The 5th edition of the ArabNet Digital Summit 2014 kicked off this morning at Atlantis the Palm in Dubai. Held with the Strategic Partnership of Digital Media Services (DMS), the conference drew in more than 1,000 participating digital professionals, entrepreneurs, startups, advertising agencies, and media, along with its 110 international and regional expert speakers, and 90 sponsors and partners.
The opening ceremony featured keynote speaker H.E. Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of TwoFour54, where she praised the SME sector in the UAE and the region as a key player in driving development across various sectors. She announced that 94% of the 300,000 enterprises in the UAE are SMEs that employ 90% of the nation’s workforce and are contributing 40% towards GDP. However, young Arab entrepreneurs are still facing obstacles including financial support, mentorship, training and talent acquisition.
Al Kaabi added “events such as Arabnet Digital Summit will cement collective efforts to endorse young talent, small businesses, youth innovation and digital skills to keep abreast with our economic development and population growth.” Additionally, “the private and public sector need to invest in the establishment and growth of a proper entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Al Kaabi also talked about the current issues in the region’s entrepreneurship sector saying that finance is the key element to help maintain and grow the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem. However, she added “the MENA region’s financial ecosystem is quite underdeveloped, which is mainly due to the low appetite of investors placing funds in venture as well as banks’ reluctance to extend credit.”
The opening ceremony also included a keynote by Omar Christidis, Founder and CEO of ArabNet, who showcased the topics that will be addressed by the speakers during the 50+ sessions, which will tackle the latest digital trends and opportunities in digital business and entrepreneurship. Christidis also announced “the past year has seen rapid transformations in the digital sector. Souq.com raised $75M to continue its rapid expansion, with the potential of being the first billion-dollar Arab dot-com, and other e-commerce players like MarkaVIP and Rocket Internet are not far behind.”
Christidis added “On the enterprise side, the UAE government is making serious investments in e-government, and telecom operators are similarly investing in building out departments focused on innovation and digital products and services”. He also talked about digital media and advertising and how lines continue to blur between creative agencies, publishers and media “while the growth of branded content and performance marketing presents new challenges and opportunities for the agencies.”
The first panel titled “What’s Hot in Web and Mobile” featured leading digital investors who discussed the hottest trends they’re seeing and investing as well as the next big trend to look out for. Ben Parr, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Dominate Fund, talked about wearable tech and how we need to make them last weeks or months since people still get rid of them after 3 weeks. Benjamin Levy, Partner at BootstrapLabs, said that he sees tons of copycats in Silicon Valley, but these SMEs are creating 95% of jobs in the US. Jon Soberg, Co-founder and General Partner at Expansive Ventures, focused on education saying that it is still way behind and that he believes in self-education. Faysal Sohail, General Partner at CMEA Capital, hopes to see digital predictive analytics in our daily digital footprint in the future.
The Digital Summit will also feature several focused talks and panels in the next 2 days by digital experts. It will also introduce the Ad+Tech Academy, a full track of workshops on digital, social, mobile, and video, to help agencies, brands and industry professionals develop their digital marketing capabilities.