If you’re reading an article about Baghdad right now in the news, chances are it’s about recent violence that resulted in the deaths of 1,045 civilians and security officials in May alone.
But here’s something a little more positive going on in the city: The first-ever Startup Weekend Baghdad.
Startup Weekend, the Seattle non-profit organization backed by the Kauffman Foundation and others, has hosted Startup Weekends in 113 countries and 325 cities. But never has there been a 54-hour entrepreneurial marathon in Iraq — until now.
Othmane Rahmouni, a Senior Product Manager with Microsoft Advertising, will be flying to Baghdad for the first time in his life to advise and mentor the 200 startuppers descending upon the Al Mansour Milla Hotel next weekend.
Rahmouni volunteers with Mercy Corps, which partnered with Startup Weekend last year to help organize its events in the developing world. He loved the idea of helping out at the inaugural three-day marathon in Baghdad and is looking forward to seeing what types of startup people work in the city.
“I am confident that there are many tech entrepreneurs out there and that many face similar challenges to the ones faced by tech entrepreneurs here in Seattle,” said Rahmouni, who grew up in Morocco and moved to Seattle in 2005. “The environment is surely different, but I believe that they share more commonalities than differences.”
The fact that this event came together was a minor miracle in itself. Organizers locked down full sponsorship of the event about a month ago, but were told that they’d need to host the event by the end of June.
Despite the small time frame, response to Startup Weekend Baghdad has been phenomenal. The organization set what it thought was an ambitious goal of 80 attendees; within three days, more than 200 had signed up.
Judges, coaches and speakers have also offered support in droves. For Rahmouni, it’s about lending a hand to fellow entrepreneurs.
“If I can help a few (or a lot of) tech entrepreneurs be more successful, then it is worth pursuing, even it means that I have to step outside my comfort zone,” he said.
Rahmouni, who has launched a couple startups including a popular Morocco review site for public officials and public institutions, is a big supporter of what events like Startup Weekend can do for budding businessmen and women.
“I believe that this kind of approach of engaging tech entrepreneurs and creating support systems around them that provide training, hands-on experience and mentoring, is a much more efficient and sustainable model for jumpstarting local economies and creating jobs than just providing charity,” he said.
Startup Weekend plans to host 800 events this year in places like Brazzaville, Congo; Hamburg, Germany and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. For more information about Startup Weekend Baghdad, head here.
Previously on GeekWire: GeekWire Radio: Startup Weekend CEO Marc Nager spreads the startup gospel