Along side a number of Lebanese people and organizations within the entrepreneurial system, I was invited by Abraaj Capital to attend “Celebration of Entrepreneurship” which took place November 8 & 9 in Dubai. At first, I was a bit doubtful about participating. With so many people I knew going there, did I really need to go? Wasn’t the whole point of such events to network with individuals I didn’t know? But since I was scheduled to participate in a couple of interesting workshops, with a bit of anticipation, I packed a bag and was good to go.
As I got to the Madinat Jumeirah Center at 9.00 AM on the morning of November 8th, I found out soon enough that the event was nothing I expected.
Participants were lining on four different desks, within six different lanes each, trying to get their entry ticket into this intriguing journey. Clearly, they over-spilled the 1500 some guests announced a few days earlier on the official Celebration of Entrepreneurship website.
Luckily, the speakers’ desk had fewer lanes and lines. Soon enough I was equipped with a large tag, a goodie bag and the mysterious “Spotme” device. Celebration of Entrepreneurship was shaping up to be unlike anything I had seen, been to or heard of before.
Madinat Jumeirah Center was transformed into a parallel universe with different layouts, stages, moods, wall to wall carpets, ceiling to floor curtains, screens, sound systems, signboards, down to the nooks and crannies to cater for the mega event of the year, or maybe the decade. I was dashing in and out of rooms, trying to make the best of the 9 or so parallel tracks running on the dot. Often time, I was torn between attending the crowd moving mega shows at the large Corner stage, or the small more intimate encounters in the Passion Corners, where the audience sprawled on beanbags or simply stretched on the floor, and the connection with speakers was direct, straightforward and often time emotional. I was juggling between the “Spotme” device, which allowed me to clock into the different rooms, exchange business cards, send messages, vote, or even “spot” people, on the one side, and my Iphone from which I was feverishly tweeting alongside hundreds of other fellow twitterers, in excess of 4000 tweets over two days.
Hungry, thirsty, in need of a coffee or a snack? The many food carts, coffee bars, corner cafés provided an ongoing supply of power snacks and colorful, creative beverages. At lunch, the outdoor buffet abounded with delicacies from all corners of the world, from Italian pasta to Thai food, from sushi to Lebanese shawarma. Different languages, accents and nationalities mingled with glee, as the lens of the organizers and media captured those precious moments and streamed them live on the Wamda portal. On the upside, it was a frenzy of themes, emotions, experiences. But within this turbocharged program, we were often torn between not missing on any of the back to back sessions or on the chance to network leisurely with some of the new faces and acquaintances we were connecting with. Few of the workshops did not keep their promise, as they had the ambition to tackle complex issues that need far more than 90’ to be properly addressed. And I left some of those sessions feeling far less enlightened and far more frustrated.
Of the people I knew from Lebanon, little did I see. Our interactions were restricted to quick hellos as we zoomed passed each other in crowded hallways, comforting in the knowledge we can catch each other up in Beirut.
On the second day, as the Celebration neared its conclusion, the buzz grew stronger. I, like so many people around, wanted to drink from this fountain of entrepreneurship and innovation to the very last drop. Arif Naqvi, the charismatic founder of Abraaj capital, did as good of a job at kicking off this event as closing it. The finale was true to the dimensions of this Celebration: grand, emotional, empowering.
And as knowledge partner of the Wamda, we look forward to Inspire, Empower and Connect with like-minded peers and the next generation of entrepreneurs. Lebanon and the region have never been more ready to be the breeding ground of innovation.