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Is it just me, or are all of you also seeing a spike in the number of initiatives that are being announced to support the MENA entrepreneurial ecosystem? New conferences, new innovation spaces, new mentorship programs- there seems to be a lot happening in the region right now that’s apparently geared toward advancing startups and the people behind them.
Now, I remain steadfast in my belief that the flurry of activity in this sphere is essentially a good thing, as they do promote entrepreneurship in the region in some capacity, and you never know, someone out there might find some real benefit from them. Having said that, I also confess to having my misgivings about some of these initiatives, because I wonder: how are they actually supporting the region’s entrepreneurs? For all of the importance that we in the entrepreneurial space give networking, knowledge-sharing, mentorship, and other such activities, it needs to be said that, at the end of the day, startups need business and revenue if they are to have the success trajectories that we see for them. So, how many of all the startup support initiatives out there are actually doing this?
I’ll let all of you ponder over this question for yourselves, but here are my two cents on this, based on my experience working at a startup media entity in the MENA region. We, at Entrepreneur Middle East, have always maintained that our role is to inform and to inspire this ecosystem, and we do this by sharing intel, putting the spotlight on deserving entrepreneurs, and making sure the best of the region’s startups get the recognition they deserve on our global platform. And we work very hard to do this- we’re a rather small team, and so, we definitely pile on the pressure on ourselves to make sure that we are doing a good job as participants in this ecosystem. When we say we’ll support an effort, an entity, or an entrepreneur, we go all out in ensuring that we promote, publicize, and participate- that’s what we are here to do, and that’s what we are good at doing.
However, we are a business as well- and it’s disconcerting to see people and entities alike sometimes take advantage of our good faith, and expect us to do everything we do for free. For instance: we often get requests for coverage of the aforementioned “we-support-startups” initiatives in the publication, and to that, our response almost always is that we need to assess the story from an editorial standpoint, and we’ll get back to you. And when such queries come from large, established entities, I connect them with our business development team, so that they could potentially collaborate in terms of a marketing or advertising perspective. What I have found curious though is that when my team do go to them to make actual business partnerships or deals, they are often turned down, with the excuse being that they don’t have a budget for marketing.
And this is where I cry foul. If you’ve got the resources to put on a glitzy PR blitz, I’m pretty certain you can manage our partnership prices as well. And so, when you offer to support entrepreneurs in the form of forums/spaces/mentorship –without putting any real value into the equation- then, I’m sorry, but I doubt the authenticity of your efforts in supporting startups. You want us to invest a good amount of time, resources, and effort in showcasing your apparent support for the ecosystem- but at the same time, you can’t offer us any real business? Sorry, but no. That’s not how it works.