Having an Entrepreneurial mindset and being Innovative is not the same thing

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Being an entrepreneur is not a career choice or necessarily a vocation that can be acquired in a technical school or through a university degree. When someone takes the leap towards starting their own business or startup, it is the result of a series of decisions and lessons acquired over the years that allowed them to think, solve problems, and be agile like an entrepreneur.

In retrospect, we realize that having an entrepreneurial mindset goes beyond than just running a business, and extends to how teams and individuals react in times of adversity.

Organizing the 12th edition of the Arab Startup Competition was definitely an overwhelming and exciting challenge for us (and me personally) at MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab, but we took advantage of it to learn how to face obstacles in an environment where many things can go wrong (just like being in a startup).

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” - Charles Darwin

The ability to learn from past experiences and use the acquired knowledge to alter our environment is what defines us as individuals in society, and what distinguishes entrepreneurs is their ability to create innovative solutions. The quote above is by the father of evolution himself, Charles Darwin, who traced the lineage of our ancestors that led to who we are today as a species.

Being part of the organizing team of the competition meant that we always had to be on our toes, and to wear as many hats as possible. For those who don’t know, at MITEF we are a team of 14 brilliant individuals, so one day you might be editing a video to promote the competition, the next you’re supporting the logistics team, and the day after you’re traveling to another country to do a roadshow presentation. Sounds familiar?

Quickly, and surely enough, things start snowballing as we get closer to announcing the semifinalists, finalists, and lastly, the winners. When our chairperson Hala Fadel took the stage, she focused on the importance of having hope combined with hard work and the drive to create change.

Here’s why I believe that being an entrepreneur is not bound to a certain framework, especially now that I have experienced it first hand:

  • It’s all about networking, networking, networking: as the old adage goes ‘you are only as valuable as the network you bring to the table’. Although digital technologies have reigned over all forms of communications, face-to-face networking continues to be the place where new ideas are discussed, first impressions are made, and opportunities are created. This interaction leads to sometimes, if not always, an exchange of a paper-based business card, which mostly acts as a token of when/where that interaction has taken place.
  • Your brand goes beyond the ‘visual’: No, we are not talking about the mega screen which you saw at our conference. Your brand as a startup is reflected by the messages you relay, the impact you create, and what people say about you. During the conference, we were lucky to be joined by world-class speakers who gave us insights on the latest research and what the data has to show. Also, the 900+ attendees of the conference all came from diverse backgrounds and asked eye-opening questions to our panelists. What was far more important, though, was how we worked on promoting the competition all the way to the conference and final awards ceremony.
  • You will have A LOT of fun along the way: We have to admit that after doing Arab Startup Competition for 12 years, it has grown to become our guilty pleasure to see Arab entrepreneurs, innovators, and problem-solvers all in one room discussing the future of the region and how they will lead with bigger steps towards change. Just like running a startup, organizing a conference means that you’ll meet people from all corners of the world, where you will learn about new cultures, ways of thinking, and lessons from previous experiences. We are grateful to be part of a global network of MIT Enterprise Forum chapters, each empowering entrepreneurs and startups in their own ecosystems.
  • Planning ahead of time isn’t everything (and I’m not saying to ‘break things and move fast’): Unexpected changes will occur last minute, whether you want them or not. At this point, the agility of the team is key to the success of the startup or conference, the ability to find and seize opportunities when they arise. Building the ‘innovative muscle’ is something you, as an individual, can train. Planning with the idea that ‘nothing will go wrong’ is preparing yourself for failure, you must be able to find innovative solutions on the spot.
  • It’s not ‘Rocket Science’: Sometimes, while running a startup, a problem might arise that might seem too cataclysmic that it actually threatens the sustainability of your business. While organizing a conference, it is not just a one-day event that happens haphazardly, but rather it’s a long and intense process that requires meticulous planning and following up over the course of months - so, naturally, many things can go wrong. The reason we say it’s not rocket science is that we were joined by Professor Charbel Farhat (Chair of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University), who gave us a sneak peek into the future of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), electric drones, space exploration, and commercial flying in a very accessible manner. Turning a complex problem into smaller, easier to handle, obstacles is not an easy task, but surely not an impossible one.

Finally, I want to stress the idea that having a mentor is not just a one-time activity, but rather a continuous learning process which allows for the transfer of knowledge to continue and develop.

That mentor could be a great boss, a parent, an experienced entrepreneur, or even a book.


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