Tiger Unleashed: TechWadi at Stanford GSB
Last Wednesday, business leaders from across Silicon Valley joined students and entrepreneurs from the MENA region in an important forum co-organized by TechWadi and the Stanford GSB MENA Club.
“A tiger has been unleashed in the Middle East” said Hassan Hleileh, co-president of the Stanford GSB MENA Club, “and Silicon Valley is helping accelerate the growth of entrepreneurship across the region, with Stanford as its nucleus and with TechWadi as the catalyst”.
As it soon became clear, there is no shortage of strong entrepreneurs ready for acceleration – Five CEOs from the MENA community were joined by eight TechWadi 100 charter members who engaged in follow-on discussions with each individual company. Charter members present included Maha Achour (CTO, RaySpan), Saeed Amidi (CEO, Plug and Play), Sam Badawi (CEO, Perceptia Devices), George Chammas (co-Chair, NavLink), Dolly Chammas (President, MEOL), Ayaz ul Haque (Managing Director, Exalt Capital), Ossama Hassanein (Chairman, Rising Tide), and Youssri Helmy (Chairman, IdealRatings). Among other Silicon Valley leaders, we were also pleased to host as mentors Ranga Jayaraman, Chief Information Officer at Stanford GSB; and Dilip Saraf, LinkedIn’s top Coach and Chief Mentor at Bay Area startup MentorCloud.
“I don’t see copying and adapting [a technology] as the same as copying – there is so much work that goes into a product to make it local” explained Dr. Adel Youssef, a former Google engineer in charge of their location-based-services platform, currently CEO of Alexandria-based Wireless Stars: “To an Arab user, most FourSquare badges would mean nothing. Some, like ‘gym rat’, would even be insulting!” Adel left Silicon Valley and Google to found Wireless Stars in Alexandria, Egypt. The company is the creator of ‘Inta Feen’, the leading mobile location-based social networking game in the Arab world.
Adel was joined by other CEOs: Dr. Moataz Rashad of VuFind, a serial entrepreneur formerly with Sony-Ericsson; Dr. Cherif Algreatly of TalkCloud, with over 40 patents and patent applications to his name; Akram Benmbarek of Soovox, an experienced investment banker-turned entrepreneur; and Ahmed Abdel Meguid of Stellatus, a young entrepreneur with a fascinating technology for live video-streaming.
Ahmed, the youngest entrepreneur in the group, presented SharedLife, a live video-streaming application with better quality, speed, and features than existing offerings in the market. “This will be like the iPhone 4’s FaceTime, except allowing live video streaming between any phone and any device over any 3G or WiFi connection anywhere in the world”. Stellatus allows cross-platform live video streaming between Apple, Android, Blackberry, and Symbian phones.
Charting a different path to entrepreneurship than the rest of the group, Akram worked with Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and UBS before founding Soovox – the first destination allowing net-savvy users to monetize their Social IQ; a measure of online influence based on social network presence. Akram spoke about the opportunities – and difficulties – of being a first-time entrepreneur, including product delays, funding issues, and the effects of competition. Now, however, Soovox is in public Beta, offering a valuable –and fun– experience to its users, and improving by the day.
Cherif, a prolific inventor, has a powerful vision: to turn currently unsocialized computing tasks into new hotbeds of communication and networking. The company’s software, TalkCloud, allows users to communicate in real-time chat about any computer activity they are engaged in, including online videos, search, dating, desktop apps, and online shopping. TalkCloud builds mini social networks around each individual computing tasks, providing unmatched social context as well as targeted advertising.
During the evening, we also heard from success stories further from home: Roham Gharegozlou, Associate at Newbury Ventures, presented the short stories of seven up-and-coming startups from the MENA region. Notable highlights included BasharSoft andAlKhawarizmy, two recently-named finalists of the MIT Arab Business Plan Competition; mParents, a very cool mobile app linking parents to their children’s school; and the recently-launched ecommerce freshmenBooks.com.eg and Bebasata.com.
Capping off the programming, Jigar Metha spoke about 18DaysinEgypt, his initiative to create a documentary of the Egyptian Revolution pieced together from video shot by ordinary citizens in the streets. Time, Jigar said, is of the essence: “this media is disappearing, hard drives are failing, cell phones are being lost, cameras are being erased”, Jigar warned: “our plan this summer is to assemble a crew of top Egyptian men and women to go find and curate these videos”.