From November 12 to 14, 2010 Beirut battled 14 other cities worldwide in an unprecedented challenge that saw over 300 hundred participants from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine gathering in Berytech, for a week-end like no other, the Yalla Startup Weekend.
Participants drove, flew in, rode in buses all the way from Damascus and Amman, and even hitch-hiked to the venue with sleeping bags, flip charts, laptops, ipads, energy drinks, markers, jerseys and all the tools needed to battle their way to the top.
Following the traditional SW format, everyone got to pitch their idea to the crowd in an attempt to recruit 4 to 5 team members. Soon enough over 30 teams were formed often from mixed nationalities, and everyone took their quarters in different corners of the Berytech incubator. Signs, ranging from “Registration”, to “Showers” even “Girls’ Sleeping Area” were pinned in different locations to guide people around.
Motivation and energy levels ran high, as teams geeked through most of the night and until the wee hours. Different sponsors brought in different meals at different hours, ranging from donuts to healthy salads and Lebanese mankoucheh pies. The organizers provided an ongoing supply of refreshments and snacks to keep the groups going.
Inspirational speakers appeared at different moments of the week-end sharing, motivating and connecting with the audience. Microsoft and Google ensured a quasi permanent presence throughout, providing precious technical advice when needed. Most of the participants, using #yswlb, exchanged an endless stream of messages, tweets, impressions, and questions.
By day 3, everyone was ready to pitch as teams prepared feverishly for the 5 o’clock demo night which started at 6 and did not end till 11 or so. despite strict time keeping. The jury, composed of innovators, VCs and techies took notes and asked questions, facing the challenge of ranking 30+ outstanding projects. Mimix, the startup which eventually won the race received a standing ovation from the audience.
Tweeting on YallaStartup, Habib Haddad, founder of Yamli.com and lead organizer in the event declared: “34 mind blowing Startups in 3 days! And you still ask where are the enterepreneurs? They are EVERYWHERE! Congratulations everyone! “.
Participants and audience members kept tweeting long after the event was over and on the next day, even now, sharing their elation over the success of such an experience.
To see photos of Yallastartup Weekend Beirut: http://bit.ly/cTnoaC
To see opening and closing ceremonies: http://bit.ly/cD0q71