Event draws praise for advancing tech, digital and entertainment industries in MENA
Organizers of STEP2017—the MENA region’s largest gathering for technology, digital and entertainment industries—have hailed the fifth edition of the event as the most successful yet. Held last month at the Dubai International Marine Club, the event attracted more than 8,000 visitors from 50 countries, and reaffirmed its position as an accelerator of the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
STEP2017, which this year featured the flagship STEP Conference and inaugural STEP Music Festival, presented a truly international lineup of speakers and talent from across 22 countries and five continents. Shining a spotlight on the best of the MENA region’s startup scene, STEP Conference brought together some of the most innovative and disruptive tech and digital concepts with global investors and industry heavyweights.
“Governments are investing more in supporting entrepreneurs as they recognize the critical contribution they make to economic growth. Success stories like the recent acquisition of Souq.com by Amazon and local tech unicorn Careem show that this region has the knowhow to compete globally. STEP Conference gives startups and growth businesses a platform to demonstrate why the MENA region is such a hotbed of innovation,” said Ray Dargham, CEO, STEP Group.
“Every year we are inspired by the ideas coming out of the region’s startup scene and the bar is continuously being raised, pushing boundaries both regionally and globally. We are seeing some tangible outcomes from the event, such as startup Knowlarity raising Series C funding, and our aim is exactly this – to bring together amazing ideas with investors to enable them to come to fruition. It is an exciting time for our region, and gives us all a chance to reclaim the narrative around Arabs,” he added.
Celebrating the fifth edition of the event, STEP2017 has evolved considerably from its first gathering of 100 people in 2013. In addition to a two-day agenda of inspiring and insightful talks and discussions, it provides an easy environment in which to network, with one-to-one sessions and pitch competitions that highlight the best of the region’s up-and-coming startups. It is this focus on interaction that has caught the attention of regional governments with Saudi Arabia this year funding a selection of high potential entrepreneurs, like Arabic audio book publisher Manar Al Omayru, to attend the event.
Seasoned tech entrepreneur and venture investor, Christopher Schroeder, also credits STEP Conference for advancing the MENA region’s startup scene. “Three to five years ago the conversations here in the Middle East were often about the problems in the region and how can we work around them. But look at the STEP agenda today – it’s about AI, genomics, blockchain. It’s about what can we do right now with the global technology, right here in application, not waiting for other people to do anything – and that’s one of the major distinctions. The second biggest distinction is the network of effective talent that STEP convenes in Dubai and the empowerment that this gives to the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
The Cadillac Pitch Competition saw 51 startups participate from the seed, early and growth stages and crowned a winner in each. The UAE’s NESTER, considered the Airbnb of parking, won the seed category; a medical consultation app from KSA called Cura scooped the early stage award; and the independent vehicle inspection service Scout My Car, also from the UAE, won the growth category.
“STEP2017 was extremely successful for us. Not only did we win the pitch competition for startups in growth stage, but we were able to connect and build relationships with several high-profile investors and entrepreneurs. This conference is a ‘can’t miss’ event for any startup in the region,” said Alexander Kappes from Scout My Car.
While investment was high on the agenda, attendees also came with a keen interest to explore what’s new in the digital, tech and entertainment industries. With leading industry figures speaking—including Jonathan Labin, Head of MENA & Pakistan at Facebook; Ronaldo Mouchawar, CEO of Souq.com; and Rohin Thampi, Regional Director at Zomato Middle East—the conference provided a platform for debate and discussion about the future of technology, regionally and globally.
A celebration of regional music
Aiming to do for the MENA region’s independent music scene what STEP Conference is doing for tech and digital startups, the first STEP Music event, sponsored by Anghami, brought together key players from across the entertainment industry with some of the region’s best talent to discuss how to advance the sector.
The Music Conference was followed by a 12-hour Music Festival, which attracted an impressive turnout of 2,500 music enthusiasts. They enjoyed a stellar lineup of regional talent including headliners Mashrou’ Leila, the biggest independent Arabic-language band in the world; Lebanese rock & roll band The Wanton Bishops; and Jordanian indie veterans Autostrad.
“The support and interest we have had for STEP2017 has been phenomenal. Our mission is to recognize brilliance within the region, and the addition of STEP Music this year has been really beneficial to extend the conference further, in celebration of the Arab music scene, and to showcase homegrown artists that are making waves globally,” said Dargham.
Commenting on the event, Hossam Dabbous, MENA Vice President Beverage Category PepsiCo, said: “With a brand like Pepsi, experience is everything – and STEP is one of the most exciting platforms through which we can deliver our true brand experience to today’s movers and shakers. We define experience as the ways in which consumers interact with our product, which goes far beyond taste – we’re talking about campaigns online, in-store, activations on the street, community-driven initiatives and more. At the very core of these in today’s digital world you’ll find technology. In fact, we incorporate technology into every aspect of our business to deliver the highest quality with the best reception, and STEP, with so many creative minds coming together in one place, is the ideal event for us to partner with.”