offering advice, and later announcing he would be investing in some startups as well. “Competitions are a dime a dozen,” he said. “How about judges finance some of the winners?”
The Silicon Valley veteran was critical of some regional efforts to fund entrepreneurship that focused on supporting only nationals of a particular country. “By that very definition they are limiting their potential,” he said.
He noted that before coming to Dubai, he was at a conference in San Francisco and described some of the business plans that were finalists in the MIT competition. There was surprise that advanced entrepreneurship was being done in the Middle East, he noted. “The level of sophistication, the clarity of presentations, and depth of analysis in these plans are quite good,” he said.
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Hassanein added that there needed to be a bridge between Silicon Valley and the Middle East. But future opportunities for young Arab entrepreneurs would be better in the Middle East, he said. For those with a dream to make it to Silicon Valley, he suggested it be a place to learn, rather than to settle. “Whoever wants to imbibe the culture there, come, and go back,” he said. “Come not to start, but to accelerate.”
A Privileged Discussion
The competitors at the finals were doubtful, though, that successful Arabs overseas would return to the region to help. A better situation, they said, would be if new leadership emanated from the region instead.
“It’s not that outsiders don’t want to help, it’s because they don’t believe they can succeed,” said Abdulkader Lamaa, CEO of Vira, a concept to use artificial intelligence to organize social network relationships. “They are in San Francisco, they can’t fix Lebanon.”
Lamaa and his fellow competitors said that for regional entrepreneurship to continue to grow, some old habits in the region had to end, such as investor demands for high amounts of equity in startups, and the lending practices of banks that make it nearly impossible for young entrepreneurs to get funding.
Even venture capitalists need to be more supportive, instead of looking for ideas that copied proven ideas in other markets, Lamaa noted. “We have the most risk-averse VCs in the world,” he said.
At the table of aspiring entrepreneurs, there was agreement on another point — that despite their various backgrounds, the discussion was one afforded out of privilege. They still belonged to an upper echelon of Arab society, compared to a vast majority of citizens in the region.
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At odds with traditional expectations and definitions of success because of entrepreneurship, but out of place among common citizenry — such social obstacles are reasons why many of the competitors said they would keep in touch and encourage each others’ efforts.
“This is a new, growing ecosystem that didn’t exist before,” Hobeika says. “If you don’t find support elsewhere, at least you’ll find support from others in the same situation.”
Read more: http://business.time.com/2012/08/22/can-entrepreneurship-bring-change-where-the-arab-spring-has-not/#ixzz24PtjDoqW
MIT EF: Connecting the online world with the real world is becoming a real challenge for businesses
With the burst of social media sites, connecting the online world with the real world is becoming a real challenge for businesses. However for Adam ElDaba and Mohamed Shahin nothing is impossible, the two Egyptian nationals were coworkers in Canada when they first met. Having both established previous businesses the two were familiar with the entrepreneurial scene and were excited about starting something new. Their idea was to work together on a platform that revolutionizes the world of advertisement by allowing any store to engage with their customers, give them a reason to return, and push them to talk about their experience over their social media networks and hence increase overall traffic both online and offline. They called it GenieTag and the two have been working on developing the concept and bringing it into real life since 2010.
“ We complement each other says Adam and it is the differences that we have which make us a unique team “ Three years ago Adam left his corporate job in order to commit himself to starting the company , it wasn’t an easy step for him but commitment is crucial if they want to get the business up and running . The teams experience in starting a business goes back to their college years where each had different experiences and failures and according to Adam “ Frustration happens however it is necessary because it challenges you and makes you work harder and failure is only a definition that you provide to yourself “ . Mohamed on the other hand had received mentorship from a leading CEO while studying at university “I was privileged and he really guided me and expanded my horizon however not having a mentor should not stop you from starting something on your own “
After two years of hard work the team was able to secure their first client who turned out to be Adam’s previous employer . “It made me feel very proud and at the moment I knew I had made the right choice “says Adam. Mohamed adds that having a supportive family is very important when you are starting your own business because a lot of times fear might make you like going back and so you need to have a good support system .
The team still has a lot of ideas they even have an excel sheet with all the ideas they want to make into a reality and at times they might find that their ideas were executed by someone else so they cross it off the list and start thinking about a new one and it is this perseverance that makes them true entrepreneurs.
Having been finalist in the MIT Arab Business Plan competition the team felt that the competition allowed them to better understand where they were headed with their project and it pushed them to work harder and think differently. “To us entrepreneurship is a speed race and you will face a lot of obstacles, the important thing is that you keep going “they concluded.
Genietag has a bright future indeed and with the passion and energy of Mohamed and Adam they are bound to succeed not only in the Middle East but on a global level as well and the Arab world should be proud that it is producing ideas with so much potential and creativity.
Genietag featured in Arabnet
Check-Ins without Connected Devices. GenieTag Utilizes RFID Technology and the Cloud to Reward Customers
By Wael Nabbout | July 18, 2012 | Read Article at arabnet
It’s Foursquare without cell phones” explains Mohamed Shahin, one of the cofounders of GenieTag, a cloud based check-in service that doesn’t require users to carry any mobile device.
Mohamed, along with his cofounder Adam El Dada, had been pondering for a while how to increase physical traffic to shops and stores. Their research showed that when defections are cut in half, the average growth rate doubles, while a 5% change in the rate of customer retention swings profit increases from 25% to 100%. GenieTag, a check-in service that doesn’t require connected devices, is their solutions. By employing a loyalty program tied to the system, GenieTag will then entice customers to visit shops for a reward.
GenieTag combines loyalty programs, referral marketing and social media. Using RFID technology embedded in wrist bands and keychains, which would be distributed to customers free of charge, GenieTag’s cloud based system will know when customers check in and reward them instantly. In return, using tablets available at shops, currently being developed in cooperation with the University of McMaster and Toronto University, users would promote stores from their personal accounts. “It’s word of mouth 2.0,” Mohamed concluded.
How is it different from Foursquare?
Firstly, “It’s more accurate” as checking in cannot happen unless users are physically at the store, “you really can’t hide from the system.” Consequently, users cannot cheat their way into promotions. Secondly, it provides accurate data on inflow and outflow to stores, an additional feature that will generate revenue by selling demographical reports for businesses. Finally, it’s easier to use. There is no need to download or launch any applications.
GenieTag is currently still in development, and expected to launch in the Middle East, starting with Dubai, towards the end of the year.