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Innovation is everywhere iran startup tech innovation ecosystem


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Iran is a regional hub for some 150m people speaking farsi, and many more markets segmented by languages few speak or dare to explore. That's why we went there to know more about the local startup scene.

As the new reformist president seems to be relaxing Iran's stance on politics, the population breathes a bit more free and innovation pops up again. We attended the Startup Weekend in Shiraz, saw how Iranians were hacking the system to enjoy some liberties in a tightly controlled country.

We also took a look at their awesome diaspora, among which you can find eBay founder Pierre Omydiar, Dropbox co-founder, Youtube's CEO and a lot more bright engineers.

Because yes, Iran is above all a country of engineers, brilliant ones in most cases (they fill up 18 electrical engineering PhD candidates position out of 21 in Stanford!).

Of course, a lot of issues are still to be tackled, but if the actual trend keeps going, less sanctions, more diasporans coming back and more business skills rising up, Iran could be home to a new innovation revolution at a regional level.

In this review, we'll analyze the history of innovation in Iran, its strengths and weaknesses as well as its key players in the tech ecosystem and top startups.

Follow-us on the road of innovation!!

Read more about us as we roam the world to explore the emerging markets startups scenes, from Iran to Chile, from China to Nigeria.

Reach us at: martin@innovationiseverywhere

Published in: News & Politics, Business

Innovation is everywhere iran startup tech innovation ecosystem

  1. 1. Iran innovation ecosystem Following a 2-week exploration of the local tech scene November 2013
  2. 2. Innovation has no place in a global world, it’s everywhere Innovation ecosystems can learn from one another Local context matters and should be a source for innovators This is why… We’re on a world tour of innovation ecosystems! We believe…
  3. 3. History & context of innovation in Iran How to grow and lose top engineers
  4. 4. A brief history of Iran innovation ecosystem • 1950s: Iran’s Shah scholarships seeded universities with (mainly) US professors who helped to grow education in a modern way • 1980s: war with Iraq and embargo forced Iran to implement an efficient Research-Manufacture-Test-Research again cycle
  5. 5. A brief history of Iran innovation ecosystem • 2009: Iran national science budget goes from 0.4% to 0.87% of the GDP, with 2.5% target in 2015 • 2011: release of the “Comprehensive Scientific Plan” to implement 224 scientific projects by 2025 • 2012-2013: grassroots events mobilize the local tech scene
  6. 6. Iranian tech entrepreneurs are diasporans • Pierre Omidyar is the founder of eBay (1995), billlionaire, now venturing into new media & investigative journalism • Arash Ferdowsi (pictured) is the co-founder and CTO of Dropbox (2007) • Alex Mehr and Shayan Zadeh, founders of Zoosk (2007) • Salar Kamangar is CEO of Youtube since 2010, he’s Google 9th employee
  7. 7. Online & tech landscape of Iran E-Commerce/B2C Social Media Advertising Deal sites HealthcareNews MMO/Gaming Mobile Payment
  8. 8. Iran tops MENA connectedness to the web… Number of Internet users in millions in Middle-East and North Africa, 2012
  9. 9. … and is growing fast! Asia 27%
  10. 10. Social media popular despite bans Asia 27% • Iran has the world’s largest blogosphere relative to its population, with nearly 25% running a blog • 21% read or contribute to forums at least twice a day (!) • Iranians prefer Yahoo! Mail (63%) to Gmail (32%) or Hotmail (2%)
  11. 11. Iran is a “mobile-first” nation Asia 27% • Iranian mobile market the largest in the Middle East (83.2 million mobile subscriptions in 2012) • Mobile penetration rate of 110%, set to increase to 142% in 2017 • 8M smartphones
  12. 12. Iran slightly opening in 2013 • 2013 elections brought reformist president, recent nuclear deal a positive sign • Islam still official, but not as formal as before (dress-code for instance) • Diaspora tempted to come back, potential emigrants hesitate to leave • A population always keen to hack the system (veils, alcohol)
  13. 13. Iran innovation ecosystem today Pros & Cons, Top Connectors & local best practices
  14. 14. Pros and cons of Iran innovation ecosystem • Market of 120-130M people talking Farsi • Access to a melting pot of untapped markets (Kurds, Afghans, Central Asians, Iraqis) • High level of education (5000 new engineers/year) • Proximity of Dubai and UAE as a regional hub for Middle-East and a global hub for airlines • Huge diaspora (4-6M) with influential position in tech, business, banking (US, UK, MENA) • Government opening since last presidential election (2013) with liberal policies • Price of talent is unequal (up to $10k/month in government vs. $2k in tech startups) • Brain Drain of talent and rare relocation in Iran • Cost of life in Tehran is expensive ($450k for a 100sq. Meters middle-class area flat) • A enclosed market for payments: you cannot pay an Iranian company from outside, no bank wire • Visa policy still complicated, even more for UK, US, Israel • English not a common language for business PROS CONS
  15. 15. Top connectors in Iran Mohsen Malayeri (LinkedIn), Vice President of Iran Entrepreneurship Association, Co-Founder Anetwork, Global Facilitator Startup Weekend, Iran Web Festival organizer Shayan Shalileh (LinkedIn), Director & Founder of Iranian Website News Agency (Webna), Founder of Khavarzamin System Kish Company and Online Advertising Services Reza Hashemi (LinkedIn) is a serial entrepreneur, founding member of the first major persian web startup, persianblog. Said Rahmani Khezri (Linkedin), Founder & CEO of Sarava, the first VC/PE fund focused on investment in Internet and Ecommerce and incubation of technology startups in Iran
  16. 16. Top connectors to bridge Iran to the world Patrick McDermott (LinkedIn) is an entrepreneur based in Singapore with strong ties with the Iran tech scene. Misagh Shakeri (LinkedIn) is a software engineer, raised in Iran, worked in France and now in Canada on the sharing economy Muhammad Arrabi (LinkedIn), a web programmer turned evangelist turned mentor, active in Jordan, Dubai and “Digital Arabia” Pejman Nozad (Crunchbase), “Silicon Valley’s hottest VC”, early investor in Dropbox, Zoosk, Path
  17. 17. Best practices of Iran innovation ecosystem • Grassroots events with global reach are now entertaining the local tech & creative scene
  18. 18. Best practices of Iran innovation ecosystem Iran Entrepreneurship Association is a non- profit organization which: • Organizes events (Startup Weekend, Iran web festival), • Identify mentors and train to mentoring • Collaborates with universities to set up the Iran startup ecosystem
  19. 19. Best practices of Iran innovation ecosystem • Karya ( is an online startup school in Farsi to provide entrepreneurs with the best videos, articles and resources, on topics such as Business Model, Lean Startup or Team building.
  20. 20. What’s next for Iran? Recommendations to push forward the innovation ecosystem
  21. 21. Next steps for Iran innovation ecosystem Tap into the diaspora’s wealth and networks to scale globally • Run a program to drive back expatriates and emigrants with talent back home “Every speaker at the conference spoke eloquently and passionately about nationalistic sentiment among Iranians living abroad, Iran's glorious 2,500-year history and the significant achievement of the Iranian diaspora in adopted homelands. They beckoned a return of the diaspora, whether permanent or in the form of organized cooperation, on the grounds that these "national resources" owe their country their continued involvement in its strive toward economic and technical/scientific development” ( • Identify and empower diasporans to bridge their new countries to Iran “There is a growing recognition that transnational communities facilitate increased trade, investment and cultural linkages between the different countries that they are connected to, and that they are important development actors” (Diaspora & Development) • Use new technologies and currencies (airtime, bitcoins) to increase remittances “it’s hard not to see how Bitcoin will disrupt a banking and money industry characterized by gatekeepers, exclusivity and multiple checks.” (Martin Pasquier)
  22. 22. Next steps for Iran innovation ecosystem Turn engineers and creative into entrepreneurs able to run a business • Support startups hiring engineers with tax cuts/grants for each engineer hired “Price of talent is unequal. Engineers can earn up to $10k/month in government industry, vs. only $2k in tech startups” (Mohsen Malayeri) • Train engineers in business & management “Students choose their orientation very early. Future engineers don’t learn humanities, and lack a global vision that helps to be a leader on top of a specialist. They need business skills” (Natalie Copuroglu) • Support grassroots initiatives which help grow an entrepreneurial mindset “During the Startup Weekend in Shiraz, there were an astonishing 64 pitches, when a usual hackathon have about 15-30 pitches. People here have ideas and a will to realize them” (Natalie Copuroglu)
  23. 23. Next steps for Iran innovation ecosystem Focus on local innovation and needs that can be exported afterwards • Identify and support startups addressing local needs and market specificities “Finding a doctor in Iran is a very complicated process, as people usually rely on research and word of mouth and the Pareto’s Law prevails, where 20% of the doctors see 80% of the patients. There is a need for structured information about health related professionals and providers in Iran and Shafajoo is trying to address this pain point” (Natalie Copuroglu) • Connect successful local startups to like-minded market abroad for scaling “A platform such as Shafajoo would solve a similar problem in China or the Middle East, as diploma mills is a rampant problem. Recently, a list of 100 fake universities in China was revealed in the press and in the Middle East, it has been reported that about 620 Saudi govt employees found using fake degrees.” (Natalie Copuroglu)
  24. 24. Eager to learn about the other innovation ecosystems?
  25. 25. Documenting innovation through key events Hot posts, interviews, live-tweet, Google Hangouts Identifying key connectors on & offline Discovering alternative and emerging innovation ecosystems Beyond the Silicon Valley, local innovation hotbeds Tech, Social impact, Education, Life Sciences… Increasing mobility of innovators and ecosystem enablers Connecting doers and thinkers through monthly Hangouts Offering innovation ecosystem enablers to learn and exchange from peers About our project A world tour of innovation ecosystems
  26. 26. About our team Analysis, community & network Martin Pasquier Entrepreneur in Singapore (social media agency), long- time traveller Mixes economics, politics and travels to analyze ecosystems, reports on innovation Anne Lalou CEO of Innovation Factory & Web School Factory in Paris Transfer knowledge of ecosystems to new generation and to a network of top French companies Nicolas Loubet Serial entrepreneur in Paris with 3 companies, growth hacker Manages and nurtures creative communities on & offline
  27. 27. Catch us if you can! Roadmap ‘13-’14 SUPPORT US! Travel & time of exploration isn’t free  Custom reports on emerging markets & trends Workshops, talks on innovation trends Connection to key local players for VCs, brands, tech communities
  28. 28. Links & resources to know more about Iran innovation ecosystem
  29. 29. • Natalie Copuroglu’s blog, she is our reporter in Iran • Follow us on Twitter: @martpasquier, @nicolasloubet, @annelalou, @natalietweetie • Support us for our world tour, get reports on-demand and more! Innovation is Everywhere About
  30. 30. About Sources on the web • Digital Iran Unveiled (Slideshare) • Iran Entrepreneurship Association (website) • Mohsen Malayeri (blog) • Statistics about Iran’s mobile penetration (article) • Mobile payment solution mPaad reaching 4M users and 500K transactions a day (article) • Iran unveils Comprehensive Scientific Plan (article) • Formation of emerging technological innovation systems in Iran – Case study in nanotechnology sector (pdf) • Iran’s tech ecosystem struggles to catch up to Persian diaspora startups (article) • Newsweek: Forget Harvard, Top Iranian Universities (blog)
  31. 31. Thanks! Martin Pasquier, for Innovation is Everywhere