My follow up interview with Wamda

Following the success and great turnover of the Hi Tech Hub event, Nina from Wamda has once again stepped up to help us spread the word and tell people about this inspiring story that brought together close to 500 people from all over the West Bank.  Following the event, I chatted with Nina over Skype.  Unfortunately, the voice can be a bit choppy at time, but I’m hoping the message is clear.

I could sit and write about the events that night, but I think Mohammad Kmail did an excellent job of summarizing the event on his blog.

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My interview with Wamda

One post I should have posted about a long time ago was my interview with Nina Curley of Wamda back in early May 2012.   This was during the second anniversary event of AmmanTT, and this is actually when I decided to bring the same model to Palestine.  It took a little over four months, but I’m happy to see that we were able to pull off something similar here in Ramallah and see such an amazing turnout.

Here is a link to the interview.  I would be happy to hear comments about it:

http://www.wamda.com/2012/05/is-outsourcing-good-for-entrepreneurship-in-palestine-feras-nasr-of-iconnect-tech

Hi Tech Hub in Ramallah – Things I liked about the first meeting

My previous post highlighted some of the areas for improvement for the Hi Tech Hub’s first event here in Ramallah.  The two main objectives behind the initiative were to 1. share the knowledge and experience of established entrepreneurs and 2. create a space where those interested in the Palestinian tech startup scene can meet and network.

I think we met the objectives, but in this post, I’ll also write about the things I liked the most about the event.

1. Attendance: I think we generally have a problem in Palestine that when 200 RSVP for an event, only 30 show up.  This event was packed, the seats were all taken, there were people in the back standing, some people could barely get inside.  I even saw a group of guys who squeezed 3 bean bags together so that the five of them could sit.  I think it terms of attendance, the event was outstanding.  There were around 500 people at the event.  I would have been happy with even 200.  Realistically, I don’t know if we can sustain the same number at every meeting, but it’s definitely worth trying.

2. Diversity: I think the diversity of attendees was also very impressive.  The fact that we had students, employees, developers, managers and CEOS, university professors, government officials, entrepreneurs of all ages, including an inspiring 12-year old entrepreneur who pitched his idea of “Not lost” application.  What was also noticeable is the significant amount of females attending the event.

3. Speakers: Both speakers did an amazing job in sharing their experiences and engaging the audience both during and after the speeches. Anyone can learn technical issues, but it’s the experience of how to build and manage a company that is the real challenge.  What students need the most is getting them exposed to what’s happening outside and I think both speakers gave the audience some knowledge of what’s happening.

4. Pitching: I actually liked the idea of having startups pitch their ideas, I wasn’t very happy with the organization of moving between startups.  I think however that giving startups the exposure and practice of pitching their ideas was very important.  I think these types of events open eyes on what’s needed to encourage entrepreneurship in Palestine and what areas our startups need help with.

5. Online community: Over 400 members on the Hi Tech Hub’s Facebook page, and all within less than a week.  Some interesting discussions have started to appear, some related to the event and others in technology-related topics.  There have been so many pictures online, that I’m seeing new pictures pop-up every few hours.  Twitter isn’t very popular here in Ramallah, but I’ve also seen a number of tweets with #hitechhub.  I’m hoping this habit catches up.

Overall, I would say a successful first event, with plans for the second event in late October already underway.

Again, I would love to hear feedback, both good and bad, regarding the event, so please feel free to comment below.

Hi Tech Hub in Ramallah – First meeting evaluation Part 1

Close to 500 people showed up for the first Hi Tech Hub event in Ramallah on Wednesday, September 12, 2012.  The room was packed with students, IT professional, university professors, managers, CEOs, government officials and those interested in the Palestinian tech startup community.

We had two amazing speakers, Wael Manasra and Sami Shalabi, who both traveled from the US  to be with us.  The crowd loved them and after the meeting, it seemed that the two weren’t only entrepreneurs, but more like celebrities with people surrounding them trying to get a few words in and exchange business cards or emails.  The speeches were both fantastic and inspiring and for the most part, I would say that the event was a huge success.

However, I think it’s important to note that nothing is perfect and even the best event can have a few glitches that we can improve for next time.  I wanted to start with the areas for improvement and later write another article describing the strong points of the event.  In my view, the areas that we could improve are:

1. Sound: the hall was large, there were a lot of people and the speakers weren’t distributed/working properly.  The doors were open and there was a lot of sound coming from outside, especially in the back. The speakers were each holding a microphone which I quickly realized wasn’t the best choice.  Every movement and the volume would change.  If the speaker moved hands or shook his head, the voice would fade.  Next time, I think it’s very important that we try to replace the mics with the headpiece mics, it will give people the freedom of both hands as well a constant volume.  While we’re at it, there should have also been a clicker for the PowerPoint slides so that the speakers could control their slides without having to go back and forth to the laptop.

2. Organization: While great efforts were made to make sure that everything was planned properly, we started a little late, the pitching section got way out of control.  Next time, startups pitching will be told they have two minutes and understand there is a timer in front of them who will hold up cards to show them how much time has passed.  Anyone over 2.5 minutes will be disqualified from any prizes.  The intent was for the event to be informal, that doesn’t mean it has to be unorganized.

Other comments I heard:

3. The voting wasn’t fair:  I don’t really understand it when someone says that the voting wasn’t fair.  It was open, democratic and transparent.  Anyone could vote for whoever they wanted and everyone was given one vote.  Many times it is a popularity contest or those with the greatest supporters win.  That’s one of the facts of life, it doesn’t have to be fair because life isn’t fair and most of the time, neither is business.  So what can we do about it?  We need to do a better job of attracting customers/votes and show them why our product or service deserves their support.  The other option for voting was to have a committee evaluate the startups and then we would have an even larger number of people telling us that the voting wasn’t fair.

4. The selection of startups to pitch wasn’t fair: I can understand this point.  The only option we had at the moment was to get nominations of startups and ask them to pitch during the event.  We will need to find a better criteria for selecting startups, but unfortunately, the time and space are limited, whereas there are a lot of startups that would like the opportunity to pitch their ideas.

5. Better content was needed: I think the content delivered by the two speakers was great, we just needed a better sound system with the crowded room.  For the pitching, I think better organization of the event could have cut the pitches into two minutes each like they were supposed to be.  I don’t know if that would have solved the problem, but I’ll have to ask more about this point and get more feedback.

I’ll write another article soon to describe what I think are the strong points of the meeting.  In all cases, I’d be really happy to get feedback and comments on other things that we can improve.

Hi Tech Hub in Ramallah – Part 2

Less than a week to go and a lot of preparations completed.  A few more final touches and hopefully a successful PR campaign to really get people excited about the event.  The event will take place Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 5:00 PM at the Movenpick hotel in Ramallah.  This will be the first Amman-TT-inspired event taking place in Palestine and we’re looking hoping to get a large crowd of students, entrepreneurs, developers, investors and others interested in the Palestinian tech startup scene.
We have three speakers that will join us for the event:
– Sami Shalabi, Head Engineer, Google’s Digital Platform, USA
– Ayman Irshaid, CEO, Areeba Areeba, UAE
– Wael Manasra, Founder/CEO at VoiceBeam, USA
A Facebook group page has been created: https://www.facebook.com/groups/hitechhub/ and a website is being created.  Hope to get it done later today.

Hi Tech Hub coming to Palestine

Ever since I attended the 2nd anniversary event of Amman TT in May, I knew we had to start something similar here in Palestine.  After a lot of hard work and some long meetings, the event is only a couple of weeks away.  The kickoff event will take place at the Movenpick hotel in Ramallah on Wednesday, September 12, 2012.  We’ll be having some amazing Palestinian entrepreneurs speak and share their experiences with the audience.  We’ll also have a display of startups pitching their companies to the audience and seeing who the crowd’s favorite startups are.  There’s still a lot of hard work remaining, but I have a feeling this will be an amazing night.

Regular updates to follow.

Amman Tech Tuesday

Yesterday I was in Amman attending the Amman Tech Tuesday second anniversary event.  Although I wasn’t able to stay until the end and attend the evening sessions, I was amazed by the amount and quality of startups exhibiting.  There really is so much we can learn from events like this and I’m definitely planning to attend a regular meeting sometime in the near future.

My goal is to create something similar here in Palestine.  I know there are others working to create something and I’m hoping to find them so that we can work together.  It isn’t a difficult task to pull off, but it doesn’t need commitment and dedication to followup and organize.

What I need to find is:

1. A place to meet on a regular basis.  I think consistency would be a big plus here.  Meeting in the same place every month would definitely make it easier for people to find and we could probably get a better rate if we can commit to renting space out once a month for a year.  All we really need is a place to fit 200 people, although I’m hoping it will grow more than that.  We’ll also need a projector, a microphone and some speakers.

2. Speakers.  We’ll need 2 to 3 speakers at each meeting.  I don’t imagine we’ll have a problem finding speakers, and we’ll always keep an extra person in the hot seat in case someone cancels last minute.  Worst case, we can have two speakers, which should be sufficient for a successful meeting.  I would also like to have a startup of the month section, where a startup can come and speak about their project/company.  This is basically a great way for startups to get some free advertising time.

3. Dedication and commitment. This needs to be done every month, and it needs to be properly organized.  Hopefully, we’ll have a solid team of volunteers to help keep things moving.

Now, I’m off to post on Peeks to see who’s interested.