The following is a guest post by Lauren Sauser.
Saudi Arabia ranks among countries with the highest degree of smartphone penetration; a nation where 60% of mobile users in 2013 own smartphones, and 29% have made online purchases via mobile. Additionally, Saudi Arabia currently ranks second among the world’s fastest growing countries for Twitter usage, with the largest user population being 25-34-year-olds (GlobalWebIndex’s ‘Stream Social: Quarterly Social Platforms Update). By comparison, U.S. smartphone penetration was 44% in 2013, according to Google’s annual smartphone study.
Two hundred entrepreneurial men and women gathered in Jeddah for Saudi Arabia’s 3rd Startup Weekend on March 21, 2013. Participants competed against one another to build the best business possible in 54 hours. In response to evidenced growth in smartphone and social media usage within Saudi Arabia, ambitious smartphone applications took the gold, silver, and bronze.
Friday began with open-mic pitches to designate teams, while Saturday and Sunday were used to focus on customer development, and building a minimal, viable product. On Sunday evening, teams demoed their prototypes, and received valuable feedback from a panel of experts.
Beyond feedback, bragging rights, and a running start on their business, 1st place received a hefty cash prize sponsored by Badir (a technology incubation program launched by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in 2007.)
In first place was Zefaf (@ZefafApp), a wedding arrangement site led by two women. Zefaf is aimed at serving Saudi’s $500 million wedding market by allowing users to set a budget and connect to venues, restaurants, entertainment and fashion. Second place went to Adrs Me, (@adrs_me), a mobile application that helps customers order goods online (by creating a reference number for each location submitted); and in third place was iMashfa (@iMashfa), an appointment-booking site for hospitals and physicians.
These three pioneering applications not only take advantage of smartphone technology, but also serve functional purposes in Saudi society. Each business focuses on a niche market, connecting individuals for business, and easing the communication in a budding tech market.