ArabNet Forum Day 1: What you’ve missed

With ArabNet taking place this week in Beirut, the first forum day started with a lot of optimism and ended with higher expectations for the following day.

ArabNet Shift Digital Summit this year the is a four-day event. In addition to two forum days, The first day was open to developers and the last day will be open to all. Forum Day 1 was rich with panels similar to last year. In addition, it included stat talks and one-on-one interviews. What was also different this year is parallel sessions taking place in up to three lounges simultaneously.

Today started with various panels on entrepreneurship, followed by marketing, mobile, and media related panels. While some of the content presented was quite informative, engaging and uplifting, some were also excruciatingly painful.

An hour and a half delay across the major part of the afternoon did cause some frustration and confusion amongst audience and speakers alike. But this is what usually happens in this type of events.

The Startup Demo allowed ten startups to present their business case and budgets for judges to vote on with the Winners to be announced tomorrow. This year’s demos in a nutshell were, and in chronological order of presentation, as follows:

  1. Jamalon. Online platform for book publishing and sales.
    According to Jamalon, they have already secured copyrights with authors in Jordan to publish their books online. The books are printed quite fast and delivery free of charge within Jordan in partnership with Aramex. While western online publishing services have been around for a while, this is a relatively niche offering in this region. The question to consider is if we do have a sufficient publishing demand that is capable of sustaining such a capital-heavy business.
  2. Edufina. Helping students in Jordan to pick the right university via crowd-sourcing.
    While it’s that simple to explain what the startup is about, it took the Edufina representative five minutes to explain it in a single-minded proposition.
  3. Nuqudy. Merging content with trading.
    News about content that is trade-relevant (stocks, forex, etc.) with an option to trade with stocks through it. I’m very skeptical about this one.
  4. Cashbury. Mobile solution for loyalty cards.
    While according to Cashbury, the average American has 37 cards in their wallet, and without personal statistics to argue against it, this is still one of the excruciatingly painful ideas.
  5. iShopaholic. iPhone and BlackBerry app for special deals allowing everyone including group-buying sites to create plugins for it.
    Good idea if it’s exploited enough to be used as an alternative solution to in-app sales for non-virtual goods. Oh, and please change the name!

  6. Munaqasat. E-tendering platform out of Dubai.
    The topic of social tendering was introduced in an interesting method. I think if this is focused towards small-medium enterprises as an online solution to million-dollar alternative software to provide organizations with access to bidding tools, it would do even better.

  7. Zeedna. Content and community providers for social publishing, networking and publishers.
    More content is always welcome. And with clients and agencies running short on content managers, copywriters and community specialists, Zeedna seems to be thinking in the right direction.
  8. 3eesho. Arab health social network with health-related content tool.
    I think this could have potential, given the number of successful western alternatives that exist.

  9. Toosal. Trip finding, sharing, wiki online tool and mobile app.
    The concept is excellent: a local travel site with the cheapest flight results. One example of a flight search in the presentation is not good enough. The way the tool generates the result or even what it generates in comparison is an extremely important aspect of its success. Sharing more examples would have really solidified the engine’s power to deliver the right content.
  10. Istikana. On demand classic Arab TV. One of our favorites.
    Very simple and direct objective: Nostalgic and classic Arabic videos available online and mobile. With an advertising-based model including standard pre-rolls and creative branding and display banners. Presentation made it look better.

The mobile apps and ads panel unfortunately focused more on the Nokia/Microsoft discussion and we wanted to know more about the four million apps that are downloaded from the Ovi Store, we had to be part of trying to answer if Nokia did the right move and what the consequences were going to be.

While moderating The Venture Capital Investing panel, I was personally surprised by the dynamism of the speakers and the encouraging level of assistance they have been providing to the entrepreneurs of today. With such a positive attitude, you cannot but rejoice knowing that are being encouraged, and by the right people, everywhere around the Middle East.

A couple of disclaimers must be included! While I did and will be moderating and speaking at three of the panels, and while a member of TNW ME was involved with one of the startups in the Startup Demo (Toosal), the opinion herein is unrelated to either.