Kristi is a storyteller from the United States, whose curiosity about the world and other cultures has led her to explore far-flung places and unsung corners on five continents, including the Middle East, camera in hand. Her degrees in journalism and nonprofit management have inspired her to never stop learning. She is most passionate about tech startups, gender equity, and the future of work.

It may come as no surprise that entrepreneurship is thriving across the MENA region. Providing programs that support startups from such a large ecosystem, however, is another story.

On that front, Christine Souffrant Ntim, Forbes 30-Under-30 Entrepreneur and Director of Startup Grind Dubai, saw a massive opportunity and moved quickly.

Ntim organized and led the region’s first Digital Accelerator, a free event hosted in December 2016 by Middle East Startups, a subsidiary of the five continent strong Global Startup Ecosystem. (This is one of an array of digital events that Middle East Startups hosts for current and aspiring MENA entrepreneurs.)

She believes that just as lines are blurred across markets and cultures, learning and accessing entrepreneurial networks should have no boundaries.

“The future is digital, so startup ecosystems in emerging markets need to take advantage of that with programs like this one,” Ntim explained. “We launched this digital accelerator for entrepreneurs of the Middle East and the diaspora in order to close the resource gap and to diversify global startup success stories”.

The accelerator kicked off with a two-hour Business Boot Camp, a tour-de-force where participants received intensive instruction on the strategies and tactics they’ll need to survive. Topics like ‘How to Ideate, Beta Test, & Pitch’ and ‘How to Build an MVP in 30 Days’ offered practical advice from Ntim. 

Panels featuring a diverse group of entrepreneurs, VCs and MENA influencers readily shared lessons learned and success stories. (View the discussions here.)

Guest speakers represented startups and incubators like Property Finder, VentureFinn, Impact Hub Dubai, Presella, Sustainability Platform, Bold Talks, MoneyWatches, Ellevate Dubai, Paragon Creative House, 1766 Dubai, Mompreneurs Middle East, and Dumye.

The program’s lively keynote series included Ntim, as well as M. Veronica Murguia, a venture development consultant with Envestors MENA, and Mohamed Amine Belarbi, a serial entrepreneur who launched his first NGO at 17.

An exciting hourlong pitch competition followed, with the program’s top 10 companies taking just 60 seconds to pitch with slide decks. They fielded pointed questions about traction, product/market fit and positioning from a panel of guest judges representing IBM, SeedStars, and Inc. Arabia.

The UAE’s YallaParking received the judges’ highest rating of 31.5 points. Co-founder Craig McDonald explained that the online marketplace for private parking is aimed at creating efficiencies in crowded urban areas, where residents can list unused spaces for others to rent.

In second place, UAE-based Universal Linguistics (Uliq) is tapping into a $54 billion industry through an app that offers interpreters on demand.

Akla-Baity of Egypt rounded out the top three with its ‘grub hub’ delivering homemade food from neighborhood cooks who are monetizing their culinary talents. New Shifts, a collaboration platform for those seeking new job opportunities, won the popular vote.

One hundred founders attended the live event in Dubai, and 100 applicants viewed the digital program via Facebook and web conference.

Want to be part of next year’s cohort? The Middle East Startups digital accelerator selects 100 companies every year; those interested in attending next year are invited to apply now.