Startup Weekend Shiraz
At the end of October, we attended Startup Weekend Shiraz. Startup Weekend is a global grassroots movement of active and empowered entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of founding startups and launching successful ventures. It is the largest community of passionate entrepreneurs with over 400 past events in 100 countries around the world in 2011.
The enthusiasm and energy from young Iranians was really contagious. Compared to some Startup Weekend I attended elsewhere, there were a few specificities to the one in Shiraz. First, out of 100 participants, 64 pitched. That’s a high and unusual percentage, which shows that young Iranians are full of enthusiasm and not shy to share their ideas with the world. Then, out of the audience, 50% were developers, 30% had a business background and 20% were designers. Compared to our Startup Weekend in Singapore, this split of skills is quite unusual. This can be explained by the fact that the education system in Iran produces a lot of engineers every year ((link to other article)). Finally, the gender ratio was also quite interesting. Indeed, between 15 and 30% of the audience attending Startup Weekend in Iran are women, which is again quite unusual compared to the ones I attended.
Out of 64 pitches, 10 ideas were picked and here is a summary of their ideas:
1) An application which shows you the nearest cinema and which movies are showing. Users can create a profile and rate movies. The idea was to have a free application with an ad-supported model.
2) A website for artists, where artists could post their art and users could donate money if they want to support them. The team wanted to create a donation-based culture in Iran. They later pivoted to a Kickstarter/Indiegogo based model.
3) An application to cheat during exam sessions. Yes, I’m serious! The team thought of ways to help students cheat more easily, sometimes without having to turn on their screens (using the phone sensors).
4) A service where you could take a picture of your written documents in Persian and someone would type them for you. OCR apparently is not error-free in Iran and not adapted to the Persian script so the team wanted to find a way to solve this issue.
5) An application for fathers who want to work in peace while having to watch their babies. The team said they wanted to create an desktop and mobile app where fathers could monitor their babies and alert the father as soon as the baby went out of camera range.
6) An application and website which would suggest the user what s/he can cook based on which dishes they like and what ingredients they have in their fridges.
7) An application which shows you the nearest restaurants. You would be able to select the occasion (party, romantic dinner, etc), the price range, the type of cuisine etc and book a table through the app.
8) A game to teach physics and chemistry to high school students. The team mentioned to us that a lot of students don’t find physics and chemistry very appealing, so they wanted to show the rules of physics/chemistry through an action game. “Imagine that Angry Birds would teach kids about physics!”
9) An eBay for art and/or a platform to teach people about art. The team was hesitating between both ideas.
10) A site for employers to test their potential employees before hiring them. The platform would be solely focused on IT experts and programmers at the beginning.
The winner was the application which showed the nearest restaurants (team 7) and the cooking app (team 6) came second.
In conclusion, mentoring entrepreneurs in Shiraz was a really great experience. One thing I noticed is that because of the high number of engineers in the room, the participants were prototyping really quickly (which is great) but on the other hand, the theories of Business Model Canvas or Lean Startup Machine were totally foreign to them. Most of them did not really think of validating the assumptions they were making about the pain points of their customers for instance. I think the best teams were the ones that did not solely focused on the technology but also on the customer experience. I believe that once they start to grasp those business concepts, they will make some really great apps/websites.
Kudos to Mohsen Malayeri, Shayan Shalileh, Mohammad Rashidi, Saied Esmaielifard and Samaneh Nasihatkon for organizing such a wonderful event. I believe they will be posting videos and pictures soon on their website (in Persian) or Facebook page. The future of entrepreneurship in Iran is bright, keep rocking guys!