Twitter Handle: @AmirR3zaM
Favorite Twitter Hashtag: #Iran
Work title and company
Currently, I’m working on my own startup. It’s called GeFi’s (dʒi:faɪ) and focuses on empowering people by sharing their WiFi connection. I’m also a PR and Content Manager at Takhfifan, an e-commerce service in Iran.
What do you like to do for fun?
I enjoy photography, as well as sharing things with people, especially the meals I cook from scratch. The next items on my hobby list include studying startups and entrepreneurship programs.
If you could have any teacher (dead or alive, real or fictional) who would it be and why?
My first grade school teacher, Mr Hosseini. He was so passionate about teaching all of his students to read and write.
What’s been your involvement in EE to date?
My organizing team and I launched Education Entrepreneurs in the Middle East. We organized an Education Entrepreneurs Workshop in February 2015, as well as a Startup Weekend Education event in March 2015. Education Entrepreneurs is greatly needed in Iran. Many people disagree with the old-fashioned educational system that’s still operating here. We hosted a Workshop and SWEDU, because we wanted to help young people try to start new things in education.
What’s the most challenging and/or rewarding thing about being an Organizer?
My main goal is to make a difference in education. I want to create a space where people learn something new, engage in a new community, and form a new network. I believe that “new” is good, and I love seeing the happiness on participants’ faces.
What’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to people trying to create edtech products?
Ask yourself these questions: Is there an important reason to build this app? Do people really need this product? Is this product something really important for people? If the answer is yes, then start working on bringing that product to life.
What’s the legacy you’d like to leave in education?
My vision is to build an Education Startup School in Iran that will help people develop their ideas.
Finish the sentence: In my dream world, education would…
…help people develop faster, and be accessible to everyone, no matter if they have money or not.
What are the books, events, videos, etc. that you think anyone interested in innovating in education and/or building community should check out?
I think people should watch the movie Freedom Writers, because it’s a great story about responsibility and commitment, two qualities that are needed if you want to make a great impact in anything.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I want to give special thanks to my organizing team and all the volunteers and mentors that are a part of this community.
More about Education Entrepreneurs
Education Entrepreneurs is the largest initiative in the world focused on helping people use entrepreneurship to improve education. Its suite of offerings include Startup Weekend Education, Startup Digest Education, Workshops, online resources, and a global network of Community Leaders. Spanning six continents, Education Entrepreneurs has created an unprecedented opportunity for anyone, anywhere to shape the future of education.
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.
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.
Participants at Startup Weekend Women 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.
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?
In September 2012 I was notified of the first ever Startup Weekend being organized in Tehran, Iran. After reading a few lines about the event, I was sufficiently persuaded to sign up. Unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out! And I thought that this event was organized only once a year and I have to wait a long time before I can participate. However, after some queries, I discovered that the next event will be held only a couple of months later in November, during Global Entrepreneurship Week.
As soon as it was announced, I registered for the event and after traveling 1200 Kilometers from my college in Birjand (A small city of 150 thousand residence), I got to Tehran and the Startup Weekend venue. It was an amazing event whose facilitator was Rowan Yeoman from New Zealand. Everything was perfect, and it got better as I found my idea among the top ten ideas.
So we began our 54 hours of exciting and challenging work on our startup and started validating our idea and building an MVP with the help of some awesome mentors. In the end, although we had an awful presentation, we still expected to be selected among the top teams!
This never happened, but regardless of the outcome I was extremely happy since I spent my whole with some energetic teammates.
A lot of my friends and classmates, who followed the event online and gave me a lot of encouragement, were eagerly awaiting the details when I got back to college. They wanted to experience Startup Weekend themselves but the long distance and the cost of traveling to the capital gave them pause. Eventually we decided to organize a lite version of Startup Weekend in our college and as a prize send the winners to the next SW Tehran.
After discussing this with SW Tehran organizers they encouraged me and a few friends to come and help organize the next event in Tehran. And it was after being part of the organizing team for SW Tehran that I thought why organize a lite version of Startup Weekend in Birjand? Why not organize the actual thing!
So with the final exams approaching and with the help and guidance of our friends in Tehran, we decided to fill out an application and start preparing for the first Startup Weekend Birjand!
And it was not easy! To be honest considering Birjand’s population, our expectations weren’t high. But everybody helped out. The university hosted the event; the mayor’s office sponsored the food and refreshments. We had mentors volunteer and fly in from Tehran and nearby cities and we had 40 energetic, creative participants.
After three exhausting days it was over. Miller Lab (software that simulates anesthesiology conditions for new technicians in hospitals) won first place. And we the organizing team felt victorious! It was without exaggeration the best night of my life.
Now, fast forward 6 months, Startup Weekend has spread to 10 different cities in Iran and I am proudly facilitating SW Ahvaz (a city in southwest Iran). It’s great to be part of the national and global startup community and I owe all these great experiences to Startup Weekend.
Thank you startup weekend!