Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part I

Startup Weekend is a non-profit organization that organizes 54-hour weekend events in various cities around the world. During the event, groups of developers, designers, marketers and startup enthusiasts pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a functioning prototype, demo, and/or presentation by the end of the weekend. The event judges pick the winning startups, which receive various awards. The event also attracts speakers and panellists, as well as mentors that help the teams on their startups during the weekend, who are usually highly-respected members of the local startup community or notable names in the tech industry.

On the April 28th, 29th, 30th weekend, Startup Weekend came to
Egypt for the very first time, held at the new campus of the America University in Cairo in New Cairo. I was lucky enough to attend the three days of the event work with a team on developing a startup. In this two-part review I shall talk about the highlights of my GREAT experience at Startup Weekend Cairo.

First, I really liked the choice of the AUC new campus for the event venue. It provided a great working atmosphere with the very neat working rooms and outstanding outdoor scenery far away from Cairo’s downtown madness. It was a very well-thought decision by the event organizers, which brings me to my second point; the organizers. In my opinion, the event organizers and volunteers were the heroes of this event. Startup Weekend Cairo was the best-organized event I have attended so far. It was almost perfect. The only thing that I did not like was the fact that not all event ID cards were printed even though confirmation e-mails were sent a whole week before the event. Also, something that really puzzled me was that it was mentioned on the event’s website is that attendance costs 100 EGP (75 EGP for students), yet neither me nor anyone I knew there paid anything! Other than that, everything was just in place and the organizers and volunteers made sure that we had everything we needed. Chapeau to them!

The Heroes of Startup Weekend Cairo

After registration, the event kicked off with a couple of speeches, one of them was really boring that I cannot even remember who gave it or what it was about. Something worth mentioning though is that ALL the speeches, even the ones delivered by Arab speakers, were almost completely in English, which I found particularly annoying. One tried to recap the speeches in Arabic, but apparently someone gave him a “look” because he abruptly stopped midway and continued in English. Way to preserve and take pride in our Arabic identity.

Next were the pitches; individuals and teams had 60 seconds to pitch an idea and attempt to convince the audience to vote for it and join their team. When I first heard about this 60-second time limit, I thought it was unfair; the first ideas pitched will be forgettable, the last ones will stay fresh in the audience minds. However, that was not the case, it was even worse. Having to sit there and listen to about 50 ideas in a 60-second rapid succession was a chaotic nightmare; no one was able to keep up with the ideas or properly evaluate and compare them to decide which to vote for, not to mention that the ideas themselves were a bit disappointing, not what you expect after a GOING THROUGH A REVOLUTION. The ideas themselves were not bad, just… ordinary.

Your time is up, kid! NEXT!

After everyone pitched their ideas, it was time to give our votes, the old school way. Knowing practically nothing from the 60-second pitches, people had to cram up the voting space to talk to pitchers and know what they were talking about. The most-voted 32 ideas were chosen to continue and the pitchers had to build their development teams. A really weird phenomenon was the shortage of designers at the event; people were literally fighting over designers and eventually had to call for help from their own designers outside the event. In my opinion, this can be interpreted in only one way; designers are NOT interested in entrepreneurship, which I believe is an issue that should be addressed by the event organizers.

The first day ended with great dinner under the lovely night sky of New Cairo, it provided opportunity to chat with people that we do not usually see in our everyday lives. Startup Weekend Cairo was actually a huge Cairo Tweetup with an entrepreneurial theme!

Some Photos from Day 1:

Registration

Geeks love sugar, specially when in the form of cupcakes!

... or ice cream!

Event Sponsors

 In part two I will be talking about the second and third days of the weekend as well as my experience in working with the “Ma3Ba3d” team. Stay tuned!

Update: part two is now available, read it here.

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4 Responses to Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part I

  1. Mohamed EL Adany says:

    SA,

    First of all thank you for your nice words,

    I am Mohamed EL Adany the guy who u made the recap in Arabic in the opening day, for your info I intended to recap in Arabic and then continue to speak in English because their were many non-Arabic speakers and since ALL of the Egyptians there were highly educated ( understand English ) I saw no problem in continuing the speech in English out of courtesy for our foreigners guests.

    I Stopped in the mid of my speech simply because I almost did not prepare it ( I only prepared it 5 mins before I speak )

    I am very proud of our Arabic language, but in this specific case if i spoke all the speech in Arabic many people would have not understood anything while when i delivered the speech in English everybody understood.

    Also for your info no one made for me any look , simply because I am the Organizer and I made every single details in the event , so I could have made the speech in Spanish if I wanted :)

    Also please note that in any other event other than SWcairo if someone gave me an eye , because i am speaking in Arabic, I would have continued in Arabic without a single English word since I do not accept this from any one whom ever he is.

    finally , We are non-profit , so initially we wanted money so we announced that their will be 75 – 100 EGP tickets m but after we covered ALL our expenses by the sponsors money we made it FREE !

    • aelsadek says:

      Dear Mohamed,

      Thanks you for taking the time to read and comment on my post, congrats again on organizing such a great event. :)

      I agree with you, all of the Arabs and Egyptians that attend such events are highly educated that they understand the English speeches. But every single time I attend such an event I keep stressing on the importance of having AT LEAST one Arabic speech so that people actually feel they are attending an event in an Arab country.

      Sorry if I offended you with my comment regarding the “look”, I just said how it looked from where I was sitting, and just for your information, I was not the only one who thought that that happened, I got the same comment from other people attending the event as well. But I am glad that you cleared it out here :)

      Kindest regards.

  2. Ayman A R says:

    The event was amazing! But since the writer of this review is a critic, let me share some criticism as well :)

    One thing I reaaaaaally hated is how the organizers (surprisingly) took the 60-second pitch so literally! They didn’t even let you continue the sentence, they cut you off exactly after 60 seconds. The 60 number in an elevator pitch (as I believe) is symbolic and don’t really mean max 60 secs. Other startup weekends, as I’ve seen on youtube, people were pitching for a min and a half. Anyway, maybe the organizers had their own reasons, like the large number of pitchers. My same comment goes to the final presentations. 1 min QA barely takes one question.

    Regarding language, I asked several times before and during the event about the language we should use in the pitching and the presentations. Of course it’s a good thing if some speeches are in Arabic (if they’re presented by Arabs in an Arab country), but since there were non-Arab attendees (and not few), including the main startup organizer and other important figures, I think if you look at it from a ‘respectful’ point of view, then I would go with the opinion of having it in English.
    I attended several similar events before where the speeches were entirely in Arabic, but at the same time, it was planned carefully that there would be a live translation service for those who don’t understand.

    Having one Arabic Speech so that people feel they are attending an event in an Arab country, I don’t think that’s enough justification. Have as many Arabic speeches as long as there’s a way for everyone to understand (either live translation service, or a brief in English after the Arabic speech).

    Those 2 points aside, this was the best event I attended so far in Egypt.

    • aelsadek says:

      Dear Ayman,

      It was announced a sufficient time before the event that the pitches would be ONLY 60 seconds per pitch, the fact that the organizer stuck to that rule is actually a good thing! The process has to be organized! And as you said, the number of pitches was too larger that giving more 60 seconds would have been a challenge. However, keeping up with them was indeed difficult, check this tweet by Baher Hakim- one of the mentors- during the pitches:

      https://twitter.com/#!/DrBaher/status/63663052029042689

      Regarding language, the judges and mentors stressed on the fact that you should pitch and present in whatever language you feel comfortable with. As a matter of fact, pitches deliverd in Arabic were more favoured than the ones delivered in English. See this tweet by Nathalie Atalla- another mentor- during the pitches:

      https://twitter.com/#!/n_atalla/status/63664693310537728

      As for live translation, that would have been excellent! You have to take into consideration though that this event was held in Egypt for the first time. But the organizers of future events should definitely take this idea into serious consideration.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment :)

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