ArabNet, the largest conference for the Arab web industry, is to bring together over 1,000 Arab web business leaders and start-ups, including a strong presence from regional entrepreneurs following the successful ArabNet workshops held in 7 countries. The 4-day conference takes place in Beirut on March 22-25 under the Patronage of H.E. General Michel Sleiman, President of Lebanon, and in collaboration with the Central Bank of Lebanon.
ArabNet Founder Omar Christidis said: “Building up to the Summit, the ArabNet team has just completed the ArabNet RoadShow, a road trip in the “ArabNet Bus” across 7 countries, fuelled by the mission of finding promising youth and encouraging them to launch their own businesses. We found an incredible groundswell of talent around the region and the strong participation of young Arabs in all the workshops reflects the tremendous talent in the Arab world.”
In its first of-its-kind initiative, the ArabNet team travelled through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, and Egypt. The trip took three weeks, and was organized under the banner of "Entrepreneurs without Borders", and with the Strategic Partnership of Bank Audi, Aramex, Google, N2V and MBC Group. Over 1,500 people participated in these workshops, where they were given the opportunity to connect with and learn from lawyers, investors, experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders from their communities. Aspiring entrepreneurs and university students who attended were excited and empowered by the success stories that they heard.
Fadi Ghandour, Aramex Founder and CEO, said: “Aramex sees a lot of synergy with ArabNet and the RoadShow. Crafting a strategic partnership was a natural step for us and a reflection of our continued commitment to nurturing an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Arab world and providing our skills, resources and extensive expertise at the service of youth across the region."
Wael Ghonim, Head of Marketing for Google MENA, commented that, "MENA users are growing at a much faster pace than the available online services. The lack of web entrepreneurial initiatives will hinder the growth of the Internet in the region. At Google we believe that initiatives such as ArabNet are crucial for the community as it brings all the stakeholders into one place to make a difference."
ArabNet live-streamed every workshop and blogged the entire journey on the web, eliminating physical and virtual barriers to participation, and allowing everyone everywhere to be part of the event. To build a broader sense of community among the different cities they visited, the ArabNet team tweeted, videotaped, photographed and blogged the entire journey. A first in the region, the ArabNet bus was constantly equipped with high-speed mobile internet, using the most cutting-edge devices provided by Qualcomm, ArabNet's Connectivity Partner. Visitors to the site could see where the bus was in real-time, and the result was a tremendous sense of anticipation as the RoadShow unfolded, with cities eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bus.
Ammar Bakkar, Director of New Media at MBC Group, stressed that, "In this age, great ideas initiated by talented youth are driving some of the best digital initiatives around the world that are changing our lives. As MBC Group attempts to tie itself to the future of media, ArabNet has the potential to be the perfect opportunity to be close to interesting ideas, to the dialogue about digital media, and to people who will be driving the future."
Overall, the ArabNet RoadShow received great support from governmental organizations and NGOs, eager to help realize the potential of Arab youth and to develop knowledge-based economies. Around the Arab world, ArabNet partnered with the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) in Riyadh, ictQATAR in Doha, the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship in Jordan, and Dubai Internet City in the UAE.
From the private sector, ArabNet was supported by GamePower7, an innovative online gaming company, in Damascus, and Fainak.com, one of Saudi Arabia's fastest growing dot-coms, in Jeddah.
Universities were also thrilled about the RoadShow, and helping create opportunities for their students to get real-world experience and training. University partners included Arab International University, University of Kalamoon and HIBA (Higher Institute of Business Administration) in Syria; Effat University and Dar Al Hikmah in KSA; and Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar. The American University in Cairo, which recently launched its Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, was a close ally in making the Cairo workshop a major success, with over 500 attendees.
Mrs. Randa Bdeir, Group Head of Electronic Banking and Cards services at Bank Audi sal - Audi Saradar Group explained that "Bank Audi’s strategic partnership with IBAG in ArabNet 2011 is yet another opportunity for the Bank to set itself as a leader in embracing new technologies and integrating them in the banking industry”.
With the RoadShow concluded, ArabNet is now preparing for the 4-day digital summit taking place in March 2011, which will allow entrepreneurs with bright ideas and promising startups the opportunity to connect with investors, executives, and media. ArabNet is partnering with the MIT Business Plan Competition to empower entrepreneurs, and the top 30 finalists from the Competition will receive a full scholarship, including flight and accommodation, to attend the ArabNet conference.
Rashid Al Ballaa, CEO of National Net Ventures, the largest web company in Saudi Arabia, summed things up by saying: "ArabNet was the most important internet event in the Middle East in 2010, and we expect 2011 to be the same."