Most of you might know Iran for its cultural heritage and its spices, like Safran, but there is also an emerging startup scene that is coming up with its own flavors and traditions. Contemplating the idea of visiting an emerging market for some time now, mainly to see how the startup scene is developing I thought about a few countries but Iran quickly came as a natural choice, with the Iranian market opening up and Tehran being only a short flight away from Dubai. Serendipity or lucky coincidences, but I managed to meet a number of amazing people with connections to Iran that helped me to plan for that visit.
The whole trip was planned around the TedX event that would take place beginning of December last year. What better opportunity to meet innovators, entrepreneurs and the type of people that will inspire and influence this upcoming startup eco-system! I have gone to Iran for a number of years for work but I couldn't imagine how little we see when only going there for regular business travel. The image I had of the country until then was a very formal, strict place, with little or no appetite for innovation and quick moves, opportunities usually take an eternity to materialize.
Luckily at tedX event all that perception changed! I had planned one or two meetings already, but at TedX I managed to meet and talk to about half a dozen entrepreneurs, as well as mentors and coaches. The environment was vibrant and you could easily grasp that there is no shortage of talent in this country. This was the start of a fascinating trip where we met a dozen startups in three days, got to see incubators and accelerators in action. We were lucky to get a visit of the DMOND accelerator, which is very well located on the Tehran university campus. We saw about 5 startups pitching to us, and the quality and orginality of the ideas were similar to what you see elsewhere. From Music platform, to marketplace for property owners and renters, there was a good variety of ideas. The setup at DMOND is really nice with dedicated areas for 5 startups in acceleration phase and 5 in pre-acceleration phase. The office is modern, the team dynamic and they even make sure balance work and life by organising tai chi classes on premise! We also managed to talk to the program manager of Avatech, but didn't manage to get a visit organized. What we noticed in both cases is that there is often a longer acceleration period (6months) which is also preceded by an incubation or pre-acceleration phase which can also last for 6 months or more.
On our last day we got to see a different type of setup which is the one offered by MAPS. Very few startups, but a commitment to take them from "craddle to grave", by helping them with industrialization and growth execution. The teams joining maps will join the setup for two years, after which they are expected to start generating revenues.Here we saw 3 startups pitching to us, and again we were nicely surprised by quality of the teams and the structure. Besides these three main accelerators there are also incubators and co-working spaces in place and some of them in the making.
Having also talked to some of the teams separately I got to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in the Iranian market, some are related to funding and others to the long sales cycle. Seed funding is pretty low and follow-up funding is hard and that is something that has to change for the startups to get a real chance. Many of them would also benefit from more international exposure and as the Iranian market opens up I am sure the landscape will rapidly change as there is no shortage of talent in this country.
And finally here are few Iranian startups that I want to name because they caught my attention and will give you a flavor of what is cooking.
TeaTalk is my favorite startup in Iran so far. The team is offering an online platform for peer-to-peer english learning. With TealTalk you can practice your conversation skills, everyday, with carefully selected partners and interesting topics designed by teachers. An intelligent matching of peers as well as curated content by professional teachers will secure a strong user experience and commited students. This app promises to extend the reach of english teaching to underpriviliged areas http://www.teatalk.io/)
Navaak is a new way to listen to music. It's always with you in your pocket, in your home or even in your car, having the whole Iranian music archive available. With Navaak there's always a new favorite song for you to discover and share with your friends. Great and dynamic team, the platform is operational and has already on-boarded a large number of Iranian Artists.
Smart Been is a smart climate controller for greenhouses that allows greenhouse owners to manage and control everything in greenhouse. To do so, they put sensors in greenhouses along with an online control panel and mobile application which enables greenhouse owners to control and analyze greenhouse health status from everywhere (http://smartbeen.com/)
EventBox an online event listing and ticketing platform, similar to Eventbrite but offers different business models and payment methods. They have been managing the TedX event and have already achieved substantial tracking with more than 100 events and more than 5000 participants handled through the platform. Awesome team and energy :) (http://www.eventbox.co/)
Now, this was just to give you a glimpse of how the Iranian startup scene looks like. I would like to learn more... hear about your experience and learnings. I hope that more Iran startups can share their experiences working in Iran as a founder and entrepreneur. Looking forward to your views and comments.