On May 24th, the stopwatches in Abu Dhabi began racing to the 54-hours finish line. Why 54 hours? That’s the amount of time that Startup Weekend claims a group of dedicated entrepreneurs can form the building blocks of a competitive business in the web or mobile industry.
Startup Weekend Abu Dhabi (SWAD) is the fourth installment of similar type events under the Innovation Machine brand. Innovation Machine was founded by Deem Albassam, Sara Falaknaz and Kamal Hassan who share a passion for entrepreneurship. Innovation Machine (@InnovaMachine) brings sponsors on board and leads regional events for entrepreneurs and startup enthusiasts. They’ve left their footprint in Dubai, Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and are headed to Doha next.
I got a chance to speak with one of the founders of @InnovaMachine, Sara Falaknaz.
Q- Why are you passionate about entrepreneurship?
Sara: Why not get your own security? I highly suggest being a part-time entrepreneur while being employed in a secure job.
Q- How did you and the team begin with Startup Weekend? How successful has it all been so far?
Sara: My partner, Deem Albassam, attended a Startup Weekend event in New York. We saw a lot of potential in the region and decided to bring the idea of a startup weekend event here. We’ve been very successful thus far as we’ve hosted four events (two in Dubai, one in Riyadh and one in Abu Dhabi) that have received a high turnout. We already have over 100 participants registered for our next event in Doha.
Q- How many ideas were generated and pitched in SWAD on Day 1?
Sara: There were over 60 ideas presented by the participants on day 1. On Day 2, they’ve been narrowed down to 25 working groups and tomorrow, we will be awarding the top three ideas.
Q- Why would a participant come to SWAD?
Sara: The participants come from all over the region with an incredible passion towards entrepreneurship. SWAD doesn’t provide funding for potential ideas, even though one of our winners from Startup Weekend Dubai recently secured a sizeable Venture Capital investment, but we do provide the platform to discuss ideas, collaborate with like-minded people that share the same vision and are able to meet people with different skill sets from their own which will allow a new business to startup, faster.
Q- What is your gut feeling as to which group might win first place in SWAD?
Sara: All of the participants are winners. Regardless of the cash prize, the true reward is that they were able to transform their raw idea into a tangible startup in 54 hours.
Q – What was the most ambitious thing you’ve heard at SWAD?
Sara: A participant was on stage and declared, “I will be the next Facebook.” The great thing about the SWAD participants is that everyone clapped to show support for their fellow entrepreneur.
Q- What are some of the ideas that are being put together at SWAD?
Sara: Some of the ideas include a social platform that is targeting the elderly. The group consists of UAE and Kuwaiti nationals that are working together to merge sites such as Facebook, Groupon and Twitter and present them in a user-friendly way. Other ideas tackle transportation, design, and food and beverage. The ideas that came out of our event in Riyadh focused on entertainment and transportation.
Q- How have you been getting support for these types of events?
Sara: We are publicizing the lead-up to the event and the event itself in the social media scene as well as local newspapers, international websites and bloggers from all over the place.
Q- Do you feel that entrepreneurship could be some sort of bubble?
Sara: I believe that the future of any sustainable economy lies in the hands of the SMEs. SMEs are the ones that generate new income, create new jobs and are downright crazy enough to come up with the next innovative idea.
Q- You mentioned job creation, are any of these businesses creating job opportunities for the youth?
Sara: MindTalk is a business idea that was presented in Startup Weekend Dubai. It’s an Emirati initiative that supports MENA women to become more active socially and participate in events, conferences and brainstorming through their website. They are three UAE national women that streamed SWAD in realtime as well. Xpose is another UAE national driven startup that began with four Emiratis and have recruited an additional four Emiratis. That’s 100% growth.
I also got a chance to speak with two groups that were pitching their ideas at SWAD. The first group was Young Eager Steps (@YoungEagerSteps) where I spoke with Mohamed Al Olama and Bader Al Awadhi. They were pitching a YES website to the participants. The website they are hoping to create would target all age groups and would be more interactive with their target audience and 550+ volunteers. What caught my eye was their “The Key to Success” booth that was decorated with various ideas that people believed to be the key to success and various colored keys for participants to stay motivated. To this group, SWAD is not about a new beginning, it is about a strong beginning.
SWAD also catered to a group of artists that wanted to launch an online gallery that brought together photography, art, jewelry and fashion. Apart from displaying art pieces in all their forms, the group of six UAE national women and two expat men wanted to support and help Emirati artists with their skills through online workshops, discussion boards, promote them through a shared social platform and be able to commercially sell select pieces. The basis for this idea started with three very similar ideas that merged into one. Amena, Badreya, Khulood, Hasnah, Ebtesam, Hanan, Kumar and Udana are the artists-turned-entrepreneurs who launched Finazia.com on Day 2 of SWAD.
Once the 54 hours ran out, SWAD winners were announced. HealthMiles took home first place followed by Mongo and Speaking Papers who came in second and third place respectively.
Haif Zamzam is a bon viveur who just can’t get enough of life. Her inflexibility for the norm coupled with her constant hunt for a challenge pushed her to the private sector where she is a professional in a top-tier consulting firm. Haif has an MBA from INSEAD and a Bachelors degree from the AUS. Through her column, Joie de Vivre, French for “Joy of Living,” Haif hopes to show how living with your head in the clouds is highly underrated.