Ray Dargham, founder and CEO, STEP Group. Image credit: STEP Group.
Excerpts from an interview with STEP Group founder Ray Dargham:
What’s going to be different about STEP 2018 compared to the previous editions? What excites you the most?
“STEP 2018 is going to be our biggest and most exciting event yet. Our new location in Dubai Internet City allows us to completely evolve our festival format so we can introduce even more great content into our two-day program. This year our attendees will be able to pick and choose sessions from four industry-focused conferences, where speakers will dive deeper into topical issues in entrepreneurship, digital, fintech, and future tech. This is in addition to our popular keynote speeches, panel discussions and signature STEP features taking place on the main stage. Our partnership [with DIC] will see us physically taking over various locations around Dubai Internet City including the central lake, American University in Dubai and other surrounding offices, hotels and cafes. Not only do we have more space to support a fuller program, we also are right in the heart of the tech, media and entertainment ecosystem which STEP seeks to support. We are certainly excited to see how this enhanced festival experience will be received.”
In planning the event this year, what are a few changes you notice in the overall entrepreneurship ecosystem?
“The evolution of STEP Conference in some ways mirrors the growth of the region’s startup ecosystem. From our humble start in Alserkal in 2013 with just 100 attendees, we grew to attract more than 6,000 visitors last year and a lineup of world-class speakers from across the globe. Similarly, the Middle East startup ecosystem is booming. According to MAGNiTT, 2016 saw nearly US$1 billion in venture funding- up from $200 million the previous year. The untapped potential of the Middle East has caught the attention of tech investors from across the globe, especially as regional governments push their innovation agendas as a means to diversify their economies away from oil. Increased investor interest and improved startup infrastructure are certainly helping to inspire more people to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. We’ve seen the pace of innovation in the region accelerate as risk appetites improve and barriers to establishing a startup come down. The local entrepreneurial talent pool is also broadening. In recent years, we’ve seen more people from the region return after their studies or work experience abroad, to channel their knowledge into homegrown tech solutions. It’s a great time to be a tech entrepreneur in the Middle East.”
Startups showcasing at STEP 2017. Image credit: STEP Group.
Why should MENA’s startups showcase and participate in STEP 2018- what would you offer as your top three reasons?
“It’s hard to name just three reasons, but I would say, [first], this is a great opportunity for MENA’s startups to utilize the STEP platform to network with like-minded entrepreneurs and, most importantly, meet potential investors. The STEP Start stage will feature startup mentorship sessions, our flagship pitch competition, and provocative panel discussions. [Second], our new location has allowed for more interactive, hands-on sessions and workshops, enabling attendees to make the most of the speaker lineup and pick and choose the speakers that interest them most. [Third], we are thinking regionally and globally this year. STEP X, STEP Money, and STEP Digital will address topics such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies, Artificial Intelligence, future technology, the Internet of Things and global digital, content and media trends. We want to help Middle East tech entrepreneurs to compete on a global stage.”To know more and to secure your spot for STEP Conference 2018, visit the official page here.