Kamal Hassan is a 20-year veteran of the business world with expertise in corporate strategy, innovation management, performance excellence and business development and growth. He has been an active supporter of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups in the UAE and Palestine for the past several years, and has been contributing time and financial support to local educational programmes including recent Startup Weekend events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
He is also the president and CEO (Chief Excitement Officer) of Dubai-based Innovation 360, an innovation management company that works with organisations of all sizes and specialties to enhance value creation through innovative products, services and business models.
Arabian Gazette’s team sat down with Kamal Hassan in his tent office (pictured above) at the Startup Weekend event in Abu Dhabi and had a candid conversation with the brains behind the startup geniuses.
Arabian Gazette: What is Startup Weekend? How did it got started?
Kamal Hassan: We had this idea two years ago and never got the chance to work on it. What we do is that we provide them with this type of setup to take their idea and make it a reality. So they come on Thursday, they sign up and pitch their ideas in their allocated 60 seconds. So in order to be successful, you have to think quick through your ideas because you have got only 60 seconds!
Then you also have to say, in addition to all your ideas, what you need. If you say: “I only need money!” Boo! Go out! is what everyone in the audience says because obviously everyone needs money but that’s not the way to get it. Rather, you can say that you need a developer, a marketer, someone who can conceptualise the ideas. There are many people who think about an idea for a long time and know the problem. You may also have a vague idea about the solution but might not know how to turn it into a reality…
We focus on web and mobile apps. So the idea has to be about something you develop using a web or mobile app.
Could it be a website that participants work on?
Preferably a web application, e.g. you want to save the dolphins and want to do it through a mobile app or want to build the next Facebook. It has to be something very interesting.
Then the participants have to form teams. That’s the condition #1. It is most likely that people come here alone but they’ve to form a team in order to sell yourself and the idea because others are listening to you, they might like it, they might not.
When you say others, who is the audience?
It is everybody. The investors come on Saturday. The people who are pitching their ideas need to attract the attention and interest of everyone in the audience which include developers, marketers, designers etc.
What if everyone out here has come up with an idea?
Exactly! It happens like that. I’ve an idea, you’ve an idea, they’ve an idea. We all have ideas. So we attract each other and join the most powerful idea. So the whole concept is to convince each other. We had 250 people who showed their interest. Around 50 people lined up and now we are left with only 25 people. That’s because many people give up on their idea as they’re not so sure about it.
So back to the first condition which is to form a team. After that they we provide them workstations, food, drinks and tents if they want to sleep over. We have people who are also camping here.
We also have guest speakers invited who give little speeches and talks about how to do things and motivate them.
How long since have you been involved in such events?
I’m an entrepreneur myself and I’ve done this so many times but then I thought of transferring this experience to other people.
Startup Weekend is actually a global brand and 500 events take place every year around the world. So we thought of bringing it to the UAE as well as to Qatar and Saudi Arabia in order to build the ecosystem for startups. For people who want to start but don’t know how to start.
We heard about the Dubai event in which 7 ideas were pitched and they got formed as a company. What were the ideas and how did the transformation took place?
They’re actually startups which got help from the people at Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Establishment. They basically loved their ideas and provided funding after a successful pitch.
And how are they doing now?
They’ve just started so it will take time for them to flourish. Don’t think that an idea that wins makes it to realisation. Some of the ideas do not win but the people behind them believe in it and eventually get started because of that. Some of the startups are run by students and they’ve studies to finish so they take their time and polish their ideas and skills.
Can an unsuccessful idea be pitched once again?
Some of the unsuccessful teams come back here, say after 6-7 months, and re-pitch their ideas after polishing it and forming a new team. And that’s what we like because it is key to the eco-system of entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, the Middle East is dominated by this ‘show me the results now’ mentality. I strongly disagree. It doesn’t have to happen like this. It has to take its time to mature and take its shape.
And how did you get started?
I’m a Palestinian by origin. I went to the United States in 1980s. I got a Masters degree in Genetic Engineering from San Francisco State University completed executive education courses at Harvard Business School, Leeds School of Business and The Wharton School. I’m also a Trained Facilitator for LEGO SERIOUS PLAY®, a methodology that increases creativity and can be used to generate innovative business models. I worked in the San Francisco Bay area where I saw many startups working. I first joined a startup and then started my own startup which was about software technology.
The experience wasn’t so good in the beginning as two of my startups failed.
What were the reasons behind the failure?
Several reasons including picking the wrong team, stubbornness – where you think your idea is great and the next best thing after sliced bread, ego-related issues etc.
That’s why I tell budding entrepreneurs to not fell in love with your own idea and just execute it.
What are your specialties?
My speciality is innovation. I became a management consultant after successfully running my startups and now working with a lot of companies worldwide, helping them to innovate and create interesting products and services and produce new business models etc.
I still have the passion for entrepreneurship – not only corporate innovation but entrepreneurial innovation – so I like to spot some very good entrepreneurs and innovative ideas and help them out to get through the process.
When did you move to the UAE?
I came to the UAE four years ago. I started my own management consultant company here in Dubai and we’re doing really well. We work with a lot of big clients and like a year ago we started doing a lot of work with entrepreneurs as well. Still not making money out of this but working with startups takes time as you’ve to nurture the eco-system and work with them closely.
What kind of ideas have been a big hit in recent startup events?
What I’ve seen is that people are interested in augmented reality, local-centric global ideas, mobile apps that perform certain activities and utilities.
What is your objective of holding such events? What is your aim?
Not a lot but building the eco-system and this is very exciting. I feel like walking around the Silicon Valley where people roam around these small startups and couple of years later these places become something big like Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! etc.
It actually happened to me. My office was literally next to Google’s and at that time it was a really small company. People used to say: “What is this? You think they’re really going to beat AltaVista and Yahoo?”
But people at Google believed in their simple idea and they beat the giants. That’s the cool thing about them and this is what I like about startups. You get introduced to them when they get started and a few years later you could say how well you know them. There are many startups in the UAE that started small but came out really big e.g. GoNabit, Maktoob, Zawya etc.