Sci & Tech

Iran's Startups Spicing Up

Iran's Startups Spicing UpIran's Startups Spicing Up

Iran's startup scene may not be the first thing people think when looking to invest in Iran, but that could be about to change.

Contemplating the idea of visiting an emerging market for some time now, mainly to see how the startup scene is developing, I thought about a few countries but Iran quickly emerged as a natural choice,  with the Iranian market opening up and Tehran being only a short flight away from Dubai.

Call it serendipity or lucky coincidences, but I managed to meet a number of amazing people with connections to Iran that helped me plan for that visit.

The whole trip was planned around the TedX event that would take place beginning of December 2015. What better opportunity to meet innovators, entrepreneurs and the type of people that will inspire and influence this upcoming startup ecosystem.  

Luckily at the TedX event, those perceptions changed! I had planned one or two meetings already, but at TedX I managed to meet and talk to about half a dozen entrepreneurs, as well as mentors and coaches.

The environment was vibrant and you could easily grasp that there is no shortage of talent in this country. This was the start of a fascinating trip where we met a dozen startups in three days, got to see incubators and accelerators in action.

  Accelorators and Co-Working

We were lucky to get to visit the DMOND accelerator, located on a Tehran university campus. We saw about five startups pitching to us, and the quality and originality of the ideas were similar to what you see elsewhere.

From music platforms to real-estate websites, there was a good variety of ideas. The setup at DMOND is really nice with dedicated areas for five startups in acceleration phase and five in pre-acceleration phase.

We also managed to talk to the program manager of Avatech, but did not manage to get a visit organized. What we noticed in both cases is that there is often a longer acceleration period (six months) which is also preceded by an incubation or pre-acceleration phase that can last for six months.

On our last day, we got to see a different type of setup, which is the one offered by MAPS.

Very few startups get a commitment to take them from "cradle to grave" by helping them with industrialization and growth execution.

The teams joining maps will join the setup for two years, after which they are expected to start generating revenues. Here we saw three startups pitching to us, and again we were surprised by the quality of the teams and the structure.

Besides these three main accelerators, there are also incubators and co-working spaces in place and some of them in the making.

Having also talked to some of the teams separately, I got to learn more about the challenges and opportunities in the Iranian market; some are related to funding and others to the long sales cycle.

Seed funding is pretty low and follow-up funding is hard to get, which is something that has to change for the startups to get a real chance.


  Local Startup Strengths

And finally, here are a few Iranian startups that I want to name because they caught my attention and will give you a flavor of what is cooking.

TeaTalk is my favorite startup in Iran so far. The team is offering an online platform for peer-to-peer English learning.

With TeaTalk, you can practice your conversation skills, everyday, with carefully selected partners and interesting topics designed by teachers. An intelligent matching of peers as well as curated content by professional teachers will secure a strong user experience and committed students. This app promises to extend the reach of English teaching to underprivileged areas.

Navaak, another new startup, is a new way to listen to music. It's always with you in your pocket, in your home or even in your car, having the entire Iranian music archive saved online.

With Navaak, there's always a new favorite song for you to discover and share with friends.

Smart Been is a smart climate controller for greenhouses that allows greenhouse owners to manage and control everything in greenhouse. Developed by Edward Baboomian, the system installs sensors in greenhouses along with an online control panel and mobile application that enables owners to control and analyze greenhouse health status from everywhere.

EventBox is an online event listing and ticketing platform, similar to Eventbrite but offers different business models and payment methods.

They have been managing the TedX event and already achieved substantial tracking with more than 100 events and more than 5,000 participants handled through the platform.