Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part II

This is the second part of my four-part review of TEDxCairo 2011 talks. If you haven’t read part 1, read it here.

Ahmed Abdalla: Half a Kiss:

The first talk of the second session was by movie writer and director Ahmed Abdalla, famous for his two award-winning independent movies Heliopolis and Microphone. Ahmed talked about censorship and how the Egyptian society reacts towards (the lack of?) it. He mentioned that getting a clear identity of who we are as a nation will help in deciding on the society’s relationship with press freedom, interfaith marriage, authority and gender equality.

It was a very good talk; Ahmed was very captivating and touched on very important issues. The thing I did not like was him ending the talk with “See you on the 27th”; clearly encouraging the audience to attend the May 27th demonstrations. Here is one of the main rules of organizing a TEDx event:

TEDx events may not be used to promote spiritual or religious beliefs, commercial products or political agendas.

Ahmed and all of the other speakers should have been informed with this rule; or else the TEDxCairo team could get their license revoked.

Verdict: Half a Kiss: Good.

Sherif Abdelazeem: Volunteerism:

Next was founder and chairman of Resala NGO Dr. Sherif Abdelazeem. He began by criticizing what he called the “wana maalyah” (it’s not my business) attitude whenever we (Egyptians) see something wrong but not personally affecting us. His talk was focused on promoting volunteerism in Egypt, mentioning that it is the habit of highly developed nations to dedicate part of their time to voluntary work, and that showing your love for your country should not be done only in football stadiums.

“Volunteerism” was another great talk at TEDxCairo. The stories Dr. Sherif mentioned of their activities at Resala were both touching and inspiring. The only thing wrong about it was that it was difficult to keep up with the talk as Dr. Sherif was talking too fast at some points of the talk.

Verdict: Volunteerism: Good.

Haytham ElFadeel: What If Machines Think?

Haytham, founder and CEO of the amazing semantic search engine Kngine, raised the issue of computers’ (lack of) intelligence, and how, unlike any other science, advances in computer science cause advances in other sciences. He then went on to express his love for artificial intelligence and how his belief that “smarter” machines will improve our quality of life lead him to create Kngine, a search engine described by TechCrunch as a “direct assault on Google“, one that has achieved great success despite its relatively small budget, and a project that is 100% Egyptian!

Haytham’s talk was one I was really looking for. He wowed the audience with the demonstration of Kngine’s semantic searching capabilities. He spoke easily, confidently, and enthusiastically. Haytham should have mentioned though the differences between Kngine and Wolfram Alpha, as I overheard some people in attendance saying that it does the same that Wolfram Alpha does. Haytham also kept going back and forth between the middle of the stage and the laptop to change the slides of his presentation instead of using the clicker, which was a bit distracting- maybe the clicker was malfunctioning, but if so he should not have held it during his talk!

Verdict: What If Machines Think? : Good.

Fatma Said: The Day When the People Changed:

The first performance of the day was by the award winning (and relatively young) opera singer Fatma Said. She performed her operatic Jan 25 revolution song “Youm Mal Sha3b Et3’ayar” (The Day When the People Changed). Words cannot really describe the song or her voice. Her performance was the only one that got a standing ovation.

If you haven’t heard this song before, do it now! This is definitely one artist that I would love to hear more of.

Verdict: The Day When the People Changed: Outstanding!

Yasmine Said: Forgetful and Forgotten:

Yasmine Said is a Biology scientist from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, USA. She worked at an elderly psychiatric disease unit at a hospital in Kansas where she developed an interest in Alzheimer disease. Yasmine’s talk was a thorough description of Alzheimer’s symptoms, mentioning that it is dubbed “The Disease of the Century”, and that because of the difficulty of handling an Alzheimer patient, such patients are often neglected and “forgotten” by their close ones.

The talk was very informative AND touching, very close to what you expect from a TEDTalk. However, the talk lacked a crisp clear message; Yasmine did not explicitly say something like “Don’t forget your Alzheimer patients” or made the talk relevant by mentioning stats about the state of Alzheimer patients in Egypt, and personally Yasmine came out a bit too cold to me. Nevertheless, the talk shed a much needed light on a dangerous disease that people barely know anything about.

Verdict: Forgetful and Forgotten: Good.

Essam Youssef: “1/4 Gram” Message:

The last talk of the second session was by Essam Youssef; author of the bestseller “1/4 Gram”, a book described as “an honest insider’s account on Egypt’s drug world”. Essam is also conducting a drugs awareness campaign in which he had visited over 30 schools and universities and met over 2000 students. He talked about the stages of drug addiction as well as some stats related to drugs in Egypt.

This talk could have been outstanding, but it was NOT. Essam’s attempt at breaking the ice at the beginning- “jokingly” saying that he will not abide by the topic he agreed on with the organizers nor the 18-minute time limit- his attitude during the talk, and his final remark “If I made it to heaven, I would ask God for 2 cms (a drug shot)” felt unprofessional and put me off the whole thing. This talk will NOT be featured on the TEDTalks web page, even though its content could have got it there.

Verdict: “1/4 Gram” Message: Bad.

The star of the second session was definitely Fatma Said, her outstanding performance got everyone talking. Kngine’s impressive search results also got people very interested in it.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned for part 3!

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

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Reviewing TEDxCairo 2011 Talks – Part I

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a global set of conferences held to promote “Ideas Worth Spreading” by bringing the most interesting thought leaders to give an inspiring talk in 18 minutes or less. TEDx is a program designed to give communities, organizations, and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at a locally organized, planned, and coordinated event.

I was privileged to receive an invitation to attend TEDxCairo 2011 on May 21st. In this four-part post, I will be reviewing the talks of the event from a TED Talks (big) fan point of view. In my opinion, a TED talk should be evaluated according to how successful it was in fulfilling the following criteria:

  1. The talk is about Technology, Entertainment, and/or Design
  2. The audience WILL be touched, moved, and/or inspired

That, and how the talk compares to/how likely it is to be added to the talks featured on the TEDTalks web page.

The theme of TEDxCairo 2011 was “Resurrection: Laughs, Tears and Hopes”. As a whole, the speakers and the talks were extremely successful in conveying the laughs, tears and hopes feelings. However, if you dissect and rate them individually, the talks and performances would be ranging between outstanding, good, bad, and plain ugly.

MC:

Upon hearing that Reem Maged- the recently-famous TV presenter- would be the MC (Master of Ceremonies) of the event, I became skeptic. I was not completely sure that she would be able to pull off good intros/outros, especially that when she hosted the TEDxCairo co-founders on her TV show, it seemed that she did not know much about the TED/TEDx concepts.

Unfortunately I was right. She was NOT a good MC. She did not introduce TED and TEDx good enough, her introduction of the speakers did not seem well-prepared, and her after-talk jokes and remarks were just off. The only thing she did well was keeping the “overly excited” Tarek Shalaby on a leash during the interview that should not have happened in the first place. But I will get to that later.

Verdict: Reem Maged Hosting: Bad.

Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb: What Newton Didn’t See Coming:

The first talk was by the founder and director of the Nano Materials Masters Program at Nile University and the forefront figure of Nanotechnology in the Middle East Asst. Prof. Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb. His talk revolved around Nanotechnology; its effects on other fields of science and the endless possibilities provided by embracing it.

Needless to say, the talk was full of information; too much information, to the extent that it became very difficult to follow him, leading to the whole thing becoming incoherent. Now, the talk itself was really good, what I have a problem with is selecting it to be the first talk. In my opinion, you need something light and catchy to start a TEDx event with, and then work your way up to the heavily-informative talks. If this talk was scheduled to be at mid-day for example, it would have caught much more attention than it did.

Verdict: What Newton Didn’t See Coming: Good.

Gihane Zaki: Primeval Ocean:

The second talk was by Egyptology professor Gihane Zaki. She captured the audience attention by mentioning a revolution in Egypt around the year 2011 BC when a king ruled ancient Egypt for 94 years and his son succeeded him but reigned only one for year before getting murdered. She also spoke of the ancient Egyptian belief in the circle of life and how our revolution in 2011 was part of that cycle.

The talk was very interesting and informative. The thing is, though, according to Wikipedia, the information she presented was not very accurate. But some experts say that the information on Wikipedia is generally not very accurate. So I am giving Prof. Gihane the benefit of the doubt!

Verdict: Primeval Ocean: Good.

Ali Faramawy: Top Ten “Belmasry”:

Next was Ali Faramawy; VP of Microsoft International. Upon getting on the stage, Ali declared that he does not have a “PowerPoint” (Microsoft ad anyone? :D) or use any “Tofa7” (apples)- referring to the Apple Mac on the stage! His talk covered the feelings of Egyptians before, during, and after the Jan 25 revolution, and how the feelings before the revolution (amnesia, uncertainty, and fear) are the same now, but for different reasons. He also stressed on the importance of communicating with the Egyptians abroad and benefit from what they can give to their country.

I really liked that talk. It was light, funny, informative, and inspiring without being overly “touchy-feely”. In my opinion, this should have been the first talk on the agenda. The only thing that I did not like was that he was mostly reading from papers. Not a nice thing to do when giving a TED talk..

Verdict: Top Ten “Belamsry”: Good.

Fadel Soliamn: Bread and Salt:

Fadel Soliman is an international Islam speaker and evangelist (why are we hearing about these people for the first time?) He is also the director of the Bridges Foundation; specialized in presenting and training speakers on how to present Islam. Fadel’s talk was mainly about the commonalities between Egyptian Muslims and Christians, and how the unity in Tahrir square during the Jan 25 revolution “The Republic of Tahrir” was an integral part of its success. He also stressed on the fact that the word “Copt” does NOT mean Christian, but rather an Egyptian.

This was definitely one of the best talks on the event. Fadel had a charm to him that it was really difficult not to give him your full attention. The talk itself was interesting, insightful, inspiring, and had a strong message all while being light and witty. An excellent example of how a TED talk should be like.

Verdict: Bread and Salt: Outstanding!

Mena Shenoda: An Egyptian Tale:

The last talk of the first session was by Mena Shenoda, co-author of the bestseller “Astigmatism in the Brain”; a book that collects a set of tales about the sectarian disputes in Egypt. His talk (apparently) was a narration of one of the tales mentioned in the book.

In my opinion, this was not only the worst talk at the event; it was the worst TED talk I have ever seen. The story was supposed to be touching, but the overly-theatrical, overacting style of Mena that was closer to a Lady Gaga performance than a touching narration of an inspiring story diverted everyone’s attention from the story and did not leave the best of impressions about the speaker. A massive fail.

Verdict: An Egyptian Tale: Plain ugly.

The first session ended with Fadel Soliman as its star, Ali Faramawy leaving a great impression, and the people splitting in their opinion on the talks of Gihane and Abdel-Mottaleb.

Thanks for reading so far, part 2 coming very soon.

(Photography by Ahmed Naguib)

Reviewing Startup Weekend Cairo – Part II

This is the last part of my extensive two-part review of Startup Weekend Cairo. You can read part one here.

So day two started, almost all ideas that people voted for the night before had their teams formed, with stress on almost, as it seems that there were ideas that their owners did not find people that would join their teams, which I find odd since voting for an idea should indicate that people liked it, and liking it should indicate that people would want to work on it, so yeah. Anyway, most of the teams were formed and people started getting to work.

Now, I have to really hand it down to National Net Ventures (N2V)– one of the event sponsors- for the great work they did throughout the event. Not only did they have the coolest thing I have ever seen in an event/workshop called the N2V Car, which is a small cart filled with candy that… moves around campus for people to get candy!

But also the N2V people were walking around giving away juice to people while they were working. I cannot really say anything but R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

The second day went on- fast, may I add- and it was time for two quick speeches by Fadi Ghandour, founder and CEO of Aramex, and Bo Burlingham, Inc. magazine editor-at-large. Now, I have to be honest here, Bo’s speech was very good, but in my personal opinion, it was done injustice by making it come after that of Fadi Ghandour’s speech. Fadi’s speech was so interesting and he himself was so lively that Bo’s speech felt “pale” in comparison. Again, I am not saying that Bo’s speech was bad, I am just saying that Fadi’s left too big of an impact more than that of Bo, I mean, I have not been a big supporter of entrepreneurship before the event, but Fadi’s speech DEFINITELY made a believer out of me! To know what I am talking about, watch it:


Also, here is the speech of Bo Burlingham:

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One of the things I was wondering about before the event was how the mentoring system would work- one mentor per team? All mentors working with all teams? To answer my question, on the second day, each team was handed a piece of paper with the line “Mentor needed here” written on it. If the team needed a mentor, they would put the paper on their desk with the text side up; if not then the blank side should be up. I thought that was a great idea as the mentors- who were making rounds at the teams working places- would help the teams that needed help but not interrupt the ones that did not, except that it did not go that way. Things went very smooth on the second day, the mentors provided VALUABLE help when people needed and left them alone when they did not. On the third day though, it was not so smooth. Almost all of the mentors along with Omar Christidis– one of the judges- made rounds and asked each team to tell them about the idea they were working on. I am pretty sure that each team leader talked about their idea at least ten times on the third day. The interruptions sometimes were annoying and teams could not object because they had to be nice to the mentors and of course the famous judge, which makes me wonder; what was Omar Christidis doing?! The judges should make their decisions based ONLY on the final presentation, in my personal opinion; the judges should not interact with the teams before the presentations, as doing so would give some teams an unfair advantage. For example, assume that during his round, Omar liked the work/idea of some team, but during their presentation, the team did not successfully present their work and eventually did not “sell it” to the other judges. In the judges room, Omar would try to convince the other judges to vote for it because he knows there is more to it than what was shown in the four-minute presentation. To me, this translates to unfair advantage. As I believe the reason for having only four minutes to present you work is those four minutes are actually the period that an investor needs to decide whether or not to invest in your startup.

Busy? No? Good! Get up and tell me watcha doin'!

Another interruption, but one that was actually good, was when were told to head outside for group pictures, the results were AMAZING as can be seen here:

Now, I have to take a shot at my friend Abdelrahman Magdy, CEO of Egypreneur regarding something (and hope he forgives me!). As a media sponsor of Startup Weekend Cairo, Egypreneur people were responsible for things like tweeting and taking pictures and videos, those videos included quick interviews with some of the mentors and team leaders. That is good, I have nothing against that. My take on it though is that those interviews sometimes took place at the rooms where the teams were working. Obviously the rooms were noisy because PEOPLE WERE WORKING, so instead of taking the interviews outside- where practically no one was making any noise, Abdelrahman was actually asking people to be quiet! I know that Egypreneur is a sponsor and everything- and we are thankful for the exposure it was giving to the teams- but you just cannot ask people working their butts off to be quiet! It is just not… cool!

The third day went by- too quickly!- and it was time for the final presentations. A nice touch by the organizers was making the order of presentations random so that everyone gets a fair chance. Again, it was obvious that the specified time (4 minutes) was not enough for the presentation that the judges sometimes asked the presenters to use their 1 Q&A minute to continue their presentations.

Since I’m new to this entrepreneurship world, I will not talk about the ideas, presentations content, or my opinion regarding the judges’ choices of winners here (you can see a complete list of projects and winners here). What I will say, however, is congratulations for all the winning teams- specially the Inkezny team, my favourite idea :D- and for everyone who worked hard for the weekend to turn out the great way it did. It was definitely an amazing experience, one that surely got me and everyone that participated very excited about entrepreneurship.

Some photos from days 2 and 3:

The great view at the AUC campus

Fadi Ghandour

Bo Burlingham

Judges: Hanan Abdel Meguid and Omar Christidis

Inkezny team, moment of announcing the result

Inkezny team, the winners of Startup Weekend Cairo 2011

And finally, a BIG group picture:

Looking forward to seeing everyone soon at the next Egyptian Startup Weekend :)

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.