YallaStartup Weekend in the Middle East

Left Amman, Jordan, at 7:00 AM on my way to Beirut, Lebanon, and arrived around 8:00 PM — believe me, it was a very long period for a 400-mile trip. Was it really worth going 400 miles away from home? Was it worth crossing the borders of 3 countries with all their border troubles? And was it worth the time that I spent in the bus?

Geeks-on-a-bus transport to YallaStartup Weekend 2010Anas Al-Far-on-bus
Well, I can say that I wouldn't hesitate to grab a chance to join such an event (create a startup "company" in about 30 hours), participate in a great weekend, be part of the community, see myself among others like me, engage more in my region, gain new experience, meet the entrepreneurs, and, even better, meet the experts! This weekend, the YallaStartup Weekend, the first startup weekend in the region... Would I miss that?

No way. This is Anas Al-Far, and I'm writing these lines right now on my way back home.

Geeks on a Bus

As promised, YallaStartup chartered buses to take us from Amman and Damascus to Berytech in Beirut, Lebanon. Do you want to ask what we did on the bus? Well, the question should be what didn't we do! Although it seemed like a mess at the beginning, going forward, we really enjoyed the bus ride. It was nice meeting new local people that you never knew, checking out their habits and thoughts, and sharing ideas. We spent the first 12 hours in the bus with geeks, or some who are moving forward to be so.

Round 1: register, gather, pitch, vote, and form teams

Once we got there, we started the registration process. All participants joined to pitch their ideas: around 60 great ideas were pitched. However, each one of us was supposed to vote for 2 ideas, to help filter the best.

YallaStartup Weekend 2010 auditoriumyalla-auditorium-gesturing
Pitching took 1 minute for each — I wondered why? Why only 1 minute? How people are going to present their ideas in a minute? And you know something, the problem wasn't in presenting the idea itself, but in convincing people their idea was worthwhile. However, after digging, I was able to find out about "The Art of the Elevator Pitch," which explains a lot.

I saw people presenting their ideas with much passion and high voltage out there, they really wanted their ideas to see the light. But it was still the beginning of the fight. Around 40 ideas passed initial filtering — a good start for the first startup — then people started building their groups, preparing for the next battle, gathering the best team members. They loaded their weapons and readied for battle.

Round 2: Speeches

With the battle just started, performance was great at all levels, and people didn't sleep a lot during the first night. All participants wanted to show their best. In fact, on the first night, Adam Stelle's speech reloaded all of us with passion and love for what we do. (Adam is Events manager for the Startup Weekend organization.)

YallaStartup Weekend 2010 auditorium listening to speechesyalla-auditorium
This day included some other speeches as well, started with a talk by Ayman Chalhoub, Global Product Lead from Nokia, followed by Walid Wannous, Creative Director, Koein. Both Creative Commons CEO Joichi Ito and ALZAD Founder & CEO Ziad Aly added great value as well to the weekend.

Google had its chance too when Chris Messina, Google Open Web Advocate, presented a quick and nice session over Skype. A talk by Ayah Bdeir, Artist, was the last speech. With all these speeches and development hours, no one minded the little bit of fun and entertainment that followed: the movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley" on a large screen was great. It was like a dose of drugs that we needed to move on to the next level, round 3.

Round 3: Team Work and Closing

Time was running out. Two realities I became sure about right then: First, you can't buy time; second, that experience would play a huge role here. Experts know how to use every single moment, because they've been in the same situation before.

Moving on, all teams were supposed to make their ideas work and prepare a presentation. 34 teams were able to reach this point. The press was here, investors were also around now, judges were reviewing the projects to take a quick look, time was up, it was the glory night.

The presentations started. Judges took notes, asked their questions, and added up their marks for each team. It took more than 3 hours to present all ideas, and it was really amazing. People did what they had to, and you know what? They were all winners.

The closing ceremony was great. We all felt like brothers, we felt like we knew each other since long ago. One project passed to the global arena, which was Mimix, a desktop application that translates spoken and written words into sign language.

YallaStartup Weekend 2010 winnersyalla-winners

Not only did Mimix win the YallaStartup weekend event, they also won won part 1 of Global Startup Battle against 12 winners from other cities like Sofia, Boston, Chicago, Lisbon, New York, and Dallas! The first startup weekend in the Middle East did it the right way and won the initial global battle, wow.

The Power of Yalla

A selection of photos of participants at the YallaStartup Weekend 2010 in Lebanonyalla-montage
We all took a certificate to acknowledge our participation. A lot of photos were taken, to keep the great memories intact. The sentiment "this weekend was one of the best weekends in my life" was unanimous, as shown by the following comments from participants:

YallaStartup Weekend 2010 Lebanon participant carrying trays of foodyalla-food
Sami Shalabi, one of the organizers, said: Thanks everyone for creating an amazing weekend. You are all winners! You all got a full dose of what it means to build something from scratch. Whatever happens, this experience will make you a better entrepreneur. You met new people, you went through an entire development cycle, you sold your idea, you demoed your idea, you talked with investors, you talked with the press. This is a small dose of the real world. These skills only get better with practice. We were all impressed with the results, energy and most of all your individual power of Yalla! Take it to the next level!

Hassan Baydoun said: The power of yalla is pumping in my blood stream this morning ...

Mahdi Fayeq Al-Farra wrote: It's been less than a day now and I already miss everyone :(
This weekend was the best weekend I had in the whole of my life, I had a lot of friends, brothers and sisters that I won't ever forget...

Samer Karam, Founder and Acting CEO of Seeqnce, also commented, in light of attending Global Entrepreneurship Week - Lebanon 2010 the following week: Startup Weekend was amazing! The most grueling 3 days I've had in months! GEW-Lebanon 2010 is turning out to be a game changer in the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem...