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ArabNet Digital Summit Pulls Off Surprises

Counter-intuitive, challenging views from panels kick off the biggest digital conference in the Middle East and North Africa.

June 24, 2013 3:23 by

Dubai, June 24th 2013 – ArabNet kicked off its fourth annual Digital Summit, the most prestigious gathering of digital professionals and entrepreneurs in the MENA region, on Monday June 24, 2013, at Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, with leaders and stakeholders in the digital sector gathering to discuss the latest trends in digital business, saying it’s not social media.


More than 125 speakers, 70 sponsors and partners, and 900 digital professionals from around the world are convening for the ArabNet Digital Summit 2013 on June 24-26 in Dubai, the regional headquarters for the world’s fastest growing digital enterprises. This year’s event will delve into the hottest trends in big digital business through 45 cutting-edge sessions spanning the themes of commerce, social, mobile, media and advertising, and entrepreneurship. The Summit introduces for the first time the Digital Showcase, the most comprehensive convergence of young digital enterprises in the MENA. The last day will also hold the Developer Tournament Championship to announce the Top Arab Coder.


The distinguished program of the event is organized into two tracks. This year, the Forum Track will be on-going throughout the three days. The Startup Track will run in parallel to the Forum Track on the first day, and the Industry Track will take place on the second day.


The Forum Track began with the panel on “What’s Hot in Web and Mobile” with Namek Zu’bi, Founder and Managing Director at Silicon Badia; Vinnie Lauria, Managing Partner at GoldenGate VC; Yuksel Dibekoglu, Director at iLab Ventures; Rupesh Chatwani, Technology VC at ERBD; Baris Aksoy, Director at Intel Capital; and Ziad Matar, Senior Director, Business Development, Middle East & Central Asia at Qualcomm.


The speakers challenged the widely held belief that social media is the hottest trend in web and mobile, saying in fact that it is the mobile industry that is taking the spotlight.


“In Indonesia and Vietnam, most people have mobile and no laptops. This is why lots of companies have mobile presence only, because this is the way people check the Internet,” says Vinnie.


“It’s fascinating to see the size of development in the mobile sector in the region in the past 5 years,” exclaimed Ziad.

“Smart phone penetration is high, but the mass people still don’t realize the full potential of this,” says Namek.

The panel discussed different ways digital technology is tapping into traditional sectors, namely the education sector and healthcare. For instance, the speakers expressed a great need for investment in content in the massive education sector, which reaches $1.1 trillion in the US, according to Namek.


The session ended with a brief discussing on entrepreneurship and concluded that there is a huge potential of growth that it incubates. There is only 1 company per 1000 capita in the region, and with 300+ million population, 100+ million Internet users, and 70+ million smartphone users, the MENA region is the place to be at the moment for investors.

Following this panel in the Industy Track, Charbel Fakhoury, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Services MEA at Microsoft, discussed the opportunities for entrepreneurs, startups, VCs, and governments. Fakhoury highlighted Microsoft programs for young kids and entrepreneurs, like Kudo, Imagine Cup, and BizSpark. There were 3,000 project applications for Imagine Cup from the MENA region alone this year. BizSpark presents services worth $60,000 for young entrepreneurs. It’s a platform over the cloud without worrying about access and acquisition.

Fakhoury stated that Microsoft is trying to leverage the ecosystem through programs and partnerships with governments that can help students and entrepreneurs to nurture innovation. Fakhoury’s advice to entrepreneurs was to “try and fail.” This culture needs to be taught in schools and universities.

His last message was a call for action to increase volume of companies, ideas, accelerators, and people who don’t have problems accessing new trends. He concluded that the new era of computing revolves around cloud and development.

The Startup Track began with a panel on Acceleration with Burak Buyukdemir, co-founder and CEO at Etohum; Salwa Katkhuda, Investment Manager at Oasis500; Hany Al-Sonbaty, Co-founder at Flat6Labs; and Jeffery Kim, Associate Director, Communications Technology at Mubadala, who moderated the session. The panel examined the track record of acceleration in the MENa and Turkey and investigated the sustainability of accelerator business models.

“The sustainability of mentors is one of the very important things we care about at Etohum,” says Burak. “We have many mentors who take board seats with our entrepreneurs. Some even take stakes and act as angel investors. Our mentors are very close to the entrepreneurs. If they see an opportunity, they are more than willing to put more investment.”

Contrary to the mentors at Etohum, Flat6Labs mentors do not engage in any financial exchange with their entrepreneurs. “We are interested in getting as many mentors as possible into our doors. Those who are truly interested are the ones who eventually stay. The real mentor is the one who will build a special relationship with the entrepreneur over 6 or 12 months. They key is if they are interested or not.”

The panel also addressed the issue of second round funding following seed investment. Recently, Oasis500 took the decision to dedicate 30% of their investment to the next round of investment, to which Hany replied: “Our policy at Flat6Labs is never to invest in the next round if we can’t get angel investors because we need a market valuation of the business.”


The following session in the Startup Track explored venture capital with Ihsan Jawad, Partner of Honeybee Tech Ventures; Walid Hanna, Managing Partner of Middle East Venture Partners “MEVP”; Rashid Al-Ballaa, CEO of National Net Ventures N2V; Dany Farha, CEO for BECO Capital; Angus Paterson, Partner, General Manager of STC Ventures (Iris Capital); and Nina Curely, Editor-in-chief of Wamda, who moderated the session.


Rashid explained that N2V has stopped investing in new ventures and is now focusing on scaling, with the hope of initiating an IPO by next year. “The biggest challenge facing companies in the MENA is scaling at all levels. Instead of investing in new companies, we merged the small ventures we invested in and helped them scale,” says Rashid. “There are many highly inspiring companies in the seed investment that never reach the next stages of growth simply because they do not have the capability and discipline to grow and scale. This is why venture capitalists are very picky in investing in these companies.”


“The MENA market today is still immature. It needs more fast growing companies that invest in internationally-proven business models. Once the market matures, we will see more investments in cutting-edge business models,” concludes Rashid. “The MENA market is definitely crossing a maturing curve, and big events like this Digital Summit accelerate the maturing process.”


About ArabNet

ArabNet is the hub for digital professionals and entrepreneurs to connect and learn. Its activities, aimed at building the web and mobile industry and supporting entrepreneurship in the region, include an annual Digital Summit, widely acknowledged as the largest digital gathering in the MENA; a series of market-focused digital conferences across the region; and its Ideathon and Startup Demo competitions that have a track-record of successfully connecting entrepreneurs and startups with funding and incubation.


Mohammed El Mniai

[email protected]

+97155 831 9482


Giovanni Khoury

[email protected]



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