ArabNet 2010, Day 1: the Arab web industry emerges

25/3/2010

ArabNet 2010 photos from Andfaraway Photos stolen from Andfaraway :-) With a ballroom full of participants during all sessions, buzzing networking activity during coffee breaks, inspiring talks from both older web hands and young ones, startup demos from all over the region, not to mention very active tweeting and live blogging, we can say that day 1 of the ArabNet conference was a success. Yes, in true Arab style, we had to endure an “opening ceremony” that was full of stodgy talk about the “importance of internet” and “the youth are our future” and a series of uninspiring “official speeches” that were only rescued by the more animated talk by Talal Abu Ghazaleh..

But the rest of the day was great. The diversity of sessions and speakers, the energy and the discussions all were a good inauguration for a new wave of web business in the region.

Even the last session on e-Commerce which suffered from sub-par moderation, became “virtually” engaging as the Twitter feed, displayed on two huge screens, took over.

Of course I am still puzzled about why we need the aforementioned official opening ceremonies in the region. Maybe government still needs to feel in control or maybe we just want to hang on to the last appearances of conservatism. I don’t know. One thing I know is that the Global Entrepreneurship Week held in Jordan last year was actually devoid of Official BS and full of great content. So at least in Jordan we’re breaking out of the mold.

Speaking in Jordan, it is amazing how Jordanian this conference is. We all heard today that 40% of the attendants are Jordanian (is that true?). The demo sessions where dominated by Jordanian startups (of varying quality, I might add). It was another affirmation of Jordan’s “great for startups” reputation.

The issues emerging form ArabNet 2010 were: the need for more aggressive pushing on all aspects of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the need for a business cultural change.

Role models, mentoring, more aggressive and proactive VCs, more exit options and many other “ecosystem” aspects where raised with a lot of passion and real life examples from the likes of Maktoob, Bayt, Aramex and others.

Cultural change was also discussed. Embracing failure as part of the road to success and shifting Arab societies back to a more entrepreneurial and self reliant culture (as opposed to the prevalent culture of wanting to work for big corporations) were some of the points raised in the sessions.

Investor conservatism, in particular, is choking innovation and change in the Arab world. In a region where money is so abundant that it goes to buying foreign football clubs and to developing crazy luxury real estate projects, it is alarming how little ends up being invested in the future of Arab economies, namely innovative web and tech startups. The blunt messages of Arab American tech investors, some of whom where on the panels, like Basel Ojjeh and George Harik, people who come from the culture of Silicon Valley, need to be heard by a wider investor audience.

Intel Capital’s Feroz Sunuallah description of Arab economies as “consumption oriented, me-too economies” was another blunt reminder of how much still needs to be done to start a real business culture shift in this region.

Fadi Ghandour’s motivational message about the emergence of the Arab web wave and the need for everyone, both government and private sector, to get on board, pretty much summed up the spirit of the day.

So now, finally, we can say that there is an Arab web industry. Yes we are at least 10 years behind the global discussion (where the talk is about what kinds of business models Twitter will enable!). And yes, this is still a region where the net has many enemies. But ArabNet is definitely a clear marker in the evolution of Arabia’ web business.

4 Comments

  1. Amer says:

    “maybe we just want to hang on to the last appearances of conservatism. ”

    very interesting.. works as a post on its own

  2. [...] مع أنه لم يعجب كثيرا بجلسة افتتاح المؤتمر التقليدية الطابع, كان تنوع الجلسات Ùˆ المتحدثين , Ùˆ الطاقة السائدة في المؤتمر, بالنسبة لأحمد حميض, بداية لموجة جديدة من مشاريع الإنترنت التجارية في الوطن العربي. “كان من المذهل كم كان هذا المؤتمر أردنيا…40% من الحضور كان من الأردن, Ùˆ حتى جلسة عرض المشاريع كان معظمها من الشركات Ùˆ المبادرات الأردنية…مما يؤكد سمعة الأردن بتوفير بيئة مناسبة لبدء الشركات الجديدة.” من الأمور التي برزت, وذكرها احمد,  في جلسات المؤتمر لتشجيع الشباب في الوطن العربي على الإبداع والإبتكار كانت “توفر ناصحين مروا تجارب ناجحة للمبادرين من الشباب العربي “, وجود “مستثمرين غير تقليديين”, Ùˆ “تبني ثقافة الفشل كطريق للنجاح”. [...]

  3. Bilal Hijjawi says:

    Good take, your finger right on pulse.

  4. Jad Fadl says:

    Jordanian website Tasmeem Middle East (tasmeemME.com) has been voted best internet startup in the region by both public and expert judges at the ArabNet 2010 Conference held in Beirut on the 25th of March.

    Arabnet 2010 was the first international conference for the Arab web industry. Sponsored by the likes of Microsoft, Google and Aramex, it attracted some of the biggest names in the business world. The conference aimed to give promising young entrepreneurs, such as those behind tasmeemME, a chance to gain exposure and build their business. This is the latest in a string of successes for Jordanian tech entrepreneurs over the past few months, showing the payoff of Jordan’s national focus on developing a knowledge economy backed by solid technical infrastructure and education.

    Co-founded last year by Noor El-Fadl, a prominent graphic designer and CEO of tasmeemME, and Tamam Mango, a well-established consultant in Jordan, and developed by Indemaj Technology; tasmeemME is the first regional online networking site dedicated to creative talent (whether music, fine arts, design, film, theater, architecture, writing and all other creative fields). The site offers both companies and individuals a platform to share work, find the right talent for projects, and connect with fellow creatives.

    With a booming creative industry across the Middle East, tasmeemME is designed to fill a gap to support freelancing and outsourcing. It brings unique and exclusive features to creatives across the region including the opportunity to promote themselves through a free profile and portfolio; as well as networking, recruiting, messaging, and advertising services.

    tasmeemME ‘s new services will be launched shortly on the site including project bidding, a forum, and an online marketplace to promote internet trade and more. The site will also be launched in Arabic this year.

    For more information visit http://www.tasmeemME.com

    The ArabNet 2010 Conference, the first international conference for the Arab Internet industry was held in Beirut on March 25-26, 2010 at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in collaboration with Aramex, the Central Bank of Lebanon, with the support of Bader Lebanon, Endeavor Jordan, the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship, the Syrian Young Entrepreneurs Association, YallaStartup!, the Professional Computer Association of Lebanon, TALSI of Lebanon, and the Telecom Regulatory Association of Lebanon.

    In the Press:

    CNN:

    ArabNet sparks Mideast Web ambitions (a short video of the event and awards included, or click here to view it on youtube)
    http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/meast/03/30/lebanon.arabnet/index.html?iref=allsearch

    “عرب نت”.. مؤتمر يطمح نحو توسيع النشاط الإلكتروني في الشرق الأوسط
    http://arabic.cnn.com/2010/scitech/3/30/arabnet.conference/index.html

    Zawya:
    Arab Net 2010 has achieved its goal
    http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20100329065151/Arab%20Net%202010%20has%20achieved%20its%20goal%20%20

    The tasmeemME team would also like to take this opportunity to thank all its members for their constant support and feedback, and of course the Arabnet team for making this possible! Thank you!

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