What is Blackbox? What did we do there?

So we spent two weeks in Silicon Valley doing a program called BlackBox Connect. Blackbox is a two weeks program for top 16 international startups from around the world. Google for Entrepreneurs supported the program and basically Google covered all of our expenses during this program (flight tickets, stay, breakfast, lunch, dinner and transportation). So allow me to say thank you Google for taking good care of us.

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So again what’s the Blackbox program and how we get there? Blackbox connect is a 2 weeks program for non-US startups to learn from the best entrepreneurs, investors and startups how to build a scalable successful startup. They also bring high quality speakers to teach you how to make the move to the US and what does it takes to succeed over there. They also help you connect with the right people such as Lawyers, VC’s, Angel investors..etc. Whatever you need they have your back.

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The program was in a Bed & Breakfast place called Cowper Inn in Palo Alto, CA.

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It was an amazing place. Each entrepreneur had his own room, except for us. I was in the biggest room in the B&B with two other guys Andrew (South African and Co-founder of Weaver) and Jordan (French and co-founder of Sponseasy). I had the biggest bed in the whole place, they always accuse me that I paid Balckbox money to get this bed, but I swear I didn’t!

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 There was a problem in the room, the problem is….. me. I snore so loud that Andrew couldn’t sleep. Jordan didn’t mind, he is a heavy sleeper. Anyway I spent the first two nights sleeping in a couch in the reception until I bought earplugs for Andrew to sleep in peace.

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Wait what I was talking about!! Yeah Blackbox, so basically the program helps startups to think bigger and assist them to move or to expand to the US market. The program was for 2 weeks. Everyday we start at 11am until 7pm. They gave us the morning for ourselves so that we can work a bit and follow up on our startups before the program starts.  Breakfast is served at 8am till 10am, then lunch at 1pm to 2pm and dinner at 7pm. We had 3-4 speakers everyday covering different topics (Investment, legal, success stories, how they moved to the US, how to pitch your idea…etc).

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 The first week was very closely organized with Google, we had 3 speakers from Google (Kevin Rose, David Drummond and Mary Grove) during the week, in addition to visiting Google campus for a design session. The second week was exciting as well, we got to meet many startups from previous Blackbox programs that succeeded to make the move and raise money from Silicon Valley. (unfortunately we couldn’t take many photos inside Google building, they asked us to leave very quickly)

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The team behind the program was just marvelous, the kindest, smartest and most organized people I ever worked with. Fadi Bishara (yes he is Arabic, originally from Syria, and he started all of this) was an amazing guy that I really admire. Mackenzie, Sanita, Eugenia and Xavier were all amazing. They took care of us the whole time like their own family. I’m just amazed how Fadi could put such an amazing team, but you should know that this is his skill, putting great teams together.

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The startups and the people in the program were just astonishing. I swear if I had money, I would personally invest on at least half of them. I’ll do a separate post just to further talk about some of the startup and founders we met there.

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I forgot to mention how we got accepted. So each selected startup should be part of an incubator or accelerator (that it should be a partner with Google for Entrepreneurs) to be selected in the program. These accelerators should select 2-4 startups that they think they are the best in their own program. Then Blackbox will interview these startups and select one startup from each accelerator.

We (Fishfishme.com) get selected because we have been nominated by AstroLabs, the three days accelerator program that is built specifically for startups in the scaling phase. This is part of the Blackbox story, next post will be some videos while I was there.

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Personal request: If you like this post, then please subscribe to our mailing list (so that you get an email alert of our next post) and follow us in twitter (help us reach 1,000 followers!)

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I’m back to startupQ8 ☺

I stopped writing in StartupQ8 during the last 9 months. Basically since I moved to Dubai!! I always felt bad about it, but I focused to write in Wamda so that a bigger audience can benefit from what I write. When I write in Wamda I always felt conscious of what I wrote. First of all, I know that people all over the Middle East will read it, so I spent lots of time to make it perfect (that means more work and less frequent posts). Second, when I write in Wamda I always felt that I not only represent myself, but Wamda as well, which put some pressure on me, so I can’t express my feelings freely. Moreover, I always write my articles like telling a story, that doesn’t always meet the standard at Wamda, so I need to change my writing style sometimes as well (even though Wamda always gave me freedom to write whatever I want).

I love writing in Wamda and I’ll continue writing there (if they allow me to do so), and I’ll never forget how they helped me in the early days of StartupQ8. Without them I wouldn’t have the courage to do the first startupQ8 event and would probably shutdown StartupQ8 blog long time ago.

Here are some articles I wrote in Wamda that you probably missed:

1- How leaving a comment can change your life

2- Why we moved to Dubai

3- Why we left Dubai: A story of Bahrani startup

4- How sharing your ideas can change the world

5- What’s your options moving to Dubai

6- The next payment technology is called Next Payment from Kuwait

7- What Fishfishme learned from raising their funding round

8- How a term-sheet should look like?

In short, I still love writing in Wamda, but I’ll start writing more often here in StartupQ8. So I’m back if anyone care (other than my sister).

I have so many things I want to share with you guys, below are some of the articles (and videos) I’m going to share in the next period:

1- What we did during our 2 weeks with BlackBox program in Silicon Valley

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2- How does Silicon Valley looks like?

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3- What are the coolest startups we met at Blackbox? 

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4- What is Demo day? How was it?

DEmo Day

5- How was moving to Dubai going so far?

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6- How did I pass the most stressful months in my life? (the first 4 months in Dubai)

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7- How did we hire our team in Dubai?

8- What is the cost living in Dubai these days? (BTW I’m almost broke as I write this article)

9-Why we decided to open an office in the US and how we are doing it?

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10-The real story behind raising our funding round and why we are so lucky?

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12-What is SEO and why it’s the most important thing you never heard about it?

13-Offline vs online marketing for an online startup?

14-What everyday tools we use here at fishfishme?

 

And the list goes on and on. Now if you read this post, please leave a comment with the top 3 posts you want to hear about from the list above. I still not sure how I’m going to make enough time to write about all of these things, but I promise I’ll do my best to do so.

Get Listed in Kuwait’s Largest Startup Resource Directory

Are you a web or an app developer? A designer? A business advisor? A lawyer? An investor?

Are you interested in offering your services to startups but don’t know how to reach them? Well how about you let them find you instead? 

As active members of the startup community in Kuwait we realize how fragmented the market is. We always hear great ideas from people who can’t find the right technical team to build the product. We also know people who have amazing apps and websites but have no clue how to monetize it. So we decided to take action, by connecting people and helping them build awesome startups!

As a first step we are launching a Start Up Resource Directory, a compilation of all local services available for startups. Think of it as a bridge between your SME (or if you’re a big company that caters to the needs of startups we will still include you) and the entrepreneurs looking for your services. Covering a large array of sectors, including web development, finance & funding, angel investors, venture capitalists, marketing and branding, mobile development, graphic design, HR, accounting and advisory, the Start Up Resource Directory has all you need to connect with more clients. Now is your chance to be part of the largest directory in Kuwait. To sign up your company and build your profile, please visit this link http://sirdab-lab.com/?page_id=232 and build your company’s page before the deadline of April 20th. There will also be a print copy published of the directory to further increase visibility and awareness. So don’t miss out!

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Who the heck are we?

Sirdab Lab is created by a bunch of people who are passionate about entrepreneurship, shared learning and building successful startups. We provide entrepreneurs with a community, a co-working space and access to the highest caliber mentor and network.  

Still wanna know more?

Visit www.sirdab-lab.com. And find us on Twitter and Instagram @sirdab_lab.

 Do you have feedback for us, would you like to get involved, or just want to say Hi?

Drop us a line on: info(at)sirdab-lab(dot)com

Kuwait – Venture Friendly

In late 2010 just after we had completed the exit of 6alabat.com, I took some time off to go back to school and pursue my MBA degree.  I wanted to expand my thinking horizon beyond my career objectives, I wanted to learn more about the fundamental gaps we had in our local entrepreneurial community and adopt the best venture capital practice to our part of the world.  There was a lot going on in the region and the startup scene was starting to take its shape.

We are all wise enough to know that change cannot happen over night and for such, I had to choose my battles wisely.  Post graduating in 2012, my partner and I started a project solving a late-stage venture capital gap, which later evolved into an even larger project, building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kuwait.  In April 2013 the parliament in Kuwait passed law 98/2013, the establishment of the Kuwait National Fund for SMEs Development “the Fund” which I am honored to be a part of.

In my previous post, we talked about law 97/2013, the new Companies Law, and the relevant importance of it in transforming Kuwait to a more venture-friendly community.  We will shed some more light today on the key objectives of the Fund and how it anticipates to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As per law 98/2013, the Fund was established to develop and support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Kuwait with the following objectives:

-       Developing the national economy by implementing policies for jobs creation and diversification of national income sources in order to alleviate the financial burdens off government budget

-       Raising awareness on the benefits of enterprise, and coordinating and promoting initiatives of SMEs

-       Providing national data and technical assistance to SMEs

-       Assisting in developing business models and financial feasibilities to SMEs

-       Developing training and development programs through support institutions

-       Developing and implementing funding programs for SMEs

-       Increasing enterprise competitiveness and providing maximum support with minimum interference in the SMEs business

-       Supporting local products and innovation by encouraging the development of local intellectual property

Beyond the macro guidelines provided in the Fund law, it was clear to many that key building blocks of the entrepreneurial ecosystem were missing and thinking beyond the available local resources was necessary if we wanted to build something sustainable.  During our research phase, we met with all relevant stakeholders and learned tremendously from their experiences which opted our thinking process to be in the following direction:

-       Build a fully integrated entrepreneurial ecosystem not just one part of it

-       Do not be reactive to current public needs and instead, have a more forward thinking mind-set

-       Leverage local academics and research centers which have accumulated a significant amount of data/information wealth

-       Adopt international standards which will be key for scaling up and attracting international investors in later stages

-       Allow the market and practitioners to provide direction when providing subsidies or other forms of support

-       Do not complicate the design of the initiative; over-engineering sometimes kills the project

-       Recognize the lead time required for these initiatives to prosper and manage expectations of parliament/public

-       Avoid programs that are too small to create impact and too big for the local market

-       Encourage interactions of local entrepreneurs with international investors to bridge gaps in standards of services/products

-       Stress on evaluation matrices of initiatives

-       Programs should have creativity and flexibility when evaluating them; have the courage to refine or kill some programs

-       Recognize agency problems; try minimizing self-benefit over public interest

-       Make education part of the initiative, involving overseas investors, local entrepreneurs and public sector

-       Evaluate local resources to provide subsidies for targeted technologies and their research and development needs

-       Award and recognize entrepreneurs who fail for the right reasons

-       Mark your presence on international monitoring agencies, i.e. Global Entrepreneurship Monitor survey; aim for better ranks and rewards

After meeting with almost all relevant stakeholders, we realized that our efforts needed to focus on four key building-blocks: Smart funding, legal, education and mind-set.  With some ambiguity in the Fund law as it stands and after careful evaluation of many ideas from the stakeholders we had met with, the Executive Regulations of the Fund were passed to the competent minister and the following were the key points addressed in it:

Smart Money:  Providing value-ad capital beyond just meeting your financing needs:

-       Provide different debt/equity instruments for financing needs

-       Allow for multiple rounds of financing for different stages

-       Ensure alignment of interest with entrepreneurs through different incentive schemes

-       Providing strategic/technical guidance through specialized professionals with different domains of expertise

-       Access to pool of talent

-       Business development and contribution to top-line

-       Low cost of funding

-       3 years work permit (exclusive to public sector)

-       Public tendering accessibility preference

-       Co-op outlets preference

-       Land access

-       Training & development

-       Capacity-building of local production and education

-       Supporting local research & development centers

Education: Prepare raw talent to be ready for changing the world

-       Awareness events on entrepreneurship

-       College and pre-college programs that help capacity building for the entrepreneurial mind-set

-       Supporting entrepreneurial competitions

-       Building incubation and acceleration programs

-       Building technology-transfer centers

-       Data bank and information centers

-       Promote local entrepreneurship in international events

Legal: Assist in improving the legal framework for startups to run their businesses and for entrepreneurs to transact with investors in the future

-       Liaise with public/private sector to enhance paperwork process of funded startups and ensure support aspects mentioned earlier are effective

-       Assist/lead efforts of entrepreneurial related public policy reform

-       Push for more venture/entrepreneur-friendly laws

Mind-set: Redefining what the modern definition of an entrepreneur is to the local community:

-       Solves a problem

-       Creates a new product

-       Identifies a new market

-       Builds a scalable model

-       Eyes a large market beyond the local one

-       High risk/reward

-       Creates thousands of jobs if successful

-       Attracts international talent/white-collar labor

-       Positive impact on society

We are in the final stages of the easier part, strategy-building, and are very excited to making this dream come true.  There’s plenty of local talent not being exploited to the fullest and despite the challenges they face, they have been very supportive to make this project happen.  I would like to thank all who have contributed to the project (public and private enterprises/individuals) so far and welcome any feedback on our thoughts.

A Q&A with the founders of Ajerni

Here’s a quick Q&A with this year’s Startup Weekend winners – Ajerni:

Q: How would you describe your experience with StartupWeekend?

It was insightful, creative, hectic, challenging but best of all it was fun. The thought of making a company in 54 hours has always baffled me, I thought it was impossible. Startup Weekend proved that not only can you make a company in 54 hours but also befriend great people that will help you in the long run.

 

Q: When did you realize that the app was viable commercially?

I’ve always thought the app would have a good revenue stream but I wasn’t sure how. As a team we constantly discussed what were the best options to monetize, at first we agreed on having a fixed rate for every transaction, then we got feedback that the chalet owners will feel we’re taking part of their share so we settled with a fixed price instead of a fixed rate.

 

Q: What are the challenges that you faced while building the app?

There were many challenges when it came to developing the prototype, specially since we wanted to stand out so we decided to make a functional prototype with a payment gateway. Since our application was using a combination of Android app development and web interface development we had to find the most efficient way of connecting them together to get a seamless experience for the user. The other main challenge was adapting a responsive layout to work with all android devices.

 

Q: What was your experience forming the team and working together? How are decisions made within the team?

Fortunately our team had two great developers. One of them was really good with app development, while the other has developed great web pages. So the prototype ended being a combination of the two. I was the graphic designer and was responsible for putting up the presentation together and pitching. We also had a business entrepreneur who helped alot with customer & feature validation. The mentors did a great job with helping us finance the business. Each of us had his own tasks, and when someone had an idea we would discuss it together and see whether it was worth adapting to the prototype. One of the issues we faced was there were so many ideas it was hard to stay focus on the core features, we had to drop some implementations for the sake of time and simplicity.

 

Q: How do you see the startup evolving in terms of product roadmap and regional reach?

We are in the process of meeting up with different lawyers to see where we can go with this and how far we can reach in Kuwait. We are planning to expand to GCC region once the app in Kuwait hits breakeven profitability. There are a lot of upcoming challenges when developing the full app such as syncing the database to the server and handling multiple reservations at the same time. We called the app “Ajerni” so that it wouldn’t be limited to private chalets but rather to everything that can be rented.

A Q&A with the founders of Taqsima

As the date of the next StartupQ8 Event approaches, we did a couple of quick Q&A’s with the two startup teams we will be showcasing. Here’s what the founders of Taqsima had to say:

* How do you remember your experience from last year’s StartupWeekend?

Startup Weekend was a very unique experience. It was very satisfying seeing what we accomplished in less than 60 hours of work. It made us realize just how valid creating and starting up a business is when you meet the right people who share the same dedication and ambition. Even realizing that there are people who are willing to push for a startup community. That in itself was great encouragement for us.

 

* When did you realize that the app was viable commercially?

Generally speaking, if there is a need for a service or product then it is viable commercially. Prior to Startup Weekend we have often faced problems organizing and playing football. At Startup Weekend participants were very vocal about the persistent issues with organizing football matches. We received some great feedback and suggestions. This further fortified our confidence that our service is needed. Following that is just a matter of business planning and deciding what model to adopt to fund and monetize the project.

 

* What are the challenges that you faced while building the the app?

Due to how common and widespread the problem is we are sure that we are not the only ones who thought of programming an app that helps organize football matches. Learning how to differentiate ourselves from others while retaining good value was our first challenge. From a technical standpoint, because everything is made in-house, we had a few issues learning the ropes. Just a few hiccups here and there, but we learned from our mistakes quickly and never stopped.

 

* What was your experience forming the team and working together? How are decisions made within the team?

We believe diversity in skills and knowledge was fundamental to forming the team. With a team of only three people we had to cover a very wide skill set while having basic knowledge of the other members’ key skills. This basic knowledge helps us with communication between the members in their scope of work while avoiding unrealistic expectations from each other. Regarding decisions, there is no hierarchy in our team. We all have to agree on the direction we are going. When ideas are in conflict we have to convince each other until we reach a mutual agreement, usually ending up with an innovative solution that neither of us could have achieved alone.

 

* How do you see the startup evolving in terms of product roadmap and regional reach?

We defined our direction and planned out our phases before approaching most of our technical work. We set expansion plans both vertically and horizontally within the infrastructure of the app and moved steadily. If our business develops to reach the milestones we are aiming for we will be confident in pursuing regional and gradually international reach.

Is the Arab World Missing Out on Big Data Opportunities?

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What is Big Data?  According to IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created everyday from various sources.  Every time we post something to a social media site, use the GPS functions on our mobile phones, make a purchase, collect information on the weather, or take a picture or video with a digital device the resulting data is what is referred to as big data.  And the analysis of this data is the key to gaining a competitive advantage, improving productivity growth, and driving innovation within organizations worldwide.

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in the Middle East are finally ready to adopt Big Data as a business tool.  Business leaders and CIOs in the region are keen to join the global Big Data adoption bandwagon.  This is clear from a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) survey of Middle Eastern CIOs, where 42% of the respondents claimed to be planning Big Data investments in 2013, up sharply from 11% in 2012.  Budget constraints and the lack of a clear business ROI case have been the key inhibitors to Big Data adoption in the region. 

However, Big Data adoption is accompanied by challenges  global and local  and service providers that can overcome these challenges will emerge as the winners in the region.  With a buy-in from CIOs and other C-level executives, Big Data has overcome the first key hurdle to adoption in the region.  But, its implementation will be accompanied by another set of challenges.  Some of these are global in nature, they include: dealing with variety (80% of enterprise data exists in non-structured and non-relational form), velocity (ability to analyse streaming data enabling real-time decisions), and volume (global digital content is expected to grow 50 fold between 2010 and 2020, and data storage is a key issue) of data.  Additionally, countries worldwide are struggling to build a skilled workforce with the necessary technical skills around Hadoop, MapReduce, Predictive Analytics, NoSQL, etc. which are all critical to Big Data implementation.  Yet, there are two challenges that are specific to the region, and that also present unique opportunities for Big Data service providers in the Middle East.

Low availability and usability of public data:  In order to generate meaningful conclusions, Big Data and BI tools need access to large volumes of information such as cartographic data, financial market data, socio-demographic data, regulatory data, and meteorological data.  However, as shown in the graph below, availability and usability of public information in the region is among the lowest in the world (MENA countries are beginners as opposed to the western countries, which are trend setters.)  Data portals in the region either do not have updated high quality data, or the government does not have the technology and the systems in place to share this data with companies and stakeholders. In both cases, there is an opportunity for service providers to educate — and work with — governments to improve the data capture, storage, and analysis processes.

For an infographic and a case study look at the source of this post at http://arabbusinessreview.com/en/article/arab-world-missing-out-big-data-opportunities#comment-87

Source: ArabBusinessReview.com 

 

 

Announcing: StartupQ8 Monthly Event for February 2014

This month, we are celebrating Startup Weekend, where participants formed teams and launched products with a business model in a span of 54 hours. Startup Weekend is carried out all over the world, and we just wrapped up the second Kuwaiti edition. We are excited to bring you two startups that were born in Startup Weekend: Taqsima and Ajerni.

Taqsima, which won third prize in the Startup Weekend 2013, is an app for football fans to organize games and play with friends. Ajerni, which won first prize in Startup Weekend 2014, is a platform where privately owned chalets can be viewed, rented and rated.

Here’s this month’s schedule (note the start time):

7:15 - 8:00 An interview with Taqsima’s founding team
8:00 - 8:15 Mini-break
8:15 - 9:00 An interview with Ajerni’s founding team
9:00 – 9:30 Networking

As always, the event will be in English and it is open to everyone. Register for FREE on our Meetup.com or Dawrat.com event page for more details.

See you there!

The StartupQ8 Team

Reminder: Startup Weekend is *tomorrow*. What are you going to build?

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Announcing the 2014 Startup Weekend – Kuwait!

Startup Weekend is back in town! For those of you who want to experience working on a startup and building a cool web or mobile app, this is your chance. Startup Weekend is coming to Kuwait February 6-8. Participants will share ideas, build teams, develop products and present them to our judging panel for a chance to win cash prizes.
Here’s you need to know about the event:

Is this event for me?
Startup Weekend attendees can have technical or non-technical backgrounds. Technical and non-technicals form teams, so as long as you’re ready to work in a team, you’re set!

What kind of background do I need?
While it is your objective to build a web/mobile app over the weekend, you do NOT need a technical background to attend. You can form a team with someone who does. Similarly, you do NOT need to have an idea to attend. You can form a team with someone who does.

How do I register? How much does it cost?
The event is open to everyone. Registration is free, and can be done on http://swkuwait.eventbrite.com/ Capacity is limited so we encourage everyone to register if they are attending.

What should I bring?
We encourage you to bring the following:

Laptop
Power cord
Internet connection (just in case)
Lots of creative energy and a killer work ethic.

What happens on Thursday, Friday and Saturday?
Roughly, the schedule is as follows

Thursday:
Participants arrive between 5-7 PM, begin networking.
After a short introduction by the Facilitator, there will typically be 1 short speech on practical topics ranging from Pitching Best Practices to Lean Startup Methodology and more.
Then the “Pitchfire” will commence: anyone intending to pitch will have 60 seconds to give their best pitch.
No presentations or props needed for Thursday. It will just be you and a mic.
After pitches are finished, all attendees will organically form teams of two to four persons for each idea. Teams will form organically, consolidate, and begin working while enjoying a light dinner on Thursday night.

Friday:
Teams will work all day, with the occasional breaks to eat.
Mentors will be circulating to provide concrete advice in the field of their expertise for those teams that want it.

Saturday:
Teams will work uninterrupted from morning until mid-afternoon.
They’ll begin wrapping up their product/prototype and/or presentation around 3-4 PM to do tech-checks and practice their demonstration.
After all Judges have arrived presentations will begin: each team typically has 5 minutes plus 2-3 minutes Q&A from the jury (this will vary depending on how many teams are presenting).
The jury will select the top teams, give out prizes (we hope!), and the event ends (and celebration begins!).

What types of ideas can I pitch?
Any business ideas are eligible (whether for-profit, ‘social’ businesses, non-profit organizations, etc.), however the event is strongly tech-oriented. Approximately 95% of all ideas are mobile or web focused.

What about non-technical ideas?
We strongly recommend that non-tech ideas focus on a tech-related deliverable (i.e., website).

Can I pitch my existing business? Can I work on an idea I’ve worked on before?
No. Startup Weekend is designed to be the most effective platform for growing new businesses from the ground up over the course of a weekend. Working on an existing idea undermined the spirit in which Startup Weekend was intended.

How do I protect against people stealing my idea?
The short answer is that you can’t. If you’re very concerned, you can limit your pitch to the rough outline of the idea without giving away key information.The longer answer is that this is not something worth worrying about. Unless you are confident your idea is a ‘key-in-hand’, easy-to-implement innovation that hasn’t yet been thought of (which it almost surely isn’t), the advantages gained from getting broad-based feedback and a strong team motivated by collective ownership far outweigh the remote risks of someone stealing and executing on your idea.

What resources/assistance is provided over the weekend?
A key part of every Startup Weekend is the valuable advice and assistance provided by the event’s Speakers and Mentors. Mentors – community experts in various fields ranging from entrepreneurship, software development, marketing, etc. – dedicate their time to providing advice and actually rolling up their sleeves and working with teams. In addition to the most valuable resources at the weekend (the people), we’ve also put together a list of some of the most useful resources in all startup-related fields, for both before, during, and after the weekend. Check out startupweekend.org/resources for more info.

Where can I find more information?
Check out http://kuwait.startupweekend.org/ Everyone should read the Startup Weekend FAQ page for a more complete set of common Questions and Answers. If you have a question that isn’t answered, please ask one of the organizers or tweet us on @swkuwait.

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