Our trip to the nation’s capital was a successful one. At the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship (entrepreneurship.gov/summit), Hillary Clinton announced the State Department’s partnership with TechWadi, along with such groups as Intel and the Kauffman Foundation. Our Global Technology Forum went phenomenally well; we were joined by a group of 100 high-level executives, investors, and policymakers. Surprise speakers included Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, and Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of “The 99” – a revolutionary comic book and television series translated into 8 languages and read by President Obama himself. Read our post-event coverage below.
|We were proud to be part of the extraordinary delegations that attended President Obama’s Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington DC. Social entrepreneurs and business leaders from across the Muslim world came together with the singular mission of promoting entrepreneurship back home. We were also proud to hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement of TechWadi as US Government partner, working to expand support and mentorship for young entrepreneurs throughout the region. The United States’ partnership will be key in expanding our reach both nationally and across the globe. Most of all, we were proud to host the only Partner Event to the Presidential Summit focused on technology entrepreneurship in MENA. We brought together illustrous speakers and delegates under the TechWadi banner to set the stage for implementation. The themes of our Forum were clear:
- MENA is at an inflexion point – with the youth bulge, a growing list of successes, increased mobilization of the expatriate community, and the support of the US government, the next decade will be one of phenomenal growth for the region
- MENA has plenty of entrepreneurs, and ample financing. What we need is a top-to-bottom ecosystem: education and exposure at the grass-roots level, guidance and support for budding entrepreneurs, and full-scale sophisticated mentorship for growing businesses
- The way must be led by the private sector. Government-led programs, whether US or local, should be targeted at business environment policies and making it easy for the private sector to lead the charge
- Celebrate both success and failure. The acquisition of Maktoob by Yahoo! was seen by many among our delegates as a turning point for the Arab world, and the beginning of a culture shift towards accepting the practice of “entrepreneurship” as valuable, despite individual results
Based on discussions at our Forum and at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship the two days prior, TechWadi is leading the charge for implementation:
- We have formalized the TechWadi 100 – a network of highly accomplished entrepreneurs, executives, and investors dedicated to mentoring promising entrepreneurs in the MENA region. TechWadi 100 Charter Members pledge to dedicate their time, energy, and finances, with the goal of giving back to their community in the most effective manner.
- We have linked the TechWadi 100 to the State Department E-Mentor Corps initiative, uniting our unique Silicon Valley network with the resources of the US Government to ensure success.
- We have partnered with a new fund, the Global Technology and Innovation Partners (GTIP), to translate our network’s expertise into real results on the ground. TechWadi 100 Charter Members will automatically be admitted to GTIP’s Fund Advisory Network, with the opportunity to inform, guide, and participate in region-wide venture investments.
- After our first national event, TechWadi is going global: through partnerships with ArabCrunch, Dubai Silicon Oasis, and other initiatives, we are bringing Silicon Valley directly to the MENA entrepreneurs.
||An All-Star Cast: Our event was kicked off by Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, creator of “the 99″ (and a highly inspiring speaker!) and Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Naif spoke about his desire to change the image ‘the West’ has of the Muslim world, indeed the image the Muslim world has of itself. He spoke about the challenges inherent in starting any new risky venture, and the immeasurable role his mentors played for him throughout his career. Craig discussed his activities in promoting microfinance, spreading access to computers and the internet, and promoting community-based organization through social networking.
|The Venture Capitalists: Our morning speakers were followed by four MENA venture capital investors (including one who video-conferenced from Amman) discussed the massive opportunity they see in the region every day. “MENA can be global” said Tarek Assaad, managing director of Egypt’s largest VC fund, TDF: “our portfolio companies, with headquarters and IP developed in Egypt, are licensing technologies to Japan the US”. Ayaz Ul Haque, managing director of ePlanet Ventures, agreed: “MENA is at an inflexion point”; entrepreneurs need access to risk capital and mentorship.
||The Role of Mentorship: Our Mentorship panel took the stage to discuss how to create this support structure. Abdullah Assal, President of Stanford Entrepreneurs Club and an Egyptian serial entrepreneur, spoke about the pain in the region: many young professionals can be entrepreneurs but don’t know how – this is where mentorship can help. Greg Behrman from the State Dept discussed the E-Mentor Corps (of which TechWadi is a close partner), building an online platform to connect mentors and startups. Dr. Belgacem Haba wrapped up the panel with his inspiring story: how a group of geeks from Silicon Valley bootstrapped the Algerian Startup Initiative, helping build a lasting ecosystem.<
|A Late Lunch: Discussions spurred by our morning panels ran well into the lunch hour, with no complaints. After guests served themselves from our buffet, our keynote panel took the stage. Lorraine Hariton and Steven Koltai, two ranking representatives from the US Department of State, joined two pre-eminent members of the Arab private sector to discuss the action items coming out of Obama’s Summit on Entrepreneurship. Lorraine and Steven spoke about Obama’s Global Entrepreneurship Program (GEP), aiming to support grass-roots ecosystem growth throughout the Muslim world, starting with Egypt. Sheikha Hanadi (Chairperson of Amwal) and our friend Fadi Ghandour (CEO of Aramex) strongly emphasized the need for private sector leadership and shared their own stories of success. Sheikha Hanadi explained it most succinctly: “there is no such thing as public-private partnership, we need to speak about private-public partnership”.
|Education is Essential: The afternoon was kicked off by a discussion on the role of education in promoting entrepreneurship by Asher Epstein of the University of Maryland and Naeem Zafar of Berkeley School of Business. Asher discussed Miaryland’s experience with promoting entrepreneurship, working with students and faculty to translate research into viable companies. Naeem delivered a captivating presentation with one key message: entrepreneurship can be taught – the education system is a key component in creating the next generation of entrepreneurial successes.
|Coming to a close: Our last panel brought together investors (Jim Hornthall of CMEA Capital) and entrepreneur executives (Fadi Ghandour of Aramex and Chris Schroeder, CEO of HealthCentral) to discuss key take-aways from their own experiences as applied to the MENA region. Fadi emphasized the need for successful executives and companies to focus not only on shareholder returns, but also stakeholder returns: For Fadi and Aramex, giving back to the community is a way of doing business. A second theme in this discussion was the need for adaptability and dedication: Fadi discussed how Aramex was on the brinking point financially for 15 straight years, until the company’s wildly successful IPO on the Nasdaq. Jim for his part discussed how his first success, Preview Travel (later Travelocity), went through countless iterations and business plan changes throughout its history. This adaptability needs to be emphasized in the MENA region: challenge is not defeat, but an opportunity to learn and grow.
| Thank you to our members for your support. Warm Regards, The TechWadi Team