“I Dare” Summary

Last week was hectic. Last week was tiring. Last week was awesome.

Women’s Digital League was selected as a semifinalist for CRDF Global’s GIST I Dare Business Plan competition. The competition was open to startup businesses from in various stages of development. From a total of 550 applications received from 43 countries only 20 were selected for the semifinals. Pakistan had the second highest number of applicants after Turkey, and out of these 5 selected businesses 3 were women-owned. Talk about breaking perceptions, right?

You can view a list of semifinalists here.

I know this post is quickly becoming extremely boring and seems like it’s written by someone else as it lacks my wonderful personality but trust me – I am exhausted. A happy exhausted – but exhausted nonetheless. Till the very last moment I had no idea whether I was gonna go or not. Lots of reasons one of them being a brand new job. You say WHAT – A JOB – WHAT ABOUT WDL – NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO ….

Relax! It’s not what it sounds like but am not ready to talk about it coz I am scared of jinxing everything. Yes, lately I have become slightly paranoid – just another one of the eccentricities that make up moi. But then … what’s the fun in being “normal”, right? 😉 Ummmmm … I also think lately I have developed ADD.

*Blankly stares into space*

Oh yeah – so the first day was brutal. I had been up since 8 AM the previous day, my flight was leaving at 2 AM so stayed up the whole time, didn’t get a wink on the 3 hours journey coz this weird/scary/stalker guy sat next to me and I was afraid he was going to slit my throat as I slept. Got there at 6 AM, took ages getting my original visa and an eye-scan (a story for another time perhaps), reached the hotel, checked in and left immediately for the workshop which lasted till 10 PM. So, I was up for about 38 hours and it was BRUTAL I tell ya. Had to give a simulated elevator pitch to at least 20 of the 50 or so biggies that had come to attend. Managed only 8. It was heartbreaking when people who barely knew me or understood what I was doing judged my baby. Some didn’t have a clue what virtual assistance was and telling all in 55 seconds was just not doing it. When the dude from Mowgli made the time-out sign at me I wanted to sit down and cry – literally. But I am going to be an adult about it and not whine – it was definitely a good experience.

The evening ended on a good note – Pak Energy Solutions from Pakistan won second place for their elevator pitch! Was a very proud moment seeing Ali Raza Randhawa (will tell you more about him in a bit) walk up the stage and receive his award (BTW Ali, you still owe me that book???). I had no idea how patriotic I was until that moment ….. strange the things you discover about yourself when you think there are no more surprises.

Second day and I decided to take it slow and get some rest otherwise I knew my system was going to give up. Had the most scrumptious breakfast ever. They had soups and coldcuts and rice and casseroles for breakfast besides made-to-order omelettes by a chef, pancakes, waffles, a gazillion different types of breads and spreads. I was in breakfast heaven I swear.

The workshops were OK. My fav by far was Professor Ken Morse. Am absolutely infatuated with the man. Usually I don’t care for the motivational speakers types but he was something else all together. Had me hooked. He was kind and tough, encouraging but at the same time blunt, and above all I just knew he was a kindred spirit. So humble and so pleasant and so charming. Sighhh …. ❤

As always I loved the networking. Meeting new people, getting to know their business ideas, their worries, their successes, their beautiful Arab and Indonesian and Turkish accents, forming stories around them in my head, adding layers to their personalities … do I sound creepy? See if I care … 😛

And I did the most daring thing I have done in a long time … Chady Zein was one of the presenters on the second day and he was showing us how to give a good presentation. Right before wrap-up he asked for volunteers to do a presentation and my hand shot up! Peeps who know me know that I am a very nervous speaker. I absolute abhor having to speak formally to an audience. But something Professor Morse said the day before stayed with me … he said don’t be scared to reach out to people and give them your pitch if you need to because none of them will kill you. And I thought WTH. Gave my infamous Maya Khan presentation without any slides to back me up or sympathetic faces in the crowd. Here is to a new me! *grin

Was expected to pitch to a second round of peeps at the end of the day. I had absolutely no energy. One thing I have learned is when you are in such competitions and the biz ppl are listening to a million ideas pitched at them just keep your distance … unless of course you have an extremely thick hide … which I don’t. If you are passionate about what you do close your ears to all the negativity around you, take honest criticism from those who understand what you do, learn to tweak your idea, and carry on. Negative remarks from people who have only just met you and know only 55 seconds of what you have been doing for over 3 years can be really hard at the startup stage. You may disagree but this is my personal opinion.

Got a lot more to tell you about the people I met. Needless to say Arab women are gorgeous. Will upload videos and pics in a bit. MUST tell you more about Mr. Randhawa – what an inspirational guy.

OK BYeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

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3 thoughts on ““I Dare” Summary

  1. loved reading this maria 🙂 sounds like it was grueling yet enriching. waiting to hear more in the follow-up post, especially about what kinds of startup ideas were presented – were there more product-based ideas or service-based ones? oh and get some rest 🙂

    • I would say it was a mix of both. So nice to see service-based businesses competing – usually it’s just hard core products. Met 2 women from Lebanon running an editing (writing) firm. Besides the fact they were gorgeous (??) we talked about possible synergies between our businesses. It would be so awesome if we could manage that.

  2. Pingback: Birth Pangs of a Startup

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