Magic happened last weekend in Gaza. With strong partners and sponsors, we put on the biggest Startup Weekend Gaza has ever seen.
- Over 600 Gazans applied
- We accepted 150 – the most we’ve ever accommodated
- 50% of participants were women
- 70 individuals pitched ideas on the first day
- Two of the top three winning teams were led by women
- 8 international mentors attended – more than ever before
Meet the Gazans
Activities began with the first ever TedX-like event in Gaza, “Meet the Gazans.” The event was announced only two days before it took place because we were not sure if we would be able to run it. With several rockets and air strikes taking place regularly several miles away, we had to assess the security situation daily before deciding whether we would be able to bring our international mentors.
We were able to bring them… and even though we had announced the event last minute, the room filled up with 230 students and business leaders. International mentors’ presentations ranged from UX design to lean startup methodology, and VC investment to the power of emotion in your startup.
Startup Weekend Begins
Seventy individuals pitched ideas on the first day. The team was abuzz with excitement. International mentors who have attended events throughout the Middle East, Europe, and the United States said they had never seen so much energy anywhere, except perhaps Cairo.
Half of the participants and the individuals making pitches were women. Some participants were coming from as far away as Khan Younis or Rafah. Despite the hour-long commute, they arrived by 8:30am each day and often worked until late at night.
The venue was one of the most beautiful ones in Gaza, with professional service and a gorgeous atmosphere: Roots Hotel Seashore.
International judges and local judges joined forces to choose the winning teams on the last day. Teams were scored predominantly based on how much they executed during the course of the weekend. The winners were:
- First place winner Lilac for Innovation Designis building a platform for virtual interior design modeling. Their prize includes incubation at the Business and Technology Incubator (BTI) in Gaza, complete with workspace and mentorship, as well as a $2,500 USD grant tied to specific milestones.
- Second place went to Fun Lab, a virtual platform for chemistry, biology, physics, and computer science education for young students led by the event’s youngest participant (aged 14 years). The team wins incubation at the University College of Applied Sciences Incubator in Gaza.
- Third place winner Wmd offers a mobile app that allows users to purchase in-store products via a QR code and barcode reader. They also win incubation at the University College of Applied Sciences Incubator.
We also gave prizes for the following categories:
- Best Women’s Team award went to Bzzra, a social network and portal for those interested in gardening. The prize of incubation at BTI and a grant of $2,500 is awarded to the top startup with at least 50% female team members and with women in leadership roles.
- Best B2B Product winner Kateb offers consultancy services for organizations and individuals in the technical or creative writing field. They receive incubation at BTI and a startup grant of $1,000.
- Best Validation winner Smart Cart offers smartphone users shopping suggestions based on their purchase history as well as virtual mapping for shopping centers and products. They were able to best validate their product over the 54-hour event. Smart Cart also wins incubation at BTI alongside a grant of $1,000.
And we recognized remarkable individuals:
- Overall attitude: Basel al-Madhoun
- Top techie: Tala Naji
- Top business thinker: Abdallah Abu Nada
- Top designer: Hosain al-Ostaz
- Top presenter: Heba Abu Khosa
Our Partners, Volunteers, and Sponsors
Startup Weekend was organized by a group of local partners that included Gaza Sky Geeks, SADAF Technology Development, Google Developers Group Gaza, and BTI. Over 50 individuals volunteered to make the event possible – thank you! Huge thanks to our mentors, too – dozens of mentors joined us from Gaza and around the world.
We are especially grateful to our sponsors who made the event stellar with their expertise, in-kind contributions, and financial support.
About This Year’s Startup Weekend Logo
We put a lot of thought into every part of Startup Weekend’s design. This year, one of our main goals was to make women feel welcome in Gaza’s startup ecosystem. We know that consumers pick up clues from signs in logos, pictures that are put on websites, etc. Thus, inclusivity was a major goal in all of our marketing. Our sponsor Magic Lens designed a logo whose intention was to communicate that both women and men would be key participants at Startup Weekend Gaza 4.
Advice to Teams from Startup Weekend
The mentors’ main observation from Startup Weekend was that Gazan startups need to focus more on execution, iteration, and validation. Mentors said that the quality of ideas was just as high as the quality they see elsewhere at early stage events like this one. However, in order to succeed in the long run, all teams should be able to create a quick webpage, build an app, or validate ideas online with audiences that go beyond their group of friends on Facebook. Gaza Sky Geeks will be focusing on growing these skills during the coming year so that we can equip teams to improve in this regard before next year’s Startup Weekend.
For teams that won Startup Weekend, congratulations! Now the key is to continue working on your idea as quickly as possible before our next round of investment. Make sure to build a minimum viable product and test it.
For teams that did not win Startup Weekend, you are not behind! Nothing impresses investors more than teams that do not win an event and continue to work on their idea. Many teams this year had excellent ideas that did not win top places because they did not develop their products much during the weekend itself. However, the ideas themselves were fantastic – much better than ones we have seen at previous Startup Weekends. Come to Gaza Sky Geeks for mentorship. We’ll help you launch these and be ready for the next round of investment, too.
Most of all, continue mingling with people, forming new teams, and building your ideas. The more practice you have moving quickly, the more competitive you will be at an international scale.
by staff writer
Gaza Sky Geeks Manager, Mercy Corps Digital Economy Program Director