iBridge Berlin Conference Explores Challenges and Opportunities of Entrepreneurship in Iran

June 6, 2015, Washington, DC – iBridge Berlin, a conference of high-tech entrepreneurship in Iran and the largest gathering to date of the Iranian diaspora on this topic, is set to take place June 4th through the 6th in Berlin, Germany – the start-up capital of Europe.  Building on the success of last year’s iBridge Berkeley, the Berlin conference will bring together over 2,000 participants in the city’s CityCube Convention Center to connect and learn from each other.  

According to Dr. Hamid Biglari, one of the founders of iBridge and a PAAIA board member, the goal of this venture is to “accelerate the build-out of an innovation-based private economy in Iran by exposing local, young, talented high-tech entrepreneurs – who are either starting a high-tech business or in various build-out stages of such a business – to knowledgeable Iranian diaspora who can impart practical knowledge about high-tech entrepreneurship to them.” 

Last year’s sold-out event in Berkeley, California, brought together thought leaders and seasoned entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley and Iran to explore the opportunities and challenges of high-tech entrepreneurship in Iran and its impact on the country’s ongoing economic development and diversification. This year’s larger event will continue on this path by gathering European and American entrepreneurs and their counterparts in Iran to explore the role that a high-tech entrepreneurial ecosystem can play in the Iranian economy through keynote speeches, panel discussions, breakout sessions, as well as visits to local incubators in Berlin.

Given sanctions laws, Dr. Biglari notes that “the goal of the conference is strictly educational,” with the main objective of promoting and developing a high tech entrepreneurial space that cultivates capacities for a global innovative economy through new ways of engagement that promote diversity and equal opportunity, celebrate merit-based achievement, advocate for participative management, and foster shared ownership.  In a country where according to a recent Financial Times article, over 60 percent of the population is under the age of 40 and highly educated, own smart phones and are connected to a variety of social media, the yearning for individualism and entrepreneurship is at its height.  Along with such societal trends comes the desire for normalized relations with the West and high hopes that the impending nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran will lead to the lowering of sanctions and the country’s re-engagement with the global economy. 

Given this environment, the iBridge educational agenda, led by an international group of 200 volunteers in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Iran, consists of a program built around the 4 stages of high-tech business development.  These include concept formation, business formation, growth and business expansion, and value creation and harvest.  To achieve this educational knowledge transfer, iBridge strives to select and subsidize the most promising young high-tech entrepreneurs from Iran to attend annual multi-day events such as iBerkeley and iBerlin (travel subsidies for the young Iranian attendees are provided by local Iranian sponsors, primarily 37 established high-tech companies).  As reported by the Guardian, this year’s attendees in Berlin include Digikala, an online e-commerce platform that has grown to be the largest in the Middle East, Aparat, an Iranian version of Youtube, Takhfifan, a Groupon style website, and other smaller startups such as Mamanpaz, which offers homemade meals to customers. 

While isolation and sanctions have not stopped Iran’s generation of young entrepreneurs from starting innovative online businesses, many attending the conference in Berlin hope that iBridge will help bridge the gap between Iran’s 21st century technological infrastructure of innovation and the investment needed for its future success.

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