The Middle East is ripe for a startup culture. We’ve already seen some successful launches such as Wally the money managing app and Eventtus– a social app for events. Such success stories have given confidence to entrepreneurs to try out new things and to help them reach their objectives, we’ve seen a decent amount of VCs enter the market for funding startups. One such venture is Afkar.me that likes to promotes itself as the first full spectrum digital-oriented startup incubator for the Middle East. That’s quite a mouthful and we sat down with Souhail Khoury from Afkar find out what does that exactly mean?
Full Spectrum Digital Oriented Application” is the term we are defining Afkar with because of the 360 degree services provided. Afkar is the only incubator in the region to offer Funding, Mentoring, Guest Speakers, Logistics support ( Visa, Travel, Registration, Legal advice), more importantly we are leveraging Intigral’s capability as a 280 person corporation to put our Entrepreneurs in constant touch with people from HR, Finance, Accounting, Marketing, Product Development and sales.
we are not taking equity
Our most differentiating point however is that since we are closely affiliated with STC, Viva Bahrain and Viva Kuwait. We will put our Entrepreneurs’ product on these platform giving them access to millions of potential customers. We will also provide them post incubation support in the form of help in finding funding, introduction to other operators and Product Marketing and Development Support. More Importantly we are not taking equity in order to have people focus on products that work on the long term
There are quite a few Government initiated programs in the Middle East which, on the face to it, have a greater comfort level than going to a private investor. So why would an entrepreneur chose to go with afkar.me?
Some Governments are doing a great job supporting SMEs but not all of them have the same level of support specially financially and are a way to help entrepreneurs settle up. Afkar.me is purely focused on Digital and the people behind it have years of experience in the domain, moreover the perks mentioned above allow us to differentiate ourselves as a product driven incubator that is looking to have successful product on the market- not only exit with profit.
What are you looking to achieve with afkar.me? What is your interest in the program?
Our main interest from the Afkar.me initiative is to be a pipeline for innovative ideas. Intigral has, for the last year, started to generate more unique products set for the region but even with 280 people in the organization there might be people with great ideas but no opportunity to showcase it. Afkar.me will give them that opportunity. Furthermore by improving the ecosystem we benefit as well as an organization since Digital is our core line of business.
The FAQ section on your website provides some easy to follow guidelines and how to apply, and you’ve mentioned that in your first round you are looking at around a hundered entries. But what happens after the application process closes?
When the application closes on Nov 10th we will look a all of the entries and discard the ones that are either non serious or need a lot of work. We will reduce the applications by a third so around 35. These 35 people will be interview over skype to clarify their ideas. We will then convene as a committee and with the help of some of our partners, choose the 10 best. The others will receive feedback and if they have potential they will be encouraged to reapply. The 10 finalist will participate in a 2 day bootcamp event in which they will pitch and do business exercises. A panel of five judges from within our organization and partners will select the 3 winners that will be incubated at Afkar.me
If a candidate gets knocked off during a later stage of a program, would you suggest an alternate scheme for them to look at for funding?
We are always looking for great ideas which is why anyone can reapply for the interesting ideas that we feel have a big synergy. We will provide personalized feedback and maybe direct them to our partners for help.
When you do end up selecting a candidate, how quickly can you get them started? What is the process following the selection?
When the bootcamp which will be held in Dubai in Mid December is concluded and the 3 winners are chosen we will need the time to process visas and other requirements to make sure that any non UAE based startup can be accommodated. We expect to launch by Jan 2014 at the latest.