As Dubai gears up to host the 2020 Expo, we speak to Todd O'Brien, the tech maven leading the quest to find the coolest startups working on Smart City development.
One of the world’s most unique accelerator networks is touring the globe looking for entrepreneurial talents. In anticipation of the Smart City Dubai FastTrack event at the Greek Campus on July 22nd, Startup Scene joins Startupbootcamp’s Todd OBrien for an illuminating discussion about the accelerator’s unusual program design and some fresh perspectives on the MENA ecosystem.
OBrien, Managing Director for Startupbootcamp’s Smart City Dubai programme, has been working in business development for over 15 years. The accelerator network was founded in London in 2010 and has grown to become one of the world's biggest, with its portfolio members reaching a cumulative value of over €1 billion. Each of its 19 chapters across the world has its own geographically-based industry focus, and the MENA program, located in Dubai, focuses on “smart city” startups, those with products or services in evolving technologies including artificial intelligence, blockchain, sustainable living, Internet of Things, and mobility. Other industries include Foodtech in Rome, Fintech and Cybersecurity in Amsterdam, and Smart Transportation and Energy in Berlin.
Having recently concluded their FastTrack event in Beirut and Amman, next on the Bootcamp's roadmap is Cairo, where it will provide participating startups with immediate feedback from industry experts and investors. The event, set to be held at Cairo's Greek Campus, will also serve as a networking opportunity, with applications open until July 18th, while applications for the full accelerator program in Dubai will be accepted until September 15th. It's a promising market, OBrien says.
What exactly is Startupbootcamp?
Startupbootcamp is a global startup accelerator network with 20 programs across the world. It was first set up in 2010 in Copenhagen, and soon after we first expanded to other key European startup hubs including Berlin, London and Amsterdam then across to other continents including Asia, USA and MENA.
Three things that make us unique are our large global footprint of mentors, partners and alumni, is our deep industry focus (each program focuses on a specific industry) and our local mind set - meaning we work closely with local partners and communities so we can make a lasting contribution to the local ecosystem. While we are barely seven years old, we have already accelerated and invested in nearly 500 startups around the world that have raised more than €240 million and have a combined valuation of €1 billion.
How did you start in the MENA region?
SBC was founded by a few partners based out of Amsterdam and Denmark. For the last three or four years a couple of the partners from Denmark and started what they called Startup MENA, where they’ve been doing innovation workshops for corporates in order to interact with the startups but there was never an accelerator program at the time. What I will say, we were very strategic about how we started in the region. We partnered with Dubai Silicon Oasis. It’s been a program in the works for a while, it took a while to garnish this kind of support that we have now. The reason to that is that the region is maturing, and three years ago they were growing interest but there wasn’t the commitment for a smart city accelerator.
We were one of 10 accelerators they spoke with, and they went with SBC because they liked our structures, and programs, and our numbers were really high, we focused on how we selected mentors for our different programs. So that’s very important that we pick the right mentor because they have a major influence on startups and their goals.
Tell us about the programme and the selection process.
It’s a three-month programme, which is open for applications for 3-4 months. During this period, we receive 600-800 direct applications. In addition to that, our analysts scouts the most suitable companies around the world within our industry. Plus, during the application period, we do something called FastTracks – which are events designed for interested startups to connect, network and receive instant feedback from us and some valuable mentors.
From the startups that we meet during our FastTrack events, we then shortlist the top companies who are invited to the final selection days in Dubai. The one in Cairo will be held on July 22nd at the Greek Campus, and we already have more than 20 applications.
How does the programme work?
The startups be supported by 100 mentors during the program. Dubai is gearing up for 2020 Expo and this gives an incredible opportunity to startups who aim to showcase their technologies and also work with our partners. We will help the companies set up their entity in Dubai, and during the program they will experience many events, mentoring sessions, masterclasses and best of all connections with the great partners. We will help them shape, build and sell their value proposition here in Dubai.
Based on your experience in the MENA region, what is your opinion on the future of startups?
I’ve done a lot of traveling in the MENA region recently and I’ve actually judged in some startup competitions. What I see is that the market is maturing, it’s not like New York or that but it is growing, like we got excited about the acquisition of Souq.com by Amazon. The infrastructure for Dubai for smart cities is ripe and ready for the right startups to emerge.
Beginning on November 13th in Dubai, the residential accelerator program will run for three months and culminate in a Demo Day in front of over 400 investors and mentors on February 13th. For more information, visit Startup Bootcamp's website.
Words: Charlotte Swan.
Interview: Nour Hussein.
Main image: Todd O'Brien.
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