Launched in 2013, Flat6Labs Jeddah is well underway to accelerate untapped Saudi talent. Having graduated 11 companies across two cycles with the third around the corner. Managing Flat6Labs Jeddah is Ahmad Helal and we’ve asked him a number of questions to get an insight of what it’s like managing Flat6Labs Jeddah.
- How do you view the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Saudi Arabia at the moment?
There has been significant progress in the last five years in Saudi entrepreneurial ecosystem. New active players have joined the scene as supporters of the ecosystem such as WAED by Aramco, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), and Badir Incubators.
It is also noticed that the private sector has started to play a role as well such the establishment of Qotuf Al-Riyadah which founded Flat6Labs Jeddah with sponsorships from Saudi IKEA and Arabic Cement Company as part of their Corporate entrepreneurship initiatives. Other private supporters include Injaz, Shell Intlaqa, Bab RIzq Jamil, and Endeavor Saudi Arabia.
- What kind of impact do you want Flat6Labs Jeddah to have on the entrepreneurial scene in Jeddah & Saudi Arabia?
As the first Business Accelerator in Saudi Arabia that supports & invests in startups, Flat6Labs Jeddah is playing a vital role to drive innovation and support technology entrepreneurship in the whole country, and to position Jeddah, historically known as the business capital of KSA, as a leader in this area.
- As Managing Director of Flat6Labs Jeddah, what’s one thing you would love to see be accomplished in the upcoming year?
People need to see role-models; one or two big success stories will inspire more technology entrepreneurs and encourage investors to invest into new means of investments, rather than the traditional investment channels (e.g. stock market, Real-estate).
- What’s the most rewarding aspect about your role in running an accelerator in Saudi Arabia?
Helping people full of energy to transform their ideas into successful startups and helping them along the way to overcome the challenges they face daily, as well as discussing to new creative ideas every day.
- What’s the future like for Flat6Labs Jeddah?
The future is absolutely bright for Flat6Labs Jeddah. At the first year of the program, 40% of the alumni got follow-on investments and few others are still negotiating with investors. We are working to increase this number to 60% by the 2nd year. Other entities are following the steps of Flat6Labs Jeddah and establishing other business accelerators after they witnessed that success and the buzz that was created by Flat6Labs Jeddah. Flat6Labs Jeddah will continue to be a major hub of innovation in the country and the go-to distention for anybody who wants to start his/her technology startups.
May 20th Flat6Labs Cairo witnessed it’s biggest ever Demo Day graduating 10 start-ups following their 4-month acceleration period. Flat6Labs aimed to add value to the budding entrepreneurial ecosystem across the MENA region by announcing the expansion of their operations with the launch of Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi in partnership with TwoFour54!
Ahmed El-Alfi Announcing Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi at the seventh Flat6Labs Cairo Demo Day
We sat down with Nina Curley the newly appointed Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi Managing Director for a Q&A to highlight what her plans are as well as to to know more about the person running the latest accelerator in the region.
-When will Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi start operations?
Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will launch in November, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, which will be held at Al Maryah Island from November 18th-20th. We’ll then open for applications this fall, and launch our first cycle in February!
-Will Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi be any different from Flat6Labs Cairo or Jeddah?
Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will offer the same services and structure that comprise Flat6Labs Cairo and Jeddah—an initial bootcamp, followed by a four month training and mentorship program, a variety of services, and seed funding. In addition, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will have a special media focus. With the support of twofour54 and various partners in Abu Dhabi, we’ll support teams building products in online content, data and analytics, mobile applications, e-commerce, video and multimedia production, and social media and citizen journalism, although our definition will be broad. By focusing on media, we plan to help startups benefit from one of Abu Dhabi’s strengths, while increasing potential synergies among our teams.
-How do you think Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi’s launch will affect the entrepreneurial scene in Abu Dhabi?
To date, Abu Dhabi’s entrepreneurship scene has been characterized by the presence of regional, growth-stage startups looking to gain traction in the UAE; two notable examples from a few years ago were Jawaker and Tahadi, both Jordanian companies that relocated to Abu Dhabi following investment by twofour54. Abu Dhabi has also seen a lot of energy at the student level, with competitions like Startup Weekend drawing several young innovators—many of them local women, by the way—to engage with building new startups.
I think that Flat6Labs stands to unify the community and reinvigorate the entrepreneurship scene in Abu Dhabi by supporting new generations of seed and early stage startups. By bringing in regional and global talent to connect with local pioneers and media heavyweights, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi can crucially put the city’s wealth of creativity and industry leadership to work helping startups to build upon innovate ideas. Filling this current gap in the ecosystem will boost innovation in the media space overall, while ensuring that aspiring entrepreneurs have the support they need to take their ideas and startups to the next level.
-What will Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi offer entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi?
For those entrepreneurs who are based locally, Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi will offer a unique opportunity to connect with peers from across the region and globe, in a collaborative setting, and a chance to connect in a meaningful way with local leaders in media, telecommunications, and technology. Even if local founders already have a startup, the Flat6Labs program is designed to speed the pace of their growth, offering access to global best practices in product development, marketing, and customer acquisition, and, crucially, a chance to get in front of the right mentors, investors, and corporate partners at the right time, with an added dose of confidence.
Also, with two other properties in the region, in Cairo and Jeddah, Flat6Labs uniquely offers local entrepreneurs a chance to take advantage of a regional network. Founders may want to partner with startups or services in Egypt to develop or design a product, while partnering with Flat6Labs teams in Jeddah to market a product beyond the UAE. The possible benefits of being a Flat6Labs alumnus or alumna will grow exponentially over time.
-As Managing Director of Flat6Labs Abu Dhabi, what’s one thing you would love to see be accomplished in the upcoming year?
I would love to see both local entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs from the region, and entrepreneurs from beyond the region—whether from South Asia, Europe, or the Americas—joining the program, to create a truly diverse class of pioneers. As the ecosystem in the Arab world continues to develop, one trend I’ve noticed over the past few years is an increase in entrepreneurs in India and Pakistan, looking to enter the Arab world, and an influx of entrepreneurs from various places in Europe, who are often looking to address a less saturated market. I think that trend will only continue as the world becomes more connected, especially in the entrepreneurship space.
#Alumni .. Lots of them! Great to see everybody again today back in the office! #Entrepreneurs #entrepreneurship #gathering (at Flat6Labs)
Who said our #startups only do software! Some serious tools right there #KhOُbz #Entrepreneurs
Exciting times ahead for Mapture as they ready themselves to attend PITME’s three-week acceleration program for Middle Eastern startups in Silicon Valley. Each day a minimum of three mentors will engage with participants to guide them through their entrepreneurial journey of increasing revenue, growing their companies, raising money and better managing long-term partnerships.
CEO Zeyad Salloum Pitching on stage at the Seventh Flat6Labs Cairo Demo Day
Mapture is a mobile application that provides a fast, easy way for you to share geotagged content anonymously, on a map. Simply capture a photo, and watch it upload on the map, assured that your identity will remain anonymous.
Teams will receive expert training in different aspects of their business, including product development, UX/UI design, marketing, business modeling, customer acquisition strategies, funding, and much more.
CEO Zeyad Salloum & CDO Bahaa Hashem at Flat6Labs Cairo’s Business Networking Event
As they are mainly targeting the US market, this is a massive opportunity for Mapture to solidify and build strategic relationships on the ground. CEO Zeyad Salloum is very excited about the trip has his eyes set on gaining the needed experience and exposure for Mapture.
Check Wamda’s coverage on Mapture here.
Mapture’s pitch at Flat6Labs Cairo’s Seventh Demo Day:
Kanoosh and Smartable, two Flat6Labs Jeddah graduates, took part in the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) tour in the United States sharing the experience with entrepreneurs from across the world (11 countries in total).
The tour took place across two states in the US (San Francisco, California / Los Angeles, California / & Boulder, Colorado) during which they visited notable locations including 500 Startups, Techstars, and Silicon Valley Bank. Both Kanoosh and Smartable aim to launch their products in the US market, with the tour proving to be a vital asset and eye-opening experience for the KSA-based entrepreneurs.
Photo: Aqeel & Bawazeer at 500 Startups accelerator
Kanoosh is a mobile app which connects people’s needs to relevant products and services. Kanoosh graduated Flat6Labs Jeddah in the Fall 2013 cycle. Smartable is a Spring 2014 cycle graduate that aims to narrow the gap between education outputs and workforce skill requirements through optimal utilization of psychometric and aptitude exams.
The tour mainly focused its activities around expanding and launching a business in the US market. Visiting a multitude of accelerators, meeting mentors and entrepreneurs alike in the US gave the Saudi entrepreneurs the exposure and experience they required in order to gauge what was needed to tap into the American market and possess the knowledge to allow them to one day launch their product there.
“We visited several accelerators and have seen very innovative ideas and that made us even more confident towards the startup community back home and at Flat6Labs Jeddah.” commented Saud Bawazeer, Smartable co-founder. He added, “We believe that the innovation in Saudi start-ups is up-to par with the ideas here of what is considered to be a global hub of startups and innovation.”
Both startups took this opportunity to study and investigate which state would be their best bet to kick-start their business in. Kanoosh CEO Hashim Geoffrey said that for the nature of his business, Los Angeles would be most appropriate as the state is known with its major media production capabilities and a proliferation of SMEs; allowing for their business to tap into expanding the use of their mobile application. Smartable co-founder Mohammad Aqeel however concluded that their best bet to start is Boston. “The young talent in Boston is exceptional with a high concentration of colleges” Aqeel noted.
Hashim Geoffrey at Google HQ in Mountain View, California
The founders of Kanoosh and Smartable both echoed how the GAN founders trip was a segue to a new stage of their respective businesses; it also gave them assurance that Saudi entrepreneurs and their ideas are innovative enough to be able to compete in diverse markets.
Flat6Labs and VC4Africa are collaborating towards the common goal of supporting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Africa. The partnership will entail ‘exploring together the different opportunities in the entrepreneurial space in Africa, cross mentorship programs, utilizing the VC4Africa platform, as well as supporting the local startup ecosystems in Africa through an array of activities and events to be planned together.’
Check out the some of Q&As they had with Flat6Labs’ CEO Ramez Mohamed:
What are your tips to other investors active in Africa, to support and guide entrepreneurs towards success?
Flat6Labs’ philosophy has always been developed around natural selection and that we believe in both success and failure and that both are needed to develop a healthy ecosystem where successful entrepreneurs are rewarded and failed ones are also supported to learn from mistakes and try again later on. My advice to the investors in general would be to believe in the entrepreneurs and give them the space and support they need to innovate and grow.
Do you think the start-up landscape in Egypt is different from other parts of Africa? What are your suggestions for Africa’s startups?
We think the start-up landscape in Egypt as well as different parts of Africa mainly remain untapped with a huge underlying potential that still needs to be unveiled, and this can be put on the fast track by providing the right group of entrepreneurs with the appropriate capital and support environment they need.
As a new partner of VC4Africa, how do you see and (plan to) use the VC4Africa community?
We plan to have many areas of collaboration with VC4Africa, including exploring together the different opportunities in the entrepreneurial space in Africa, cross mentorship programs, utilizing the VC4Africa platform, as well as supporting the local startup ecosystems in Africa through an array of activities and events we plan to do together in the future.
Learn More about VC4Africa here
#Spring2014 cycle finally on our wall of entrepreneurs! (at Flat6Labs)
Yossra and Nader from @tamreenime & KhُObz.. We absolutely loved the #Spring2014 cycle!