On the ancient traditional Persian night of Yalda*, an event called “Entrepreneurs’ Yalda” gathered around Iran’s startup ecosystem entrepreneurs and investors to mingle, discuss and talk startups.
The event was held on the longest night of the year and had three panels and plenty of sessions of networking. The three panels focused on multiple elements of a startup ecosystem consisting panels with Entrepreneurs, Accelerators, and VCs.
During the panel which was moderated by the founder of Karbank and startup community builder Milad Saberi, panelists started sharing their valuable experiences with the audience and started discussing various topics such as challenges, regulations, growth, technology market disruption and market digitalization, foreign and local investments & shareholders, data security and more.
Panelists in the entrepreneurs’ panel were:
- Saeed Mohammadi of DigiKala Iran’s leading e-commerce company and online shop.
- Shahram Shahkar of Snapp, Iran’s leading Uber-like e-hailing startup.
- Alireza Sadeghian of Netbarg, Iran’s leading group buying platform.
- Mohammad Javad Shakouri Moghadam of Aparat and Saba Idea, Iran’s famous youtube-like video sharing platform.
- Nazanin Daneshvar of Takhfifan, one of the most famous Iranian women entrepreneur and founder of one of the leading group buying platforms.
These 5 companies together combined have a total staff of 3000 working in these companies which have created a massive impact in the country and its digital economy. Snapp alone also has more than 15,000 drivers in its platform.
One of the major topics discussed was the threat that traditional businesses are feeling with the emergences of startups and digital companies. A major reason behind this is that traditional businesses are losing customers and revenue. “ With the goal of supporting customers and creating a better quality of service, New [digital] businesses can create more value comparing to traditional businesses,” said Snapp’s CEO Shahram Shahkar. Following this topic, he also mentioned that traditional businesses must use this opportunity to provide better quality service.
Digikala’s Saeed Mohammadi also mentioned that currently Iran is in the transition from traditional to digital, and technology is the key to create value for Iranians. He also mentioned transparency is the way to show the value that startups are creating to prevent false accusations from parts of the country’s business scene and community against startups in Iran.
This panel consisted of the heads of Iran’s leading startup accelerators in Iran. Discussing topics such as variables of startup success, what startup must do to be successful, rumors in the market and more.
Panelists in the panel which was moderated by Reza Kalantari, CEO of Shezan Accelerator were:
- Mohsen Malayeri of Avatech, Iran’s first startup accelerator.
- Mohammad Amin Samimi of Shafagh Accelerator, A cultural startup accelerator that has been recently launched.
- Naser Ghanemzadeh of Finova, Iran’s first FinTech startup accelerator and first co-working space.
- Hamzeh Ghotbinezhad of KnowTech accelerator.
- Ahmadreza Mansour of Dmond accelerator.
The regulation structure of a Venture Capital Fund has just been regulated which is considered as a major step in Iran’s venture capital scene. This panel which was moderated by the famous Tech Journalist and ITIran founder Shahram Sharif, started a long discussion on Iran’s investment scene, Challenges, Foreign investments, Entrepreneurship empowerment, investment security, deals and volume of investments and more.
Panelists in the panel:
- Said Rahamni Khezri of Sarava Venture Capital, Iran’s leading venture capital with 40+ portfolio companies.
- Shahab Javanmardi of Fanap, one of Iran’s leading core banking and ICT holding companies.
- Reza Zarnokhi of Iran Venture Capital Association
- Ali Fayazbakhsh of Harekate Aval, a corporate venture capital arm of Iran’s leading mobile network operator Hamrahe Aval.
With recent media buzz about startups such as DigiKala, Snapp and Aparat disrupting the market, many traditional investors had some jaws dropped with the impact and market penetration these companies had. However not knowing the digital scene, investment rivalry, and risk has caused many to wait and think a while. One of the topics discussed in the panel was how much traditional investors have entered this landscape and what could be done to further create the necessary interest to harness the opportunity the Iranian digital scene holds. Said Rahmani of Sarava shared his fundraising story in the early days of Sarava back in 2011 and the challenges he faced when dealing with traditional investors to raise fund during the sanction period. The CEO of Sarava also mentioned the names of some of his LPs in Sarava like Banks and other financial institutes.
Though a VC firm now has a regulated structure, there are still many regulations and laws that are still pending. Ali Fayazbakhsh also expressed his concerns about investment regulations when it came to foreign investment to avoid miss understandings and false acquisitions.
Head of Iran Venture Capital association Reza Zarnokhi also believes there are still plenty of opportunities and capital that can still be flowed in this industry. If the startup ecosystem plays the role right, and entrepreneurs help, convincing more traditional investors in this field would be possible. Fanap’s CEO Javanmardi also expressed that the average GDP generated globally from services runs around 80%, which in Iran only less than 50% of the country’s GDP is generated through services. Creating awareness and lighting some transparency had a major role to absorb more investments in this field as Shahab Javanmardi explains.
Foreign investments was a super hot topic in this 2-hour panel. Said Rahmani explains, in order to transfer world-class expertise and technology, Sarava absorbed $200 million foreign investment from the Swedish firm Pomegranate. Though it was mentioned the local capital at hand is enough to fund startup needs at all early stages, foreign investment becomes more valuable at growth stages.
According to the event’s organizers, this event will be held every year as a reason to gather Iranian entrepreneurs together to celebrate and unite for the single cause of boosting Iran’s economy and creating value for every Iranian through technology.
*Shab-e Yalda “Yalda night or Shab-e Chelleh is an Iranian festival celebrated on the “longest and darkest night of the year, that is, in the night of the Northern Hemisphere‘s winter solstice. Calendrically, this corresponds to the night of December 20/21 (±1) in the Gregorian calendar, and to the night between the last day of the ninth month (Azar) and the first day of the tenth month (Dey)of the Iranian civil calendar.
The longest and darkest night of the year is a time when friends and family gather together to eat, drink and read poetry (especially Hafez) until well after midnight.