ArabNet: Day 1 – Startups, funding, and bad e-commerce!

ArabNet: Day 1 – Startups, funding, and bad e-commerce!

ArabNetHere we go.. a recap of today’s ArabNet conference taking place in Beirut.

In one sentence, today focused on startups in all of its panels and speeches, clearing the way for the more advertising, marketing and professional-oritentated content in tomorrow’s schedule.

Pre-registration that was open yesterday was a blessing to anyone who could make it. Spared myself and others quite a queue this morning so we could enjoy a quiet cup of coffee instead.

The conference included a great crowd. With over 500 participants, the majority being Arabs from the region and abroad.

We started off with the usual.. National anthem, ministers speaking and talking about the importance of this and the power of that. One notable comment was from the Chairman of the UN Global Alliance for ICT talking about a ‘millennium’ goal making ‘the right to know’ one of the human rights by enabling connectivity and infrastructure. Twitter posts turned sarcastic with majority of users mocking the fact that Lebanon would never have a proper infrastructure.

By then, #ArabNetME became a global trending hashtag on Twitter.. quite impressive!

The first panel, Ecosystem of Entrepreneurship, was moderated by Omar Christidis. Omar is the founder of IBAG, the organization in charge of creating ArabNet. In other words, he’s the man behind the event, and he’s seriously done a great job at putting this thing together with the help of some known entrepreneurs and supporters. The panel was very encouraging and focused on educating the young entrepreneurs not to focus on an exit strategy but to ensure that their startups are at their best at all times.

The second panel was more focused around fundraising, nothing revolutionary but quite stressful on the different ways startups can get funded, how and where to get support from. A notable focus on selecting good startups was around 3 Ps: Passion, perseverance and potential.

Then came the Ideathon, which to be honest, wasn’t that impressive. A job site for part-timers, Arabic web font (never going to happen without the blessing of Apple, Microsoft and Adobe – apologies Pascal and co), PlayStation Network localization, mobile contact swapping app, and other quite non-innovative ideas.

Then came a very strong speech by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex (yes, he’s Jordanian) and he had a lot to say, and it was very engaging. He accused the Arab governments of their short-sightedness of not preparing the proper infrastructure. He also accused the private companies for not demanding their right. He addressed the young entrepreneurs giving them an example story as a lesson that they have no excuse to not deliver; and if they do end up failing, they need to learn to take the beating and try again.

The startup demo came next, with some ideas, like Foo-Me, reviewed by us earlier and some other concepts that were, at best, average.

Then came the really bad finish. To say the least, the E-commerce panel was a disaster. It was not what the audience was expecting, and it couldn’t have been. While the panel members and the moderator are all well-achieved, respected, and great people, they just weren’t the right mix. The moderator comes from and electronic banking background like Ms. Randa Bdeir, Head of Electronic Banking at Audi Bank. None of her panel members are not really solution providers. It was too much talk about their achievements and no talk about how to achieve it. When comments were raised about this, the response was to ask the audience to restrict their input to questions and not comments. The Twittersphere was in rage.

All in all, it was a great day. Really, it was. Networking was great. Ample time to meet and greet and share cards and be polite. The Next Web Middle East logo was quite prominent on the large screens all day!

If you’re around at 11 am Beirut time tomorrow morning, be sure not to miss the Social Networking panel that I will be moderating. Live stream at I promise it will be quite engaging with a top-knotch list of world-class panelists.

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