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In November 2015 the very first Startup Week Zanjan kicked off at the Chamber of Commerce in Zanjan, Iran. Startup Week is from the family of startup programs by Techstars, similar to Startup Weekend.

Startup Weekend is already a well known event in Iran and first arrived in 2012 to inspire and educate entrepreneurship. Startup Week however is a totally new concept, not only for Iran, but for the whole Middle East. Following cities like Seattle and Dallas, Zanjan celebrated it’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for the first time. Because that is what Startup Week is about, a week long celebration of the local entrepreneurial scene. Even though Zanjan has a very young startup community, the city has great potential, which is also recognized by the government by making Zanjan the first city in Iran to have free public wifi throughout the city.

The week kicked off with an exciting opening at the Chamber of Commerce. It included an opening speech by Mr. Mohammadreza Yousefi, employment deputy of Zanjan’s labor administration and was followed with a panel of national and international speakers. For the local organisers the goal of the week was to show Iran the potential of Zanjan, but more importantly to give a boost to the local startup community.

Throughout the week events were organized to showcase everything entrepreneurial in Zanjan. For example, hosting events at places like the English Institute helps to bring together crowds that normally might not run into each other ways, says Amirreza Mohammadi lead organizer of Startup Week and Startup Weekend in Zanjan

Fashion Industry, TEDxYouth @ BineshRdLive, Lean Startup and Customer Development workshop
Fashion Industry, TEDxYouth @ BineshRdLive, Lean Startup and Customer Development workshop

During the week international guests like Patrick Bosteels (Belgium, lives in Istanbul), Wout Laban (Amsterdam, the Netherlands), and Tina Yazdi (Canadian, Lives in Dubai) shared their knowledge with local and aspiring entrepreneurs in Zanjan. Next to many panel discussions, Q&A sessions and workshops on new methodologies like Lean Startup and Customer Development our guests visited local companies like Zanjan fashion brand Artman, the rozebeth charity founded by Dr. Jamali and the Technology Center of the University of Zanjan.

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Startup Week Zanjan ended where it began, back at the chamber of commerce with talks and a panel discussion on social entrepreneurship and how startup and entrepreneurial thinking can help to make a difference in not only personal gain, but also for a community, city and even country. One of the keynote speakers of the day was Eshan Tarighat, who shared his experience on how thinking like an entrepreneur can create positive change. But, with the ending of Startup Week Zanjan the activities we’re far from over.

The end of Startup Week kickstarted the beginning of Startup Weekend Zanjan. A 54 hour event where people come together on Wednesday night to pitch ideas, form teams, and work all weekend to pitch a brand new startup to an experienced jury of judges. Facilitator of the weekend Wout Laban says “it’s so important to organise events like Startup Week and Startup Weekend together, this gives a great basis for aspiring entrepreneurs to find likeminded people and the knowledge they need to start a business.” Startup Weekend was received with great enthusiasm by the participants. The energy was high, teams worked hard and delivered excellent pitches on Friday night.

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In the end the jury consisting of Dr. Jamali, Fred korangy and Hossein Jamili chose Legend of Coins as the winner. A mobile game where users could battle each other for prizes. Startup Week and Startup Weekend turned Zanjan into an buzzing entrepreneurial city and has brought many different people together: entrepreneurs, students, government and universities. Though this is only the beginning. For Zanjan to continue to grow and create a thriving startup community events like Startup Weekend need to become more regular.

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Patrick Bosteels, special guest during Startup Week and mentor at Startup Weekend is the founder of Stage-co, a platform to connect startups, mentors and investors announced during startup week that he will bring his knowledge and experience with Stage-co to Zanjan and Tehran. Starting out with organising a series of meetups to bring these different parties together more often. After that Stage-co aims to work together with universities and government to create training programs for mentors, startups and investors.

To sum it all up – Startup Week and Startup Weekend turned out to be a week full of entrepreneurial spirit, already showing great outcomes for the future of Zanjan, Iran.

AmirReza Mohammadi