Week Five: Entrepreneurial Hub Fosters Startup Culture in Nairobi

Over the course of five weeks, UP Global is highlighting the 5 key ingredients for Fostering A Thriving Startup Ecosystem’ in cities: BogotáSeattle, London, Tehran, and Niarobi.

UP Global, whitepaper

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Nairobi, Kenya, is home to one of three innovation ‘garages’ in Africa (the other two are in Cape Town and Lagos.) Through hosting events, providing technologically-integrated workspaces, and offering direct support to community startups, the Nairobi Garage has become a cultural hub for startups, as well as an economic one.

“Nairobi is top in Africa in terms of innovation,” Hannah Clifford, the general manager of the Nairobi Garage said. “There are just so many opportunities here [for entrepreneurs]– and little competition if you are running a business well, because there are so many other businesses doing it poorly [and] providing an over-priced service, or a terrible website.”

Clifford relocated to Western Kenya on a peacebuilding project in 2011, after working with refugee populations in the UK. In 2012, Clifford moved to Nairobi to pursue work outside the NGO sector, discovering the Nairobi Garage through a friend who worked in the space.

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Like hubs elsewhere, the facility is an environment for startups to build networks, share ideas, and collaborate– all while introducing domestic and foreign investors to an innovative talent pool, specialized in solving Kenyan business challenges.

“[A] major challenge in Nairobi is getting a meeting or intro with the right person within an organization who can make things happen,” Clifford said. “The Garage [lobbies directly] on behalf of our members to corporates, investors and other relevant actors. Some of the more established startups also help the younger ones by opening doors to corporate brands. There is a lot of business being done between the different companies within the space.”

Through the sponsorship of physical hubs for entrepreneurship, corporations support a culture for building and discussing startups. Google for Entrepreneurs sponsors ‘third place’ locations worldwide, including each of the three startup garages in Africa.

Clifford notes that Nairobi’s startup culture on the whole is very young, but that recently, the Garage has begun hosting older entrepreneurs who are trying at a technological startup for the first time. She believes this experience will make a big difference in the success of the sector.

A study by the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training suggests that 85-90% of jobs will require proficiency in information and communications technology (ICT) skills by 2020; and while university training and regulation can help in the development of ICT workers, so do physical hubs that assist in networking and team building.

“If you look at Silicon Valley, many of the successful startups owe it all to those few initial employees who came onboard and worked their asses off.” Clifford said. “The startups that do well in Nairobi have a founder that has managed to build a very core team of dedicated employees who live and breathe the company– and that is difficult to do. It takes a special kind of founder, who is also a leader.”

Startup communities are more capable of fostering a thriving, innovative culture when they’re able to openly celebrate failure alongside success. This cultural exercise is made possible with the help of hubs like the Nairobi Garage, in which innovators can host educational events, test ideas collaboratively, and experience success– and failure– with loving support.

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Gaming startup MegaBits has designed a digital, monster-capturing experience for adults.

A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), MegaBits is a smartphone game played in the ‘real world’ through being reactive to each player’s environment. The company launched at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh in 2012, and the game’s community consists of around 1,000 users.

MegaBits allows users to catch, train and battle monsters. The MB team has created a customized game world by combining real-time map and weather data with an 8-bit design.

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“We’ve had to adapt our product to a more modern, mobile gaming system,” MegaBits founder Patrick Perini said. “We’ve learned the lesson from our alpha and beta process that we can’t just copy traditional [role playing games]…MegaBits is unique in its pairing of location-based augmented reality with the popular monster training genre. Unlike other mobile games, MegaBits creates a real-world-based experience that is ever-changing and evolving.”

MegaBits hopes to progress the depth of the MMORPG experience for gamers through greater integration of a player’s environment, while developing more fluid in-app spending opportunities. Perini believes MegaBits is an example of how game platforms can be grown like any other kind of startup.

“Mobile gaming is full of pain points; in-app purchase models, general inanity, poor controls, and [MegaBits] is uniquely positioned to address many of these issues, and create a mature mobile gaming experience,” Perini said. “The mobile gaming market is crowded. And though we’ve carved out an identifiable niche, we still have to find their attention and keep their attention.”

The ‘right thing,’ in the case of MegaBits, is a more dynamic world of pixelated monster hunting– built upon the already-validated market demand for MMORPGs on smartphones. MegaBits currently has six full-time employees, of whom Perini is the only remaining Startup Weekend member.

“At the beginning of 2014, I was fielding other job offers and genuinely considering closing up shop, before the product even got to market,” Perini said. “When the Google Maps Pokémon Challenge launched, I was able to corral user response into evidence of market demand, and use that [to] raise our most recent round of funding.”

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Slide used in the MegaBits Reddit AMA to show market demand.

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As you can see from the MegaBits launch party, there is no shortage of enthusiasm with this team of gamers. Check out megabitsapp.com for product updates, information about MMORPGs, and for a free download.

 

BY THE NUMBERS:

Timeline:
Sep 2012, Startup Weekend
Jan 2013, Kickstarter
June 2013, AlphaLab
Oct 2013, Alpha shipped
May 2014, Seed raised
June 2014, Beta shipped
Startup IMPACT Story Questions
Jan 2015, Release with day-1 revenue

Employees:
Andrew Hart (lead developer)
Ryan Hestin (architect & engineer)
Pat Kelley (game & sound design)
Vinh Duong (graphic design)
Kaeli Hood (writer)
Ben Sanders (intern: art)

Jobs created:
10 including freelancers

Customers served:
1000

Products shipped:
1

Funding secured:
1 round + incubation

Industry:
mobile games

City:
Pittsburgh, PA

Country:
USA

Platform:
Mobile








Startup Weekend Youth isn’t just kid stuff.

Scissors and construction paper modeling gained new life for blossoming entrepreneurs in Tampa Bay. The group cooperated in teams for three days, learning about startup principles– and pitfalls– from a team of successful geezers…er, mentors.

Two bright young entrepreneurs, brothers Tristan and Tyler Crawford, were among the enthusiastic crowd of middle school students

Over the course of the weekend, the brothers launched a business plan for a ‘cooling device’ they designed to beat the Florida heat. They are currently exploring a patent to protect their idea, and have used the skills they learned at Startup Weekend Youth to begin raising money through a GoFundMe account (http://www.gofundme.com/egkv9s). They also landed a spot on Tampa Bay’s Amazing Kids!

Startup Weekend, Startup Weekend Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay

“My brother [Tyler] and I attended the Startup Weekend Youth event because we had an idea and wanted to learn how to start a business,” Tristan Crawford, 13, said via email. “We focused on several main points, including cost, marketing, distribution, research, pitching a product, and competition… we are currently working on our project by doing further research and testing.”

When asked what he would say to other young people with business ideas, Crawford reminds his peers that even a little idea can develop into something great.

“I heard about the Startup Weekend from my school… They were hosting and promoting the course,” Crawford said. “My favorite part of the weekend was the presentation or the ‘pitch’ because I really got to work on my presentational skills and [the mentor process] helped me with my confidence in speaking in front of an audience. This is useful when I am selling my product and trying to raise money.”

By providing the same type of focal camaraderie that makes Startup Weekend an effective hub for adult learning and friendship, Startup Weekend Youth helped two adolescent brothers play nicely together for three whole days, while raising money… a true startup miracle.

Tampa Bay Startup Week is coming (Feb 2-6) bringing alllll the hot events, speakers and more! Tap in to your local community and reap the rewards.–> http://bit.ly/1yRrgD6








Week Four: Talent Accelerates Startup Possibilities In Tehran

Over the course of five weeks, UP Global is highlighting the 5 key ingredients for Fostering A Thriving Startup Ecosystem’ in cities: BogotáSeattle, London, Nairobi, and Tehran.

whitepaper, UP Global

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Talent is the most fundamental of the white paper’s five ingredients to “Make Your Own Silicon Valley”, as it is through human talent that dense, funded centers for innovation become possible. The capital, culture, policy, and density of startups are inanimate by comparison—while the concept of a ‘thriving ecosystem’ in biology demands life.

Tehranian entrepreneurs face significant obstacles in terms of regulatory environment and access to investment capital. The government’s lack of support in these variables has an interesting cultural watershed: it places responsibility for startup innovation directly upon the city’s entrepreneurs. Organization, community outreach, and educational programming– including the idea that the entrepreneur is not just a self-employed shop owner– proudly reflect Tehran’s developing talent pool.

One advocate for Tehran talent is Hamidreza Ahmadi, who returned to Iran from New York City to work directly with entrepreneurs. He identified a disconnect between available talent and startup development in Tehran.

Startup weekend Tehran, #swtehran

A candid photo of Ahmadi at #swtehran on Nov. 20, 2014 (taken by @srfarzaneh)

A computer science graduate from City University of New York, Ahmadi, 32, has come to embody the current demand for startup organization in Iran’s capital. He organizes events for Startup Weekend, the Iran App Fest, the Iran Web Fest; and Hamfekr, Tehran’s weekly coffee-meetup for entrepreneurs. He serves as the vice president of the Iran Entrepreneurship Association (IEA).

“Despite the many Startup Weekends that we’ve hosted, there hasn’t been a second step to support all the projects,” Ahmadi said. “The average age of Startup Weekend participants in Tehran is [26-years old]… and of 500 entrepreneurs surveyed over five separate events, ‘team building’– or finding co-founders– ranked as the greatest ‘challenge’ for Iranian entrepreneurs.”

For their ability to connect startups with mentors, investors, and technical talent, Ahmadi sees organized events– and ‘accelerator’ programs, in particular– as the next step in Iran’s entrepreneurial progression.

“Self-organization, cultural conversation about entrepreneurship, and helpful participation of regulators is vital towards creating dense talent clusters,” Ahmadi said. “It’s really hard to showcase success stories without accelerators, because such programs help spread the news about our community. Iran is ripe… [but] most Iranians think about ‘entrepreneurship’ as owning a small business or farm or shop, rather than working in technology.”

Ahmadi intends his work with Hamfekr, the IEA, and technology festivals to help startups find and keep employees.

“We are planning an advocacy campaign to change the way technical professionals in Iran think about risk and entrepreneurship,” Ahmadi said. “We believe that [Iranian contractors] are taking more risk by freelancing, rather than building ownership in a company.”

UP Global’s white paper found that once talent becomes available, government can encourage entrepreneurial growth through sponsoring physical hubs, creating flexible labor markets (to attract people with a variety of skills and experience,) supporting STEM education, and promoting diversity in the workplace.

Entrepreneurs in Iran also hope to address severe hiring disparity in their country.

Women account for 86% of the student body in Iran from secondary education onward, and the integration of Iran’s women is essential to addressing the country’s startup and innovation challenges; however, engagement of women in startups and managerial positions has been disportionately low (just 4% of management jobs in Iran are held by women.)

Arezoo Khosravi helped organize Startup Weekend Women’s Edition in Tehran last September in an effort to address this hiring discrepancy; 62% of attendees were female entrepreneurs and academics from Tehran’s community.

Startup Weekend Iran, Startup Weekend Women,

Participants at Startup Weekend Women Tehran.

BwIc7lAIYAAze0kstartup weekend tehran

Khosravi’s entrepreneurial journey in Iran– from attending university, working with the United Nations, and creating a startup with her husband– compelled her to help other young women create their own jobs in the face of hiring inequality.

“Despite the high rate of graduation among women, there is not enough job vacancy to employ men and women equally,” Khosravi said. “The startup trend in Iran is very new, but it encourages young people to realize that they can turn their ideas into a job.”

Khosravi says that theory-focused Iranian universities do not actively assist students in the quest to find work, and that hiring markets are extremely competitive for all Iranians. She says that often, women do not seek management positions because of the competitive nature of the hiring process, and are content being hired into staff positions.

“When women want to find work, if they are in the same [educational] position with a male candidate, the male will be preferred… All the highest positions are given to the men,” Khosravi said. “For myself, it happened a lot. Most of the men had low experience in comparison to me.”

Ahmadi and Khosravi both acknowledge that the growth of accelerators, self-organized events, and startups in Tehran is reassuring news for talent in the city. Startups are bucking the trend of inequality in hiring, and providing technical, challenging jobs to young people in the city.

“Startups help women improve their leadership and initiative skills,” Khosravi said. “It’s effective for the youth, and especially girls, to see a way to make their own employment.”

Wherever an economic ecosystem hangs in the balance, it is human talent that must find a solution to the mental and physical challenges therein. While several of the white paper’s key ingredients are still missing, Tehran’s talent is on its way to solving the broader organizational challenges facing Iranian entrepreneurs, and is a driving force for greater, more equitable innovation within the city’s startup community.

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We invite you to read along and lend your perspective.
What challenges are you facing in your community?
What solutions have you developed?
What questions do you have about these communities?

#ThrivingEcosystem








Week Three: New Regulations Affect London's Startup Community

Over the course of five weeks, UP Global is highlighting the 5 key ingredients for Fostering A Thriving Startup Ecosystem’ in cities: Bogotá, Seattle, London, Tehran, and Nairobi

whitepaper, UP Global

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The Imperial West Innovation District is located near London’s White City. The project’s centerpiece is a 48,000 sq. meter ‘hub’ intended to support 1,000 students, researchers, and entrepreneurs through the Imperial College London.

startup weekend LondonEntrepreneurs at Startup Weekend London. 

The project’s hub will use more than half of a £200 public investment by the United Kingdom to develop the cluster in support of a dense, innovative workforce, and a culture for startups.

Fostering a Startup and Innovation Ecosystem suggests that governments can encourage entrepreneurs by providing hospitable regulation for operating and investing in startups. The UK’s premier entrepreneurial cluster will also be supported by taxes placed upon several of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies.

The UK government has followed other European nations by proposing targeted tax policies for Google, Facebook, and Apple– including a 25% tax on the ‘economic activity’ conducted by tech multinationals in the UK.

According to the Wall Street Journal, this so-called, ‘Google Tax,’ is structured to raise approximately £1 billion in tax revenue for the UK over the next five years; and like legislation in the EU, is directed at taxing companies that sell digital ad products overseas.

The revenue created by the UK’s prospective corporate taxes are intended to support startup policies developed by the government. London’s officials have been investing in the city’s startup community for several years, and are eager for additional funding.

“In 2010, aides to Prime Minister David Cameron stumbled across a cluster of British high-tech companies that were thriving despite the recession – and without any government aid,” Emma Vandore, an urban policy expert, wrote in the Lisbon Council. “Alerted to the potential of Silicon Roundabout, as the cluster is known, officials were quick to see the potential – and to take action. Within months, the Tech City Initiative was conceived and launched by [Prime Minister] Cameron.”

The UK government uses this kind of official patronage to generate excitement and legitimacy for London’s tech scene, and beyond Prime Minister Cameron, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have also been recruited to help promote London’s startup potential.

UP Global, Startup Weekend LondonWilliam and Kate, no strangers to the London tech scene, play with HP TouchPad at L.A. event

In contrast with an otherwise-strict immigration policy, the UK has recently offered regulatory support for an ‘entrepreneur’s visa’ as a way to attract startup talent from sluggish markets in Europe. According to Vandore, this policy was made possible through monthly breakfasts at 10 Downing Street, in which regulators and entrepreneurs discussed startup ecosystems.

London seeks to out-compete its European counterparts by cultivating a strategic, physical ecosystem for entrepreneurs and researchers to collaborate. It has accommodated foreign entrepreneurs who want to work at startups in the UK, and has piled on the support of regulators and academics alike.

But in its attempt to cater to startup businesses, the UK has also targeted tech multinationals (who invest heavily in entrepreneurship,) with a 25% tax rate, and this may reduce the willing participation of large companies in London’s startup community.

The question is, will such a tax help or hurt London’s startup ecosystem over the next ten years?  

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What challenges are you facing in your community?
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Week Two: Corporate Capital Propels Seattle's NewSpace Industry.

Over the course of five weeks, UP Global is highlighting the 5 key ingredients for Fostering A Thriving Startup Ecosystem’ in cities: BogotáSeattleLondonTehran, and Nairobi

UP Global, whitepaper

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In concert with an established entrepreneurial community, Seattle has become a premier cluster for raising capital– particularly for private space industries. For more than a decade, the city has quietly hosted several of the world’s most well-funded private space ventures and just today, Elon Musk announced plans for a Seattle office for Mars colonization.

startup weekend space, spaceParticipants at Startup Weekend Space. 

Seattle has nurtured such celebrated brands as Starbucks, Microsoft, and Amazon, but it owes its reputation as the ‘Jet City’ to an older, innovative local: Boeing. Boeing became a cornerstone for Seattle’s economy through funding advances in human air travel, and through its continuing investments in human flight, the company remains close to the Seattle’s current renaissance in jet technology.

“Seattle is a great place to start a space business,” Eric Anderson, co-founder of Planetary Resources said at an August fundraiser. “There’s a confluence of high-tech hardware and software communities, and a highly educated workforce [in Seattle].”

“I like to call Seattle, ‘Silicon Valley light.’”

Planetary Resources, a company researching the technology necessary for mineral retrieval from space, is located east of Seattle, near Microsoft. Anderson also helped found Space Adventures in 1997, the first private-sector company to successfully brokerage space tourism. The company’s first client, Dennis Tito, paid $20 million for six days in space.

startup weekend space, space

Founded in 2010, Planetary Resources has attracted such billionaire investors as Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, and Charles Simonyi (the only private citizen to travel recreationally into space, twice) to the idea of mining in space.

Anderson said that Seattle– like Silicon Valley– has a powerful combination of available capital and innovative culture. Anderson cited the relationship between Seattle’s academic and aeronautics communities as a value partnership for the development of space exploration.

Blue Origin, Boeing, and Planetary Resources are all located within a ten-mile radius of the University of Washington, which offers top-tier programming in computer science and medicine, and accounts for thousands of educated residents in Seattle. The area is also home to such influential space investors as Simonyi, Jeff Bezos, Paul Allen, and Bill Gates.

With close to $500 million in personal investment from Bezos, Blue Origin intends to design, manufacture, and sell rocket technology to other privatized space organizations over the coming decades.

During the “Space Race”– the famous Cold War subplot of spending and political control of outer space­– the US government invested up to five cents from every tax dollar into the development of technologies related to space exploration and research.

startup weekend space, space

Currently, less than half a cent of every tax dollar is used in this way.

Government divestment from space has inspired influential investors from Seattle (and around the world,) to apply their knack for business innovation towards operating privatized industries in the newly underserved markets of space.

“In 2012, for the first time, global government spending in space declined… However, the space industry as a whole expanded due to the exponential growth of emerging commercial space companies,” Chad Anderson, European managing director at Space Angels Network, said. “The growth going forward is expected to continue to come from new commercial business models, entrepreneurs, and startups.”

Based in Seattle, Space Angels Network is a global agency of 50 seed and early-stage investors focused entirely on private-sector space ventures. The organization is the global leader in angel investment for private space startups.

Billionaires Elon Musk (of SpaceX,) and Richard Branson (of Virgin Galactic,) have made well-publicized investments in space technology over the past decade, as well, and have substantiated the possibilities for individual investors in space’s private-sector.

Fostering a Startup and Innovation Ecosystem found that whether businesses are just starting, or trying to scale, access to capital is critical for success. Experienced capital– through billionaire investors or through firms– can really make a difference for new companies. Policy makers can also take proactive measures to make it easier for startups to access the capital required to start and grow businesses.

Through available capital for Seattle’s space companies, the city looks to solidify its status along Houston and Cape Canaveral as global centers for space innovation. Seattle earned its “Jet City” credo from a commitment to building airplanes, and contemporary investors hope to return the city to a leadership role in building jet technology for the future.

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We invite you to read along and lend your perspective.

What challenges are you facing in your community?

What solutions have you developed?

What questions do you have about these communities?

#ThrivingEcosystem








Week One: Urban Density Fuels Innovation in Bogotá

In conjunction with our recently published white paper, UP Global is spotlighting five communities, on five continents, that exhibit one of the entrepreneurial ingredients documented by our research: density, talent, culture, capital, and regulatory practices.

Over the course of five weeks, UP Global is highlighting these key ingredients in Bogota, London, Seattle, Tehran, and Nairobi– to get a local view of the challenges and opportunities facing entrepreneurs.

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Innovation is sewn at the intersection of great minds; where the density of talented thinkers and makers is high, the potential to “Make Your Own Silicon Valley” dramatically increases. Silicon Valley’s magic is that the five innovation ingredients coexist with high density.

In Bogotá, Colombia, entrepreneurs face complex and long-standing challenges regarding innovation density– challenges that must be accounted for by those hoping to launch a startup.

Design Your Space, startup weekendLocal Innovator at Startup Weekend Colombia, “Design Your Space”  

“Bogotá’s urban expansion has been ‘oil spill development,’” Luis Borrero, a third-generation Colombian architect and an expert on global practices in urban sustainability, said. “A drop here, a drop there, and eventually, drops spreading out into one another.”

Borrero is a fellow at the University of Washington Runstad Center for Real Estate Studies, and serves on the Seattle Planning Commission. Borrero said that parts of Bogotá are extremely dense, but that the city’s 613-square-mile footprint is dominated by low-rise structures; built against and on top of each other, and spread vastly across a plateau.

ColombiaPhoto: Ross Buchanan

Colombia is a nation whose human and natural ecosystems have been ravaged by war. Ten percent of the country’s population left the country during the 1990s, and in 1992 the country’s murder rate per 100,000 citizens was the highest in the world. Colombia maintains the third largest population of internally displaced refugees on the planet, and is a seasoned battleground for the War on Drugs, and the War on Terror.

“Through rapid urbanization, rural communities were forced to become a part of [Bogotá,] and it forced communities to come up with a new plan for managing density,” Runstad Center fellow Eric Hadden said. “The creation of bicycle highways, caught our attention because their popularity has been building steadily, and they’re a good example of bottom-up pressure as a force for density innovation.”

Hadden traveled to Colombia in March of 2014 as part of the Runstad Center’s annual fellowship in urban sustainability. Hadden and the Runstad team visited Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellín, and with Borrero’s guidance, the group analyzed patterns in urban resilience, sustainability, and density.

“The automotive congestion [in Bogotá] was horrible… Urban developers have done a good job of actually engaging leaders from the community when expanding the mass-transit and bike highways around the city,” Hadden said. “The city brought informal settlements and neighborhoods into the fold with the Transmilenio [bus lines] and bike highways.”

Recognizing the migration of business density away from the city center, Urban developers created Plan Centro, a strategy to reinvest in business, retail, and governmental density in downtown. The plan uses robust mass-transit and a 180-mile bike transit highway to encourage worker mobility across a larger metropolitan area.

Borrero notes; however, that without the feeling of safety in a dense, urban space, startup ecosystems cannot begin to flourish. Banks and financial services relocated out of El Centro (the city’s business core) over Colombia’s thirty-year period of dramatic corruption, violence, and crime.

“The Wall Street Journal noted in 2013 that, ‘Arguably, no place has been more resilient or more innovative in the face of challenges than Colombia,’” Hadden said. “[As a fellowship] we were looking to study urban spaces that were overcoming trauma, corruption, and political instability­– in a way that actually made the community stronger.”

To account for Bogotá’s informal settlements in urban planning, city government turned to community leaders for their expertise.

“We were continually told by the communities we went into, ‘You can’t just go about installing municipal hardware ….you need the software to go along with it,’” Hadden said. “A city may install a library (hardware), but if they have no infrastructure for informing the populace, or bringing citizens to the institutions (software), the project can’t function as a hub for the community.”

BD Bacata is another notable example of density redevelopment in El Centro. The project is in the redevelopment zone set forth by Plan Centro, and upon completion, the two-towered, skyscraper will be the tallest structure in the country, and will host 1.3 million sq feet of commercial/residential space.

colombia

Perhaps most intriguing to entrepreneurs, the building will be financed entirely through crowdfunding. It will house businesses, families, and international ‘feducies’– or banks– on the same premises.

Prodigy Networks, a New York financial group, is responsible for curating the crowd-funded structure. The company advertises that up to 80% of the building’s 3800 investors are Colombian, and that the skyscraper is a way for middle class investors to build wealth.

BD Bacata hopes to be an advanced physical hub, and the first crowdfunded superstructure. It will host office and commercial space and many condominiums. It will offer density, and an enormous jolt of capital– into a small, accessible location, in a city of eight million people.

As a burgeoning and complex cluster, Bogotá is a reminder that startups need not only the five essential ingredients for fostering innovation– but also a cultural resilience to the unique challenges that face their community. It is through this resilience that Bogotá hopes to redevelop its urban density on behalf of startups.

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We invite you to read along and lend your perspective.
What challenges are you facing in your community?
What solutions have you developed?
What questions do you have about these communities?
#ThrivingEcosystem








The Baghdad 'Situation': Iraqi Entrepreneurship According to Salih Zain

Iraq presents a unique ‘situation’ for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“The biggest challenge in Iraq is ‘the situation,’” Salih Zain, an 18-year-old entrepreneur from Baghdad, said. “The security situation [in 2014] is really bad… ISIS has started to freak everyone out!”

Zain has co-organized two Startup Weekends in Baghdad, and led the organization of a third. He suggests that rumors about ISIS arriving in Baghdad have had a serious affect on the market for startups, despite a successful Startup Weekend in August.

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“Entrepreneurs are really scared and stressed… One of the most successful startups in Iraq had to stop because of ‘the situation,’” Zain said. “We have been hearing news about ISIS arriving in Baghdad, and many people focused on these lies… A lot of Iraqis would say, ‘You guys are crazy! You guys don’t think about those who are getting killed! You guys must stop and sympathize with others!’… [entrepreneurs] can not market a product during such a period of time.”

Zain referenced Miswag.net, a Baghdad ecommerce startup focused on selling and delivering cloths that was recently forced to suspend their service. Despite such setbacks, Zain remains confident that with simple mobile apps, Baghdad’s many infrastructural problems can be made less frustrating– and dangerous– for Iraqis.

“If I wanna go to another city [in Iraq], I don’t know what’s there,” Zain said. “I don’t know if it’s safe to go there or not. Imagine if there were an app– that with one tap– I could see peoples’ review of ‘the situation’ in that area [of Iraq]… Is it safe or dangerous? How is the road?… It’s really important to know these details.”

Zain points to the ubiquitous problems facing Iraqis in terms of government participation, medical infrastructure, and rampant traffic. In terms of dealing with ‘the situation,’ he emphasizes a paradoxical, creative balance of observation and isolation.

“After a long period of wars and economic blockades, Iraqis started to make excuses for all failures by comparing our ‘situation’ to worse ones,” Zain said.  “If you want to be an entrepreneur [in Baghdad], you should create your own world– your own castle where you don’t listen to the bad news. You need to disconnect from some of the realities of ‘the situation’… and work like crazy.”

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Zain is a 12th grade student, who while studying science, fell into the development of mobile applications. Zain is a UX/UI designer, and co-founded Fikra Space, a community hub for computer scientists and designers to share their interests and goals. He admits that most Iraqis don’t understand what ‘entrepreneurship’ means, and that the national educational system is outdated in training students in emerging tech.

“Since we have no internships [in Iraq], students and graduates see themselves in an infinite loop– they have the knowledge [to be valuable], but work experience is required to find a job,” Zain said. “Private companies and secure government sectors look for people who have experience.”

According to Zain, government jobs are alluring to Iraqis because they offer such luxuries as additional training and retirement compensation for selected workers. But after decades of war– and with the promise of a government pension obscured by competition and conflict– Zain has made other, entrepreneurial arrangements for his future.

Through Fikra Space, Zain has grown his personal experience in lieu of a professional internship, while organizing Startup Weekends as a means to grow his company’s community of talent. This practice has also helped him improve his skills as a designer, while encouraging other young Iraqis to do the same.

“As an Iraqi entrepreneur, you don’t need to scratch your head and wait for an opportunity– it’s right there in front of you,” Zain said. “Try to use technology to solve the millions of simple and complex problems facing the people around you… [Iraqis] need to believe that creating their own job is better than working in the government.”

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If you’re an Iraqi looking to launch a Startup Weekend in your area, please visit http://baghdad.startupweekend.org/ for more information on past events, sponsorship, and the capable network of entrepreneurs near you.

See more photos from Startup Weekend Baghdad!








One Giant Leap for Entrepreneurs: Silicon Valley Hosts Startup Weekend Space

In July, Startup Weekend Space met for the second time in two years, fielding ten teams dedicated to the development of space technologies, and broader conceptual understandings of space.

Startup Weekend Space, Space, Startup Weekend

Hosted in San Jose on July 25-27, the weekend provided 54-hours of outer-worldly ideation around “NewSpace.”

NewSpace is a simple way to refer to the complex network of innovations and people that power the emerging, privatized market for space technologies. In the wake of funding cuts for NASA and other government-subsidized space programs, American entrepreneurs have looked to each other for the brainpower and funding necessary to push onward and outward.

“Our vision is to enable a new era of citizen aerospace exploration through enabling [consumer space] technologies,” James Parr, a team leader at Makernautics, said. “Makernautics is part of a bigger vision of citizen space exploration enabled by open technology platforms – we’re calling this the ‘Open Space Agency‘.”

Makernautics, a team formed during the weekend, intends to enable 3D printing for satellite, telescope, and rocket technologies, as well as the other components that make data collection possible in space.

“Through scaling citizen networks with open technology, our ultimate goal is to create a community of citizen space explorers that can help [government] space agencies and private enterprise achieve their aims,” Parr said. “One of first proof-of-concept projects we’re close to completing is the development of an asteroid hunting telescope. This is to help citizen scientists characterize Near Earth Objects, as part of NASA’s Grand Challenge to find all of the asteroids that present a threat to human populations.”

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The weekend’s winning team, BioCube, conceptualized a line of cube satellites that are intended to help biologists study organic materials in space.

“We are kicking our project into full force,” Christine Fanchiang, team leader at BioCube, said. “We have been in the process of developing our business by meeting with a number of [biologists], business professionals, and founders from other start-up companies. We’re looking at a number of other opportunities that could help accelerate our capabilities, including technology transfers, research grants, and additional startup accelerators.”

Young, hopeful attendees buoyed the room with creativity, and a cross-section of technical veterans helped channel the collective ambitions of the weekend. Leadership for the event offered an unprecedented variety of space professionalism, including media, private sector, and government representatives familiar with “OldSpace,” as well as new.

Startup Weekend Space, Startup Weekend, Space, UP Global

PongSat Parts uniquely represented a NewSpace blend of scientific proliferation and consumer economics.

The team, formed prior to the weekend by entrepreneur Blaze Sanders, sells pre-built kits for lifting materials into space (~$75.) Sanders’ experience with NewSpace technology includes the development of virtual reality systems, low-space skydiving equipment, and rocketry.

PongSat Parts hopes to make small satellites commonplace across global consumer markets, and caters to users of all technical proficiencies. Sanders used Startup Weekend: Space to refine his team’s business plan and raise capital.

“As opposed to the traditional Startup Weekend event, Startup Weekend Space is less focused on the immediate business plans of a [participating] team,” Reuben Metcalfe, the lead organizer for Startup Weekend Space, said. “The obstacles that space startups face are on a physically larger and more meticulously challenging scale than those facing most startups. We still demand that they build a business plan capable of kicking off on Monday…. It’s just that much harder to do it all.”

Metcalfe, an entrepreneur and self-described ‘space geek’, has been lead organizer for Startup Weekend: Space throughout its existence. Metcalfe is the founder of IDreamofSpace.com, a startup directed at making space travel accessible to broad consumer markets. Metcalfe has worked with NewSpace entrepreneurs for the past two years.

“The [return on investment] for time and money spent on space technologies is much longer, and teams are forced to consider ten or twenty years of economic and political change over a weekend,” Metcalfe said. “But that doesn’t mean they get a handicap from the judges.”

Metcalfe hopes to host the next Startup Weekend Space event in November, in a location outside of the US.








How Mobile Is Changing The Event Experience

This article was originally published on Forbes

For every flower-crowned, hippie-flavored photo that hit your Facebook feed this year during Coachella, you have an event organizer to thank.  For every dinner party that you brag about on Instagram, or every free gallery that you tweet about, an event planner somewhere deserves a pat on the back.

American students, entrepreneurs and artists each seek the occasions and communities in which they do their best work. In the bars, lecture halls, and hotels where these individuals gather, there is evidence for a growing sector of the American economy.

This economy includes the smartphone technologies that make taxi rides more productive and cute doggies more shareable. It also includes the job sector responsible for organizing the food, Ferris wheels, and tech celebrities that may appear at your next work event.

It is the marriage of these developing sectors– that of mobile technology and event organization– which will define the next five years of how you attend social and professional functions.

FounderShotKarl White, left, and Todd Goldberg are the cofounders of event-management app Eventjoy

The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked ‘Meeting/Event Planner’ as the fourth most-rapidly growing job title in the United States in 2012. Labor metrics have also indicated sustained growth in the events market since 2003, and with the help of a burgeoning tech-sector, domestic event planning is projected to grow by an additional 31,000 jobs through 2020– an increase of approximately 43%.

Most Americans will attend (or plan) a variety of professional, academic, and commemorative gatherings during fiscal year 2015, and a growing majority will do so with smart phones in-hand.

“I think we’ve chosen correctly in our focus on mobile… Smartphone penetration has already surpassed two-thirds of all US mobile subscribers [and] this trend will only continue to grow,” Todd Goldberg, a cofounder at mobile-app Eventjoy said. “It means exciting things for both attendees and organizers.”

Goldberg and partner Karl White founded Eventjoy in 2013 to coordinate event hosts and attendees through their smartphones. Eventjoy has recently added an ‘organizer app’ to their offering for planners, including a simple interface with which to check guests in, track sales, and receive push notifications.

Eventjoy serves as a fee-free ticketing solution for planners, and has predominantly focused on attendee-users in the past. It has been implemented at more than 2000 events in 14 countries, and takes advantage of new, smartphone-enabled planners in the workforce.

“We reach out to organizers and offer our mobile product for free, as a way to complement their ticketing solution,” Goldberg said. “Very few events offer a mobile app for guests to stay connected, and there are naturally higher expectations at tech events because attendees are more of the early-adopter type.”

There are also naturally higher pressures on attendees who don’t want to be at an event. These are the attendees who would rather be at the hotel after a day of conference participation, than attending the non-mandatory procession of stand-ups, happy hours, and executive-led flash mob dances that often occur in the wake of a long workday.

“If you can better organize the small activities that accompany a big conference, it alleviates a lot of stress for the attendee,” Goldberg said. “We’ve been successful in [conference-organization] by meeting attendees on their phones, and we want to do the same for organizers.”

Eventjoy gives attendees and hosts the ability to prioritize events while on the go, and accurately judge the time commitments of their schedule. They can use the app to provide feedback to hosts, navigate unfamiliar workspaces and interact with a team’s holistic schedule of events. Goldberg also noted that when planners oversee a series of events, mobile coordination with their clientele works to increase engagement.

Eventbrite, a forerunner and direct competitor in ticketing and curating events, has recently diversified into hardware and field support for event organizers. Like Eventjoy, Eventbrite allows users to search, buy admission to, and follow the events of their choice.

“We operate in a competitive space,” Goldberg said.“We observed ‘a race to the bottom’ in regard to ticket fees, and saw the fee-free option as a great opportunity…[additionally] it’s our focus on mobile that sets us apart.”

The event-planning sector will predictably continue to search for easier ways to gather feedback data, and lower the cost of administering events in a crowded market. Mobile is poised to offer event planners an easier means of oversight, and event attendees an easier means of saying thanks.

And while this might not make going to Coachella any cheaper, it may help develop a next wave of technologically integrated social events.