Shaima Hamidaddin, Executive Manager of the Misk Global Forum

Are entrepreneurs born or made? In some circles, the belief persists being a successful entrepreneur – an Elon Musk or a Jack Ma – requires some ineffable, innate spark of genius. But at Misk we believe that, with the right support, anyone can become an entrepreneur. Through our various entrepreneurship programs and initiatives we’ve been working to prove that.

This week will see the culmination of one of these programs: the Entrepreneurship World Cup (EWC), organised by the Misk Global Forum (MGF) and the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN). Ahead of the global finals at the MGF annual gathering (12 – 14 November), we joined 96 EWC startups at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) for an intensive two-day pitching bootcamp. Arriving in palmy, balmy Jeddah from over 60 countries, the participants demonstrated that the skills needed to be an entrepreneur and to pitch an idea can indeed be learned.

Of course, some finalists arrived almost fully formed – concise, confident and compelling. Yet, for others, it was clear that their ideas were not being served by their approach to pitching. Over the course of the bootcamp, these entrepreneurs have transformed (just in time for their chance to win some of EWC’s life-changing prizes). And that’s all thanks to the work done in those two days by our partners: The experts from KAUST’s own startup accelerator program and GEN.

Across broad plenary sessions and small-group mentoring sessions, the entrepreneurs learned how to – as we Saudis put it – cut to al zibdah (the butter) when they pitch and how to take potential investors on an emotional journey as they describe their businesses. But, as Executive Director of GEN Accelerates Dr Susan Amat put it in her welcome address, without forgetting that they were not in a “fake it ‘til you make it space” but a “be real space.”

Amid the mentoring and discussions, one thing particularly stood out: Although the EWC is a competition – and there’s no doubt that every startup is hungry for recognition and all that comes with it – there was no sense of competing interests in the room. Instead, all the participants were eager to share lessons and advice from their own experiences, their successes and their failures. This was – as befits the setting – a truly collegiate experience, with the mentoring sessions particularly instructive. Here, groups of 3 – 5 startups sat with mentors from GEN, running through their pitches. While the entrepreneurs received guidance from their mentor, they also shared advice with each other, eager to see their ostensible competitors do as well as possible.

And maybe that’s because, at heart, there is something innate to all entrepreneurs: A passion for change. Indeed, Hattan Ahmed, head of the entrepreneurship centre at KAUST, alluded to just this in his opening speech, stating that he and the team were “thrilled to work with crazy people – people like you. Driving people to make changes around the world.”

So, while I think that passion is something that can’t be taught, I also believe that passion is something that’s innate to all of us.

Make sure to follow the progress of the EWC Global Final online at:

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