Almost a year ago, I started an adventure that pushed me to surpass every limit that I’d known of myself. For the first time, I had a feeling that whatever happens, even if everything crashes and we never reach to the end of the road, I’ve already achieved what I wanted.
It’s about the fascinating effect of the challenging journey and the hope thst keeps you up when out of 100 ways, 99 will colaps and only one leads to success. There’s an undescribable feeling of fulfilness that comes when you look back in time and see something that was once a dream, today is a damn reality.
This journey is called Silk Road Startup, an adventure that was started with an ambitious dream and came true with people who dared to believe in the journey and loved each other along the way.
How everything started
December 2016, I went to Iran to help a friend organise the first Startup Weekend Fashion & Tech in Tehran. I had been involved in many startup related events in Europe before, but I’d never had the chance to discover my own country’s ecosystem. Iran’s startup ecosystem started to shape in 2012 with the first Startup Weekend, the same year that I left the country.
Being involved in this event opened lot of opportunity to me. I learned that real Entrepreneurs no matter where, are the same no matter where they are, and Iranian Entrepreneurs have nothing less in terms of intelligence or determination. However, they are operating with less ressources and more limiations. I was very surprised to see so many PhD participants and engineers among the attendees. In reverse to the general western belief, Iranian women are very active and involved in Tech. I was so shocked by the number of women participants at our event. We had 50% women in total and more than half of the developers were also women (totally different than France for instance, where I’m based, where the ratio is between 5 and 15%.)
But the best thing that happened to me was a random conversation that I had with two people that 10 months later led to what is today Silk Road Startup.
These two people were Hadi Farnoud, Cofounder of Hamfekr (the largest community of entrepreneurs in Iran), and Hamed Jafari cofounder of Techrasa (the first English tech media in Iran, similar to Techcrunch).
We talked about the possibility of organising bigger events with international dimensions. I learned that there had been strong wills to organise such events (Iran Summit was one for instant) but due to different local and international barriers this had never happend.
After I came back to France, I started Startup Sesame, a community driven company, on the mission to give a better sense to the event industry by helping people attend the right event, at the right time. This allowed me to go on a Euro trip and attend over 30 conferences in a year. Among some of the successful ones, a few of them such as TechChill, Slush, Pioneers, and Pirate Summit got my attention: How some events had such a huge impact on the local ecosystem. Also their role in opening doors to international communities and their founders stories.
Almost all of those events shared two common elements: a strong international aspect and the community driven sid of them.
I believe that ecosystems can only evolve and grow if people from different backgrounds and experiences get together and share their knowledge. That’s how we can find new talents and resources that we’re missing in our close surrounding;
Of course there’s huge lack of such events in Iran, due to various reasons that had been reinforced by the political sanctions towards the country.
Since the sanctions have been relatively lifted, many people from corporations and VCs have started to show interests in Iran’s Tech scene.
There wasn’t a single event that I was attending and someone wouldn’t ask me about Iran’s ecosystem and telling that he or she is interested in discovering the country and its existing investment opportunities.
The truth is, I didn’t know it myself (!) and I really wanted to discover it too.
So our little team started to grow and Silk Road Startup was born to be:
The biggest international startup event in Iran, to showcase the whole local ecosystem at once, create a platform where Iranian entrepreneurs can connect to international communities and change the world!
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We set the bar high and fixed a few ambitious objectives:
1. Connect Iran and international communities by opening doors to other countries and using a common language which everyone in the world could speak which is English.
2. Give acces to network, education and financing to Iranian entrepreneurs: We’ve done that by mixing nationalities, skills and cultures to provide a great variety of success AND failure stories from a network of serial entrepreneurs and mentors that we’ve been building over the pas 12 months. Also we have invited many international investors to join the event and discover this untapped market and finally we have launched a light acceleration program to educate our startups by online and offline workshops which will be much more complet for the next season.
3. Turn Iran into a startup hub in the region: We started this event with a small format and only open by invitstion but our goal is to make it bigger every year. We want that one day people from all over the world come to Iran for Silk Road Startup in order to attend the most important startup event in the Middle East.
4. Raising the first generation of Iranian unicorns: There shouldn’t be a myth to build a unicorn if entrepreneurs get the correct ressources and education to build what they are passionate about. That’s why our long term goal is to have great companies who have gone through our program and were discovered and valued at our event. If a company is supposed to become a real union, it has to target its growth inrernationality and Silk Road Startup is there to help them to scale.
About the Road Trip
One of the highlights of my entrepreneurial life was to participate at the Ticket For Change “tour de France” as a volunteer in September 2016. I had the chance to live with 70 brilliant people, moving from one city to another on a bus, sharing rooms, food and personal stories. The goal of the trip was to help this group of social entrepreneurs go through all the steps of their business model, and at the end of the trip be ready to launch their startup.
This experience was an inspiration for me to think of the same thing for Silk Road Startup in order to map the whole ecosystem and instead of a boring online application to select these startups go on a trip across to meet them.
So it begins
So we launched a contest to find the top 100 Iranian startups.
In only less than a month we received 400 application from 23 cities !!! I didn’t even know here were that many startups in Iran!
We shortlisted 84 of them for the comprtition and we chose the 7 most active cities in the startup scene to stop by. (You can read the full report here.)
Thanks to the vast network of Hamfekr with their weekly meetups in all over the country, we on-boarded the cities’ Community Builders to help us target the startups and local actors.
We also invited a mixed group of international jury from different countries and background including Kiran Maverick representing India/Brussels, Aurélie Salvaire from Toulouse, Hamed Farhadian from Hamburg, Anne-Sophie Dutat from Paris, Luca Banderet from Stockholm, and Ruth Cremer from Cologne. I’m very proud that we had 50-50% men and women in the jury board.
In total, we organised 8 series of pitch competition, during 10 days totally in English, and travelled over 4000km.
At the end of the road trip the jury chose the top 10 startups and later added 6 wild cards.
We then launched the program #SILKROAD100, an online acceleration program for the winner startups in order to prepare them for the final competition in Kish.
2 days for inspire and get inspired
On April 18th and 19th right after the Norouz holodays we’re holding Silk Road Startup summit in Kish Island. It is the first time that Iran is hosting such a big international startup event.
We have 40 speakers from over 15 countries and we expect an audience of 300 international attendees.
The conference is divided into 2 different themes:
- The first day is the “Discovery” day and more focused on mutual knowledge and story sharing to understand better the trends, hot topics and challenges of both Iran and other countries
- The second day is the “Collaboration” day and we try to tackle topics that open concertations on what are the opportunities, how Iran and other countries could work together and how does this imply to governments, startups and corporations.
You don’t want to miss it!
If you haven’t booked your place yet don’t worry you still can do it HERE. We also have good deals for the flight and accommodation so you can avoid to pay too expensive for last minute planning ;)
This is just a beginning
Silk Road Startup is born to grow.
Its hard to predict the future or give a promise in advance. But I’d like to be proud that one day Silk Road Startup would have created 100 success stories, solved 1000 problems, created 10,000 jobs and connected 100,000 people.
All the past that happened and the upcomings would never happen without Hadi, Hamed, MrezaH, MrezaA, Aysan, Elias, Ghader, Javid, Elnur, Saeed, Mehdi,Farokh, Mehra, Mohammad, Ghonche, Bahareh, Mina, Davood, Saleh, Mohammad, Tadeh, Frederic, HamedK, Abolfazl, Mojdeh, AlirezaY, and all the 100 volunteers.