Startup Resources: Viaka, Connecting MENA to the Globe
Viaka is a digital destination for founders, experts, investors and talent across the globe that all share an interest or connection to the MENA region. We sat down with Viaka’s founder, Hani Azzam, who is based here in Boston, to learn more about Viaka and what resources it offers the startup community here in New England.
Startup Boston (SB): What inspired you to create Viaka?
Hani Azzam (HA): I was inspired to create Viaka through the experiences I had working with a venture fund called PlusVC.
In early 2021, I started doing some part time work with them, scouting for founders in the Middle East and North Africa diaspora, and that really exposed me to this challenge that both founders and venture funds from the region are facing: it's more difficult than it should be to connect with resources outside of the region, whether that be “deals” for venture funds or subject matter experts and advisors to help their startups.
As I started exploring that, I realized that members of this community - that were originally from this region but moved elsewhere - also didn’t have a place or platform to connect and support each other directly.
I started to solve this problem by launching a blog, StartMENAup, where I interviewed founders and investors in the MENA region. And, as I did those interviews, I realized it wasn’t just a MENA region problem, but it implicated the rest of the world who also had a shared connection with the MENA region.
That is when Viaka was born.
SB: Where did the name Viaka come from?
HA: Viaka is a combination between two words.
The Via, in Latin, means roads, and Shabaka in Arabic means network. And really, smashing those two words together just came from a kind of mind because it was a tribute to “road networks,” and really Viaka is a modern day digital road network.
I think the most famous road we learned about in school is the Silk Road - which connected China to Europe in ancient times and facilitated this amazing flow of goods and knowledge. And that is essentially what we’re aiming to do today at Viaka, facilitate the flow of capital and expertise between different startup ecosystems across the globe.
SB: Who is Viaka created for?
HA: It’s for founders, investors and tech builders across the world who have some type of connection or interest in the Middle East and North African region. This group is not limited to those who an ethnic connection to the region - the connection to the region could also be an economic one.
For example, we have some people from the Web3 community in our network because certain economies in MENA are trying to bill themselves as global web3 hubs. There are also people who are building tech here, in North America, who have a background in the MENA region and are a part of our community.
This community is truly for anyone who has interest in or currently is investing in or building new tech products and companies in the Middle East or having a connection to the Middle East.
SB: If this describes someone, how can they get involved and be a part of the Viaka Community?
HA: It’s super simple to do!
You can visit this form to apply to join our network. On this form, we do ask you to provide a bit more information about your background and your interests. We then review those applications and try to get back to people within 24 business hours.
SB: If accepted into the community, what is the next step there?
HA: Immediately, when you join, you are introduced to the benefits that the community offers. Right now that includes:
A Slack Workspace - where you can introduce yourself and join ongoing conversations with other members of the community
A Member Database - where you can see the profiles of everyone in our network
Warm Intros - you’re able to request a warm intro to anyone else in our community and we’ll facilitate that introduction for you
Those are three of the immediate benefits. But then on a monthly basis, we also offer additional benefits to our community, such as:
Demo Day - for the founders in our community to share what they’ve been working on and get feedback from investors and serial entrepreneurs
Educational Webinar - this is focusing on a topic that is of interest to the Viaka Community Members
Coffee Chat - we do a monthly coffee chat matching program where you’re able to meet with other members of our community 1:1 based on the topics you’re interested in chatting about
In-Person Gatherings in Boston & NYC - also beginning to explore doing these in other cities as well
We have over 200 members in more than 30 different cities, so you’re really able to build your network and connect with others here!
SB: Is there a price associated with joining the community?
HA: Right now it is free to join and become a member - so definitely request an invite using the link above and take advantage of the benefits that were just listed.
Where we do charge is for additional services, through Viaka Connect.
Viaka Connect is an opportunity to receive more hands-on assistance. This is great for startups and founders who are facing a particular challenge and need help extending beyond their personal networks. This could be with help finding investors or advisors for their startups. And likewise, for investors, it could be help sourcing dealflow for their venture fund.
To learn more about Viaka Connect, you can check out this website page.
Learn More About Viaka
Check out the resources below to learn more about this program:
And give them a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn - and connect with their founder, Hani Azzam, on LinkedIn - to stay in the loop on new happenings!
Do you know another resource in the New England startup community we should highlight? Drop us a line here and let us know!