Attention: The MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is accepting applications

Startup folk,


The 9th edition of the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition is currently accepting applications from the entire Arab region! The application deadline is January 4, 2016.

Launched in 2006, the MIT Enterprise Forum for the Pan Arab Region (MIT EF Pan Arab) is one of the 28 worldwide chapters of the MIT Enterprise Forum Global, an avid promoter of entrepreneurship and innovation worldwide. The Pan Arab chapter has a proven record in promoting MIT-style entrepreneurship by organizing the annual MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition that targets 21 countries of the Arab region and brings in more than 5,000 applications a year. The competition has trained 1,600+ top tier entrepreneurs and has helped start over 260+ knowledge-based and technology-driven companies in countries of the MENA region.

Organized by the MIT EF Pan Arab in partnership with Community Jameel and Zain, the MIT EF Arab Startup Competition is one of the largest entrepreneurship competitions and provides participating entrepreneurs with training, mentorship, media exposure, and networking opportunities.

Apply now to the 9th MIT EF Arab Startup Competition on for the chance to win:

Startups Track: $50K for the first place winner, $15K for the second place winner, and $10K for the third place winner

Ideas Track: $15K for the first place winner, $10K for the second place winner, and $5K for the third place winner

Social Entrepreneurship Track: $15K for the first place winner, $10K for the second place winner, and $5K for the third place winner


MITEF Roadshow Competition

Three lessons I learned from Startup Weekend (Kuwait)

Last week, the third version of Startup Weekend Kuwait took place at The VIVA Coded Academy. The whole weekend was exhilarating and intense! Over 120 people participated, forming 21 full teams that built MVP’s, put together business cases, and presented in front of the judges and audience after 54 hours of non-stop work. The turnout, energy, and resounding success of the event showed how far the startup scene had come in Kuwait over the past 18 months!

It’s always amazing to see how real life situations and decision making play out in teams over the course of the Weekend. Mobile or Web? Focus on marketing or building the product? Subscription Vs Freemium? Designs Vs Functionality? I saw every team dealing and struggling with these decisions, as would a real startup in “the real world”.

Along the same lines, as an organizer and observer during Startup Weekend, I learned a thing or two (or three) about what it ultimately takes to be build a successful startup:

Lesson one: It’s (mostly) about the team, not the idea

One of the participants, called Mohammad, was looking for a team to join late in the first day. Most teams had already formed, but I knew Mohammad personally, and knew that his marketing and event management background made him him a valuable member to any team. As I was walking around with him trying to find a team, I was surprised that several teams declined his offer to join them. Eventually, we found a team that had only two members who I knew to be talented and driven, just like Mohammad. He like their idea and they recognized the value they brought to them (both of them were coders/ designers). They formed a small but strong and balanced team of three.

Their initial idea was ambitious, but they pivoted to something entirely and extremely different. It wasn’t as ambitious, and I personally thought there were at least 4 or 5 more exciting ideas in the competition. I didn’t like their chances. But, lo and behold, Mohammad’s team won first place. Their idea, Mukancom, is a platform to find co-working space in Kuwait. Arwa and Shahd, Mohammad’s team mates, did a stellar job building an MVP. But, going by the judges score cards, what really set them apart was Mohammad’s final presentation. There might have been better ideas out there, but Mukancom’s overall execution and presentation was superb, and their team was strong on all fronts, and that made all the difference. (There’s another lesson here about pivoting too).


Lesson two: It’s not about the money, money, money

One of the things that caught my attention was the participant’s seemingly lack of interest in the cash prize. Over 210 people had signed up as participants before we had event announced the money reward. I made the announcement on stage during the event, and I distinctly remember listing the non-cash prizes first (free co-working space at Sirdab Lab, free UX consultation from Catalyst) and leaving the cash prize at the end, anticipating it would get the biggest cheer. That wasn’t the case. The non-cash prizes got a lot more noise and excitement than the cash prize announcement.

In fact, not once during the Weekend did I hear people talking about the cash prize. I got asked a few times about the non-cash prizes. It seemed that no one really cared about the money at the end of it all. And yet here there were, 21 teams working 54 hours straight without much regard for the possibility of monetary reward.

You often hear successful people say something like “Don’t start a business for the money” or “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money” but those sayings often get dismissed as idealistic mantras reserved for the already rich and successful. But the lesson I learned here is that passion, competition, and the desire to build something worthwhile are far bigger motivators than money. (I’m happy to report that the top 5 teams have all continued working on their startups after the event!)


Lesson three: The true value of having a co-founder

In Startup Weekend, most dropouts occur late in the second day. It’s around that time when participants start feeling exhausted, and the finish line is oh-so-far without any guarantee of success. Our lead organizer tells me the following story: two participants from the same approached him around midnight on the second day. One of them, the “CEO” of the team (she came up with the startup idea), told him she wanted to quit. She was mentally drained and didn’t think her team had a chance of winning, so she wanted to pack up and go home.  But her teammate (the co-founder) insisted she stays. She was asking the organizer to convince the CEO not to give up. She was begging her friend to see it through until the final presentations, for the sake of the team, because she knew that if the CEO quit, the rest of the team would too. The CEO, quite literally with tears in her eyes, decided to soldier on.

That team ended up winning second place, and were in close contention for first place.

It goes to show that, above all else, the greatest benefit of having a co-founder is having someone to lean on when you’re ready to give up. In the emotional roller coaster that is a startup, co-founders must take it in turns to support each other through the tough times.


I can’t wait for next year’s Startup Weekend, where I’m sure the ideas will be even bigger and better!






Coverage of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – A few pictures

A few pictures of the participants and judging phases of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition that took place in Kuwait, April, 2015.

Credit and special thanks to Mariam Al-Rayes and the MIT EF Pan Arab organizing team for the pictures and for putting together truly inspiring, thought provoking, and informative event.

Coverage of the 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – Day 1: Awards and Panels

The 8th MIT Enterprise Forum officially got underway last night in Kuwait. From the opening speech delivered by MC Talal Malik, I could feel the crowd growing in anticipation for what was to come (especially the startup teams who were waiting for the announcement of the Arab Startup Competition winners!).


The forum kicked off with a fireside chat between Hala Fadel (Chair, MITEF panArab) and Mr. Mohammad Abulaziz Alshaya (Executive Chairman, M.H. Alshaya Co.). Alshaya’s success story, dating back to his grandfather in the late 1800’s, was truly inspiring. It was very apparent in Alshayaa’s answers how confident he was in Arab youth and what they could aspire to be. He continuously underscored three important factors for realizing success:



Hard work


For me, the highlight of the chat was Alshaya’s belief that “government should stop guaranteeing jobs”, pointing out that such policy kills motivation among youth, especially in the GCC.


Next on the agenda was the Panel titled “The Missing Link: From Startup to Global Powerhouse”. The main topic of discussion was underlining the required infrastructure and mentality for startups to grow into global industry leaders. On the panel were Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah, Mohammad Jaffar (former CEO of Talabat), Tarek Sultan (CEO at Agility), and Hala Fadel.


The different backgrounds of the panelists made for an extremely insightful discussion.


From a governmental and infrastructural perspective, Al-Sabah believes that there needs to be disruption and reconfiguration in the way government supports the startup ecosystem. She called for youth to provide change from the inside.

Jaffar, who lead Talabat from a local player to a regional powerhouse, believes that entrepreneurs must possess an extraordinary work ethic and commitment. He also stressed the importance of remaining transparent, honest, and socially responsible; three factors to which he accredits a lot of Talabat’s success

From a Kuwaiti global company’s perspective, Agility’s CEO Tarek Sultan pointed out the strategic significance of understanding where you come from as a company, and what that entails in terms of limitations and opportunities. He remarked that Agility’s global success stemmed from its fundamental understanding of the market in initially operated in, and then building upon that.


By the end of both panels, I was left feeling extremely optimistic that the startup ecosystem would continue to flourish in the Arab world because today’s leaders are willing to instigate and adapt change and disruption.


At the end of the night, the winners of the MITEF Arab Startup Competition were announced, as follows:


Startups Track: Colorbug- UAE (First Place), Project IO- Jordan (Second Place), ScreenDy- Morocco (Third Place)

Ideas Track: Kotobna- Egypt (First Place), ConCure- KSA (Second Place), Nano Ebers- Egypt (Third Place)

Social Entrepreneurship Track: Visualizing Impact- Lebanon, Tahrir Academy- Egypt, La Perle de la Mer- Morocco


Congratulations to all the winners, who were all truly outstanding.


Catch our coverage of the second (and last day)) of the forum tomorrow!


Pictures from the entire duration of the event will be posted soon in a different post (as soon as we get them, we promise).




Coverage: 8th MIT Enterprise Forum – Arab Startup Competition Elevator Pitch Day

Kuwait is currently hosting the 8th version of the MIT Enterprise Forum hosted and organized by MIT.

The forum centers around the MITEF Arab Startup Competition.

Here is a quick brief on the competition:

Startups from all over the Arab world apply towards three possible “tracks”: idea track (for pre-prototype venture), social entrepreneurship track (for startups that tackle a social problem), or the startup track.

From the applicants, 150 startups are selected to attend the semi finals in Kuwait, of which a handful will be selected to participate in the final. The winners are awarded funding as follows:

Startups Track: $50K for the first winner, $15K for the second winner, and $10K for the third winner

Ideas Track: $15K for the first winner, $10K for the second winner, and $5K for the third winner

Social Entrepreneurship Track: 3 winners winning $10K each

The semi-final was held on Sunday (April 19th), and the StartupQ8 team was there to cover it! Our team was also on elevator pitch judging duty.

For the elevator pitch exercise, Startups were instrcuted to pitch (one-on-one) to as many EP judges as possible and gather feedback. The judges (selected from different disciplines and backgrounds) provided succinct feedback and an overall rating for the startups.

A couple of minutes before the elevator pitch exercise got underway, the ballroom was already buzzing with almost tangible energy. Hundreds of founders were ready to bombard the vast array of judges with their extraordinary startup ideas to eagerly collect some valuable feedback.

For the next 90 minutes, startups circulated the room and engaged in insightful conversation with judges. The variety and diversity of ideas was truly incredible. The mix of having startups at different stages as well as ones with a social impact agenda made for a more compelling competition, with Arab ingenuinty on full display.

Of the startups that I was lucky enough to get to know, I’d like to highlight the following three as my personal favorite:

ScreenDy: a web platform for creative native advanced e-commerce apps on the cloud. It allows web developers with little to no background in mobile development to create a brilliant mobile app. I took some time to checkout the platform and found it intuitive and uncomplicated. The team, from Casablanca, is very experienced and extremely capable of executing a world class product.

Braille Touch: an idea for a glove that allows visually impaired people to interact and read digital text content on any screen. What I love about this idea is the sense of mission the founders have. I could immediately tell the amount of passion behind the idea, and I was left feeling confident that they had the team to turn this idea into a beautiful product.

ColorBug: this mobile applications turns color-in stencil into augmented reality for children. The technology is jaw-dropping (literally, in my case) and the app has an overall “wow” factor. But what I really like about this startup is the market potential. They have impressive sales for the short amount of time they have been operating, and they understand exactly how to tackle such a massive market. They are already affiliating themselves with big sponsors in the children education space.

There were other great startups that I didn’t have the chance to find out more about. Let’s hope I get some time to talk to them in the coming days and share my thoughts on them here.

The finalist from each track have been chosen, and the winners will be announced in the forum/ gala dinner event starting tonight (April 20).

Stay tuned for our coverage!

Photo Apr 20, 14 22 35 Photo Apr 20, 14 22 46 Photo Apr 20, 14 22 53

Snapchat Vs Facebook (Part 2): The Real Advantage Of Being A Startup

4 minute read


In Part 1 of the “Snapchat Vs Facebook” feature, I briefly described the scene of battle between the two companies, and how Evan Spiegel and his Snapchat team won the war.


But Part 1 didn’t tell the whole story. Although Snapchat’s decision to focus on a core feature set was instrumental to its success, there is another equally important strategic insight that put Snapchat on the course to grabbing market share from Facebook (and Instagram). Simply put, Evan Spiegel understood that customer perception is the only thing that mattered when it came to why a customer favored one product over another identical product that preformed the same function. The key word there is “perception”; that customer might not be right, and the company might refute any customer claims, and make a substantial effort to alter that perception. Ultimately, however, customer perception is hard to influence.

The story of another well-known startup can shed more light on the importance of customer perception. Chatroulette, a website that randomly paired people in a video chat, experienced the good and bad of customer perception.

When Chatroulette became a hit in 2009, most experts doubted that the website would take off because users would fear that the website would store the video chats, and as such there was a trust issue between users and the company (person) running the platform. However, despite what experts predicted, the site continued to grow to the point where it had thousands of daily users logging in and video chatting endlessly.

How did Chatroulette gain the trust of users so quickly? It didn’t. Chatroulette had poor design, shady exterior, and a primitive interface. As such, users thought the website’s runner lacked the technical ability and prowess to store user information or videos. The customer perception was that this website is so basic that there is no way it was set up to source videos, hack their cameras, or infringe on their cyber privacy.

Ultimately, however, user perception changed. People started to perceive Chatroulette as a dangerous and unregulated outlet for perverted individuals. That perception lived on for too long, and by the time Chatroulette installed methods and regulations (banning explicit material and so on), it was already too late. Chatroulette user engagement dropped dramatically, and the website eventually faded into oblivion.

In Facebook’s case, Evan Spiegel understood that after seven years of global popularity, the social network was no longer a small startup operating out of a living room. Facebook has become a multi-billion dollar cooperation, with powerful means and capabilities. In that light, customers now perceived Facebook as a “big-brother” type of website that stored and leveraged user data for advertisement, and, perhaps, more. It is not uncommon to hear people talk about Facebook as a sort of “intelligence” operation with strong ties to the CIA and FBI (mainly, that Facebook was providing governments with private information disclosed by users).

While there is no evidence of such ties or any “spying” activities, Facebook continuously refutes these claims and unremittingly publicizes a thorough privacy policy. However, these efforts could not overcome the stronghold of customer perception.

Spiegel understood that Facebook Poke (Facebook’s answer to Snapchat) would not succeed because customers could not trust that Facebook wouldn’t “steal” ephemeral pictures and messages. Unsurprisingly, Snapchat came out with a strong, clear, and simple policy: “We do not store pictures, videos, or messages anywhere”.

Snapchat was new; there was no prior customer perception to fight and overcome. It could create and shape the way users viewed the company and the app, and it did that successfully.

As mentioned in the conclusion of part 1, Evan Spiegel understood that he had won the war with Facebook before it had even started. A more accurate analysis is that Facebook had entered a war it simply could not win.


Slice of Advice

As a startup, the biggest advantage you have is that you are completely new to customers. Understand how your customers perceive the competition (both negatively and positively), and assess any advantages to be gained from that perception.


Dropbox and the True Meaning of Competition

With extremely low barriers to entry, startups might feel they are entering a crowded space.


When Drew Houston pitched Dropbox to his friend, a successful entrepreneur, his idea met strong skepticism. His friend opened TechCrunch, navigated to threads dedicated to cloud-based storage systems, and showed Drew close to a hundred startups in that field, half of which were venture backed. It was 2007, and the hot trend of that time was Cloud Storage.


Put yourself in Drew’s shoes. You have a brilliant idea, but you find out that literally tens of companies already exist in that space, and it seems that there is very little room for competition. But Drew asked his friend a simple question (and one that he would repeat to all early doubters), “Do you use any of these systems?” The answer, 9 times out of 10, was “No”.


Drew believed that all the existing companies were “pretenders” who have failed to create a cloud storage system that provided everyday users a simple and straightforward tool to manage their files on the cloud. In other words: the current systems, although many, simply didn’t work. He was confident that the system he was about to build could infinitely improve on the current solutions. He was right. Today, Dropbox has over 200 million users, and is the number one cloud storage software in the world.


Google faced a similar proposition. When the company was founded, two giant search engines, Yahoo and Alta Vista, existed and controlled the market. But Page and Brin were aware that they had created a search engine that was exponentially better than the existing incumbents. We all know how that story unfolded.


The key takeaway here is that the size or quantity of competition can sometimes be highly irrelevant. The true relevance of a competitor is not market share, but rather how much room is available for improvement on their product or service. The less room, the stronger the competition.


Most people in Drew Houston’s shoes would have seen that TechCrunch page and would’ve been demoralized (or scared) by the number of competitors. But what was relevant to Dropbox is the quality of service provided by these companies, and how vastly they could improve on it. Dropbox recognized that although hundreds of companies existed, the best system among them still left a large void in user experience. They filled that void, and continue to fill it.


Slice of Advice

Analyze the competition in your own terms. Compare your idea or product to theirs, and clearly define where and how your product improves on theirs. If the improvement is vast or meaningful, than the size or quantity of competitors becomes relevant only to the space available for improvement and how effectively your product fills that space.

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