This year’s Step Conference was successful in bringing 4000 guests from the MENA region and beyond. The conference was held on 4-5 April at the Dubai International Marine Club in UAE.

What Made The Conference Unique

The conference manages to bring more than double the attendees it had since it’s 2015 conference, which could also be an indication of MENA’s fast growing and promising startup scene. Entertaining, content rich and informative are the three factors that differentiats this conference with almost any startup event happening in the region. This has caused this event to attract not only the startup professionals and elite business leaders in this field, but also enthusiast and new comers who want to get more engaged to technology and startups and to learn.

Celebrities like the famous Egyptian satirist Bassam Yousef or “the Egyptian Jon Steward” as some call him, was this year’s keynote speaker along side Ahmed Shihab-Eldin from Vice, which took the conference to new levels according to the crowd. Yousef talks about his journey from a surgeon to a satirist, and how the region’s digital world has been developed.

Another crowd favorite panel was the fireside chat between Arif Naghvi of Abraaj group and Fadi Ghandour of Wamda Capital giving entrepreneurs the advice of the life time with a pinch of inspiration.

120 speakers flew in from all around to world to attend this conference. The two stages of the conference were packed with 53 presentations, panel discussions, fire side chats on topics on world digital trends, technology, investment and entertainment.

Step Conference 2016
The outdoor networking & entertainment area at Step Conference 2016 in Dubai

Startup Competition

Step 2016 hosted a grand startup competition between 50 startups racing for more exposure and funding opportunities. Three different compition were held with the categories of Seed Stage Startups, Growth Stage Startups and Early Stage Startups.

The winners of each category are as following:

  • Seed Stage winner: Polyinspect
  • Growth Stage winner: Bazillion Beings
  • Early Stage winner: Awery Aviation Software
Step Conference 2016 - Mike Butcher
Mike Butcher at Step Conference 2016

Iran Startup Ecosystem Panel

Another change from last year’s event was the presence of Iranian speakers and startups. Panelists from EventBox, Avatech and Frontier Partners with moderation by Beco Capital took the stage to talk all about Iran startup ecosystem.

The conference’s Tech Stage was filled with guests from all around the world from different backgrounds. Topics varied around post and pre sanction Iran, the entrepreneurial scene, startup trends and crowd Q&A. Mike Butcher of TechCrunch was seen in the crowd asking questions from the panelists. “I’m based in London and you can imagine the things we read about Iran. What I think it’s really interesting is the enormous desire to get involved and get connected [to the world],” said Mike Butcher when he got the crowd microphone at the Iran Startup Ecosystem Panel.

Obstacle and challenges on foreign investment and foreign companies entering Iran was one of the hottest conversation topics of the panel. Some investors and entrepreneurs willing to expand to Iran were seen among the audience. As talked in the panel one of the hottest fields of startup interest in Iran was tourism and travel for the local market and foreigner, as many are willing to visit the post sanction Iran. Transportation, delivery and payment were also mentioned as a market interest in Iran.

On the topic of sanctions, it was explained how entrepreneurs took advantage of the sanctions and introduced local solutions to problems across different industries, and how the startup scene grew despite the sanctions. “Being under strict sanctions Iran has managed to be plugged in to the latest in the world,” said Sara Mohammadi, one of the panelists and co-founder of Eventbox on this subject.

 

“We believe that bringing Iran to the conversation at STEP 2016 was a very small first step towards beginning to have more collaboration between the Iranian ecosystem and the rest of the region, which we plan to invest in and take very seriously in the coming years. The audience was very interested and receptive to learn more about what is happening in Iran and I think we will have many more participants next year from there, from speakers to startups to attendees. ”  Nizar Fakih, Co-Founder at Step Conference COO of STEP Group said to TechRasa.

Future Horizons

The event is not stopping here and is looking to reach further beyond the region and take more steps towards becoming a global event attracting vistors from every corner as was expressed by Step conference co-founder Nizar Fakih. “We are very satisfied with the conference this year, the quality of the content and of the partcicipating partners was greatly improved and the engagement and excitement of the attendees really exceeded our expectations.” Said Nizar.

“Our record-breaking 2016 event has proven that STEP Conference is a global stage for all things tech, and it shows to the world that the MENA region is truly cutting edge and passionate in this ever-changing sphere,” said Ray Dargham the other co-founder of the event.

Step conference has successfully established MENA region as a new global innovation vehicle and has put the Middle East on the map when it comes to startups.

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