Rabat: StartUp Weekend, Part 2 — Canvassing

(This is the second of three parts recapping the StartUp Weekend in Rabat, Morocco. Part 1 is here.)

StartUp Weekend continued on Saturday. At this point, the 62 pitchers from Friday night had been thinned down to 19 teams, which had spread over two larger meeting rooms at the facility.

Teams have formed across the entire facility and are developing business plans.

Lyly, Bruno and I arrived late in the morning for a debrief with the other mentors. We were reminded of the key criteria for picking winners:

  • A well thought out business model (using the Business Model Canvas), which makes logical business sense.
  • Some type of market validation, perhaps using surveys, or by calling or visiting potential consumers.
  • Development of a prototype. This could be something constructed on site, or perhaps developed on their laptop.

The goal for the morning was to float among the teams, discuss their progress, and be a sounding board. Many of the teams had stayed all up night, and some participants had yet to wake up from the night before. Here’s one participant from the BioFacade team, still on the floor, catching a few more minutes of sleep:

Notice the sleeping team member on the floor

The Business Model Canvas is the largest learning curve for the teams. We also struggle with it back home when we use it in account planning sessions. Thinking about all of the factors for the account, or for your startup, is difficult. The teams have great ideas, but often have not considered all of the variations of the business, including the cost structures, partners, key activities, likely revenue opportunities, etc. The canvas is a great tool to look at all of these options and their connections.

Teams working on their Business Model Canvasses

I shadowed a veteran mentor, Mehdhi, as we canvassed the meeting rooms. His advice was solid: “Don’t offer solutions, just be a sounding board at this point. They need to come to the answer in their own way. Avoid pushing them in any one direction. Ask them Why a lot.” Just like back home, highlighting the ‘Why’ is critical, and it’s hard. The natural inclination for the teams is to stick with the What or the How.

Mehdhi, in blue shirt, mentoring a team.

Many teams had made amazing progress. One team, Agro Dome, had pitched the idea for a collapsible container to preserve vegetables for rural farmers. Spoilage is a big problem for these farmers, and this team aims to reduce it, while providing more sales opportunities, and more food for consumers. Many of these farmers have little or no access to a power source. The team pitched (pun!) a vinyl, rectangular tent, with attached solar panels and a cooling unit. They had already devised an impressive 3D rendition, and had considered several inexpensive pricing options, up to 1500 Moroccan dirhams (or about 150 USD). They knew rural farmers who they planned to call to validate the concept.

Team Agro Dome at work

Despite being up late, despite having just learned some of these concepts, these young people showed endless energy, enthusiasm, and appreciation for any guidance we could provide, even when I was struggling through language issues.

Left: Co-Founder of StartUp Maroc, Zineb Rharrasse with Lyly, Bruno and myself. Right: Bruno, Lyly, myself, and Camelia, another founder of Startup Maroc.

We returned Sunday for the final presentations, the final jury deliberation and the award ceremony. I’ll cover those in Part 3.

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