x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

ArabNet takes on task of plugging start-ups

The Life: Omar Christidis, the founder and chief executive of ArabNet, says the technology event is like a "litmus test" for the region's growing digital industry.

Omar Christidis helps startups build relationships. Jeff Topping / The National
Omar Christidis helps startups build relationships. Jeff Topping / The National

Omar Christidis is the founder and chief executive of ArabNet, which helps to connect digital entrepreneurs with investors and larger businesses. Next month, ArabNet will stage a digital summit in Beirut featuring competitions for start-ups.

What is your vision for ArabNet?

To grow the Arab web and mobile industry. Start-ups are a piece of it, in that we want to stimulate new companies and help them grow. But the other part is helping established companies build new business relationships.

What is ArabNet's role in helping start-ups?

We're a platform for the industry to learn from each other. Start-ups pitch their ideas at the event. Even if they don't need investment, the event gives them the opportunity to get a tremendous amount of media exposure, connections to top executives.

Has the Arab Spring given tech start-ups hope, or was there a sense of disappointment when this Twitter revolution didn't necessarily lead to a start-up revolution?

We went to Cairo a couple of months after the revolution, and that was testament to the fact that we believe truly that there was a start-up revolution going on. The result of the revolution in Egypt is a tremendous amount of optimism and empowerment for young people who feel like this is their opportunity to do something.

What about the older generation?

My grandfather is a politician, and has been for a long time, and all of a sudden he's talking about Twitter and Facebook. And my grandmother is on Facebook. This is a huge deal. I think you're going to see a digital boom.

People have been saying that for years. What's different this year?

It's a gradual process. However, the [Beirut] event itself is a testament to the growth of the industry, if we are a litmus test for the industry.

How has ArabNet grown?

We had 500 [visitors] in year one, and 1,000 people in year two. And we're expecting 1,500 people this year. That's a stupendous growth rate, from a two-day event to a five-day event.

What would make this year's event a success?

What would be a big success would be to put the Arab world on the global map for technology.

Where is the Silicon Valley of the Arab world?

I would have to say Jordan. You have this class of entrepreneurs [and] there's a strong base of human capital there that is well trained in digital. But I would not discount Egypt. I think it has a huge, huge potential.

How long before we get an Arab start-up that is spoken of in the same breath as Twitter or Facebook?

There's no reason not to see it happen. It's a matter of mutation and survival of the fittest. We think of these [Silicon Valley] innovations as massive innovations. But actually, they're an accumulation of minor mutations. And all of the sudden, from the first product to the last product, we've got a significantly different product. So we need to see a huge volume of start-ups in the Middle East for us to get there.

* Ben Flanagan

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