What we’re witnessing right now in Iran, is an Entrepreneurial renaissance. In every young startup community, the role of regional innovation centers for building a vibrant environment for entrepreneurs is vital.
Iran Entrepreneurship Association (IEA) is an NGO based in Tehran, with a mission to support & cultivate the entrepreneurial activities in Iran.
TechRasa spoke with HamidReza Ahmadi, CEO of IEA, about their activities and visions to enable the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country.
3 years ago, When IEA started its work, the startup ecosystem in Iran was almost non-existent. “We noticed 3 main problems. One was there was no networking events, people were very isolated. The second problem was there weren’t a lot of business know-how. And the third problem was that a lot of the role models Iranians had, weren’t local”, says Hamidreza Ahmadi.
“We knew a lot of good Iranian companies that were doing great things, but young nascent entrepreneurs didn’t have any access to them”, he adds.
We asked Ahmadi about the differences of Iran’s startup ecosystem compared to Silicon Valley and other ecosystems in the region like Turkey. He told us the main difference is that the majority of the activities in the ecosystem right now, are from the early stage seed companies.
“I think most of the problems that we’re having are because everyone’s early stage and they’re trying to look for seed funding and there’s not a lot of seed funding sources in Iran right now”, Ahmadi told us.
- Startup Weekend
One of the first things IEA did to fix these problems was bringing Startup Weekend to Tehran. Startup Weekend is a great way for people to understand the basics of entrepreneurship. They get to meet new people, attend workshops and get a glimpse on how to build an internet company. Most of the mentors and judges in those events are the well-known founders of the first generation of startups in Iran, like Netbarg and Takhfifan. These people became the Iranian role models in the startup community in Iran.
IEA is also organizing a networking event called Hamfekr. Each week on Wednesdays people gather in the office of a hosted company to meet new people.
- Web & Mobile Conference – Festival
Shayan Shalileh, one of the board members of IEA, started to organize this event 7 years ago. IEA has been organizing this event in the past 3 years. The event is a competition and conference held every year in February.
“Last year about 8000 websites and mobile applications entered the competition and they were judged in different categories. We have a lot of international and local speakers. At the end we announce the winners of that year’s Iran web and mobile festival.”
HackaTehran is part of the HackaGlobal program. A monthly event where programmers get to compete and network with each other.
Webna started its work in 2006. A news agency website in Persian, Focusing on entrepreneurial and startup activities in Iran.
This website is all you need to know about entrepreneurship and running an online business in Persian. The content on the website include educational articles, videos and podcasts.
IEA’s plans after the Lifting of the Sanctions
Many investors have already been very interested in Iran, especially in the past couple of months while the Iran Talks were going on.
“We are completely prepared to give the investor, resources they need and guide them through what’s happening in Iran. If someone’s interested in investing in really early stage startups, they can get in touch with us and we can connect them through the network of members that we have to the prospective startups.”
IEA in the region
“Because we’re the local host of Global Entrepreneurship Week and we go to Global Entrepreneurship Congress every winter, we’re connected with a lot of different countries.” says Ahmadi. He adds that IEA is connected to Istanbul’s ecosystem but they don’t have regular contact with any particular city or organization.
When asked if IEA’s plan is to make Iran a startup hub in the Middle East, Ahmadi told us that their primary plan is to support Iranian entrepreneurs. They want to make sure that the startups are on the right path to start a legitimate company, and that they have the resources, the network and the funding necessary to keep going.
“It hasn’t been our vision to bring other startups to Iran” says Ahmadi. “We have a huge population and good internet penetration. There hasn’t been a lot of investments in startups in Iran. So if a lot of European, American or other Iranian diaspora come back to Iran and invest in startups, it would be good for everybody.”
The general message that “software is eating the world” and entrepreneurship as a viable career path is something we intend on promoting extensively in universities throughout Iran
We asked Ahmadi about the strengths and weaknesses of IEA since they started. He told us that they’ve been successful with the primary set of goals they had. The people in the community are now more connected and the events have got positive feedback.
“We’ve been successful in the smaller tech community, but we haven’t even started to market startups and entrepreneurship to a larger mainstream population.” Ahmadi says, when talking about their weaknesses. “The general message that software is eating the world and entrepreneurship as a viable career path is something we intend on promoting extensively in universities throughout Iran.”
Right now IEA is focusing on a new set of problems that startups and entrepreneurs are facing. The following are the projects which IEA is now working on.
- Startup Iran Conference
A conference that deals with the business side of startups. IEA is planning to hold this event on the Global Entrepreneurship Week, which is in the end of November. The two day event will have contents regarding on how to raise funds, grow your team and build a strong product. The event also has a pitch competition that early stage startups can enter.
- Advocacy campaigns
IEA started to work on a couple of advocacy campaign this year.
“One of them is to better support entrepreneurs during their [mandatory] military service, which is a big hurdle in their entrepreneurship journey.”Another advocacy campaign that IEA is focusing on is CodeKade. A long term educational program that is trying to teach computer science to elementary and junior high school kids.
“If it’s successful, we’re going to see its benefits in five or ten years from now”. Ahmadi goes on and says that they need more volunteers to expand the program to more schools around the country.
Getting involved with IEA
IEA’s managing director told us that they are ready to support any initiative that can help the community. If what you’re planning to do is big enough that you can’t do it yourself, IEA can bring it to their portfolio and even help you financially.
Right now, IEA has 400 volunteers and 100 of them are active in different programs. If there are people who are interested in helping IEA with its own programs, like Startup Weekend or the newly advocacy campaign of CodeKade, they can contact IEA to become a volunteer.