A strong allure of Aubergine

The magic of Beirut is palpable… contagious passion for life, work and play, the strong allure of aubergine, sparkling eyes and hairy chests. What’s not to love?

In the tech startup scene this is truer than ever and it was a treat to start planning the grand finale of the YMEstartup road show. Seems I have no other choice than to spend my birthday on stage – plan is show time 15th of June.

Over the course of the last year’s travelling in the Middle East, the constant references to the Beirut startup scene have been hard to miss. These last 2 days didn’t disappoint. The Beirut Digital District is awesome and the war-ridden backdrop highlights both the modern architecture and the innovative energy of the hub. Thank you Mouhamad and lovely Christelle for sharing your space and vision. Co-working spaces AltCity and Bader impressed me and I’m very grateful for gifts from Fadi… 🙂 and the Aubergine feast Munir treated us to. Apparently Munir is the spitting image of one of Sweden’s greatest entrepreneurs Alfred Nobel!

Loved chatting geek with my friends at Wamda and Arabnet. I only met one of the Yafi twins so I can’t verify the rumours of identical brilliance.

The Tech Hub is on to something cool and I’m grateful for the support of NadimElie and Lama. My Swedish friend and brave, brave entrepreneur Michel happened to be in town and yet again reminded me of the power of generosity and helping each other.

I only scratched on the surface of the all the startups in town…. My path did cross with two INSEAD alumni entrepreneurs though – watch this space. Merci Elias and Nada

Most memorable moment has to be when Henri (Leap Ventures) casually tells me he grows aubergine in his own garden! Seriously impressed and it took me awhile to refocus the conversation on tech geek stuff. Henri – I’ll take you up on your offer to come pick aubergines fresh from your garden 🙂

Angela – thank you for hosting me. I love your resto MOTTO and your new life as social entrepreneur. Yalla I’ll see you soon.

Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction

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To mentally marinate is to allow your brain to laterally mix thoughts, facts and impressions and find new ideas from the patterns. I spent the weekend in Istanbul with the aim to hang out with friends and indulge in aubergine. But I found myself inspired and compelled by conversations to think about our role in the evolving Middle East during a time of game changing technological innovations.

The basic premise is 500 million people in MENA, median age is 26, mobile penetration is around 100% and roughly speaking the region has $2.3trillion in GDP… Youth unemployment is in double digits and it’s hard to ignore the disaster of Daesh (ISIS) and other conflicts.

Interestingly the conversations over the weekend started from a different angle – What happens after the conflicts? How does one build or rebuild places we now call Syria, Libya, Kurdistan and Iraq? What could it look like? How does one leverage and harness the power of tech and entrepreneurship to build the next generation of society. And maybe more importantly – Who does this? Important men, wearing important suits, discussing important stuff in place like Geneva or Washington? That’s partly an unfair comment I know, but I’m thinking it’s time to try a new approach.

I’m going to be consistent and true to my own motto – Crazy and Naïve – and make the bold assumption that all the people living in, roots in, travelling to, connected with MENA will want to be a part of building the future.  Granted, we don’t always want the same thing but we want to be asked our opinion. The beauty is that we actually live in a time where tech and smart people can provide a platform to question and understand what we want and to work together bottom up to build key aspects of our society. City architecture, recycling facilities, school systems, parks, legal institutions… you name it.

When you start thinking about the power of bottom-up, you’ll quickly face lots of challenges. If we park those challenges, and just for a moment enjoy the thought of actually approaching these huge issues in a new and innovative way.

Inspiring.

Breath, count to 10 and let’s take small steps in the right direction.

One of the ideas that came to us this weekend was to create a pan-regional movement, maybe in the form of an online or TV show, which collates ideas, meets bold thinkers, implores the tech community and discusses disruptive change and innovation to solve tangible challenges?

Another thought was maybe I should write a book. What would my main message be? I’m thinking it starts with my personal insights from a hyped silicon vally startup…. Leads to a realization of the power of entrepreneurship from a macro level… leads to a realization that the challenges for a startup in the Middle East aren’t too different from anywhere else… spice the story with crazy anecdotes from my daily circus, amazing meetings and some aubergine dishes… and end with an open Question: How do we use technology and entrepreneurship to (re)build a prosperous and peaceful Middle East?

Who am I to tackle such a magnificent challenge? After mentally marinating that question a few days I’m convinced nobody is in a perfect position, which effectively means we all are a position to do something. That’s my plan.

Feedback is welcome.

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa

In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative

Seeing the pyramids is like meeting Santa Claus… Something magical I’ve lived with all my life but never known if they existed… It was the best Saturday in awhile – spent by the Nile with Wael Fakharany, planning how we can be a positive change and spur on innovation and entrepreneurship in the Middle East. A few hours with Wael and I had a lot to mentally marinate. He has the amazing ability to push your imagination and make you think braver and bolder… he is a Crazy and Naïve hero. There are great ideas in the making – watch this space. Thanks for showing me pyramids.

This was my first time visiting Cairo and it is truly a city that never sleeps. I think the contrasts struck me the most; Beauty next to Slum, Hope & Development dancing with Resignation, Green vs Grey. And in the middle of all this is an ambitious and maturing startup scene. The Greek Campus felt like a safe heaven behind Tahrir Square and the stories of how the core team struggled to organized Meetups during the revolution humbles. Goes to show, if there is a will, there’s a way.

The coolest people… I met Head of innovation at Vodafone Egypt, Endeavour’s team is solid as always, Salma (A head of the Curve) showed me lovely Sufi in Zamalek and gave me the ins and out of social entrepreneurship, Managing Director of Tetra Pak gave me a crash course in the process of packaging, Discussed the upcoming elections with insightful bloggers and journalists, Amazing Salma (PITME & Innovety) gave me the grand tour of the ecosystem – Big Schokran my dear. Great comparing startup mistakes with Con &Abdelhameed of RiseUp – looks like we’ll be doing cool things, Loved Mazen’s District, met a few impressive entrepreneurs… Emily cofounder crowdfunding platform Tennra, Basil cofounder HireHunt which I look forward to beta testing, Maria’s social fashion app Slickr, Waleed’s problem solving delivery solution Ingez (see pic). I enjoyed a very interesting discussion about future of Egypt at the Swedish Embassy with our Ambassador Charlotta Sparre… I didn’t make it all the way to Smart Village but Batman gratefully met Rasha Tantawy over aubergine at Sequoia with a fun group of geeky techs!

Broadly I’d say I heard two different strands of narratives in Cairo. Either people love to talk about the doom&gloom and that nothing will ever happen in the Middle East bla bla bla (long list of complaints, pointing fingers and a few conspiracy theories), OR I heard the opposite… Egypt has so much potential, the talent is here and we just need to unlock it, hope is on the rise, Cairo is THE place to be right now. In the absence of a crystal ball, I prefer to engage with the positive narrative. Our #YMEstartup is planned for the 27th of April and there will be a lot to talk about. Come join us.

Careem took me flawlessly to the airport… must tease the Uber team a little as I met them and they seem to be doing a great job after just 3 months in the market.

I confess on stage that I cry every day, in reality it’s probably every other day. My best crying is always on the plane. The luxury of moving from one point to another, and no action from me is required, usually no connection to the outer world – me and my thoughts and some tears of relief, joy, pride, homesick, excitement.  This trip I learnt a lot, laughed, lost a friendship, made friends and magically met the pyramids.

There is Hope for the Future but the Road is Bumpy

My days are filled with innovation, geeks, hope for the future and of course some tears of fear&frustration. The museum of Islamic art in Doha was therefor a humbling break… or that’s what I saw at first. With a just a little imagination you can teleport yourself back in time and it’s the same innovation, geekiness, hope for the future and tears that created all that beauty and science. We are but a blink in history – lets choose wisely how to spend our time. Qatar demonstrates again and again impressive ambition and I had the privileged of meeting several inspiring entrepreneurs at the #YMEstartup Doha on Monday. The startups pitching on stage ranged from incentivizing recycling, to barcode scanning, to savvy online services!

Some of my favourite entrepreneurs travelled to Doha and shared their stories of successes and learnings! The charming Nima, founder of PITME, who came all the way from San Francisco, showed no signs of jetlag and shared some hard truths about what is needed from MENA entrepreneurs to grow internationally. The message was loud and clear – it’s all about You as an entrepreneur – passion, stamina and the desire to walk the extra mile. I learnt a new word “coopetition”. Brilliant – cooperate with your competition. It is all about getting the job done and finding partners wherever necessary!

The seasoned Mona Ayata of Bayt.com and MumzWorld gave us perspectives on Growth. Her experience is that it’s relatively easy to start a 1m dollar business with a team of 5, the hard bit is growing that to a 100m dollar business and lots of employees. The entrepreneur needs to be a leader or at least a manager… which isn’t always the case. It is probably useful for many of us to think about organisation, culture and leadership to smoother make the transition, as well as finding a way to formulate your vision through the phases of growth… and doubt.

Always a delight to talk to my fellow Swede Magnus Ohlson about his venture Careem. His thought process about his business is a great example of both the flexibility and clarity of vision that is needed to be a successful entrepreneur. He thought he founded a “cool tech company”, he realized after a while that Careem is an operations business and the captains (the drivers) are the main asset. Only when realizing his asset was he able to build the culture of inclusiveness, empowerment and pride that gave them their actual USP – End result is a fleet of captains that give great service. Love it!

My favourite part of the show is always the pitching. I’m a firm believer in the art of rhetoric, and as an ex-speech writer I know the importance and the challenge of delivering a crisp message that grabs your audience emotionally and intellectually. Therefor discussing pitches and story telling with such an experienced investors panel as lovely Numan Numan (MD 212 Istanbul) and brilliant Maher Hakim (serial entrepreneur and Prof. at Carnegie Mellon University) is always very rewarding. The 3 awesome entrepreneurs all displayed passion for their ventures and as always it is a challenge to show off your baby to the world and receive “constructive criticism”… The only way to get better at it is to practice. After speaking to the entrepreneurs after the show I’d say the 3 new learnings were – 1) create an emotional connection with your investors early – all cheap tricks are allowed 2) assume investors are lazy and help them understand your thinking and the opportunity with stats and graphics… 3) let them ask questions and they’ll feel smart… Go get em’

A special thank you to Swedish Ambassador Ewa Polano who amazed and entertained us with a few of all the innovations that has through the centuries come from Sweden – the zipper, the safety belt and Mindcraft to mention a few. Makes me proud that there is a lot of exciting Swedish-Qatari initiatives to promote the startup ecosystem.

Thank you to WISE, Qatar Business Incubation Centre, Ericsson, Nasdaq, 7ayak Hub, QatarLiving, DohaTweetups, Women Investing in Women, Girls in Tech, PITME, TechWadi for believing in us and making the Doha event a success.

Check out the twitter and Insta action on #YMEstartup

I’m in Istanbul today reflecting on yesterday. Took a 3.50am flight this morning. I’m very happy with the show and the turn-out and the atmosphere. Admittedly I’m super tired too and now heading for a French dinner with dear friend and inspiring hotel entrepreneur Alex Varlik (www.georges.com) and my guess is that this Cinderella will be sleeping before midnight. Whoop Whoop.

Saluting the Crazy and Naïve

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Stockholm is freezing right now… but the startup scene is HOT. Last week I was back at Tyler’s #SthlmTech Meetup to meet and great with the geeky, hipster, #worlddomination ecosystem. Always a treat. I’m keeping an eye on WattyDetectify and uber cool PaceMaker…. Save our environment, protect yourself against hackers and finding your Beat all seems very relevant.

My absolute high light this week was joining KTH, Royal Institute of Technology’s Business Lab and coaching 65 budding engineer entrepreneurs. Thank you Open Knowledge Foundation Ambassador Serdar Temiz for making that happen. I saw 10 great ideas presented, ranging from Robotics to improved Social Media platforms to the Runkeeper of Music learning. The art of story telling is key when launching a new business to attract users, capital, partners etc… I’ve said it before but worth mentioning again and again – show your passion, demonstrate the problem your solving, establish credibility, create curiosity, aim HIGH and be you. And it’s not against the law to show your audience you are having fun… I know I am

Congrats EQT and Congrats hjAAAlmar! This dream team will be an important driving force in the European ecosystem. Enjoyed lunch with my friend and Wrapp’s main founder and previous CEO hjAAAlmar. My aim is clear – let’s get some more scandi capital and brains to the Middle East and North Africa… Lots of opportunities.

Thank you Nasdaq for joining us as sponsors as we “Salute the Crazy and Naïve” across MENA

My next stop is Qatar/Doha the 23rd of February with the amazing Qatar Foundation. Come join me and help me spread the word