In the wake of regional instability, heightened political tension, and continued uncertainty, the MENA region has never appeared so divided and its youth are the ones caught in the middle. With youth unemployment in the MENA region at an exponential high, roughly 26%, more of the youth are increasingly turning to entrepreneurship as their ticket to economic independence. But for most in the region (and beyond) the journey to startup success is a long road coming. One filled with barriers, inaccessibility to funds and uncertainty – all giving way to the overwhelming probability of failure for many.
Take Palestine as an example. A newly emerging startup hub, fueled by the youth’s stonewalled economic independency and lack of sufficient jobs in the market. Its youth are leaning toward entrepreneurship in their efforts to reclaim their independence as stewards of the startup movement in Palestine. But as in all newly emerging markets, particularly in developing countries, the environment that should be enabling startups to flourish, remains acutely premature – hailing an array of gaps and inconsistencies. Further, as in most countries, the startup journey is highly disproportionate and really only accessible to an elite minority. Think about it, how many of us have had the luxury of seeing our ideas to fruition? Most of us, are obstructed by two important variables – time and money. And in Palestine, this applies to the vast majority.
With limited access to capital, expertise, guidance and proper STEM education, Palestine’s youth are lagging in comparison to their Arab counterparts. But this parity, albeit significant, hasn’t stopped Palestinian entrepreneurs from making that leap of faith decision to the gateway of entrepreneurship. On the contrary, now more than ever, the youth are ready to risk it all in their fighting chance to turn their ideas into actuality.
Taking notice of this phenomenon, MENACatalyst (MC) opened its doors to entrepreneurs struggling to enter international markets. The general outlook for startups with access only to the Palestinian market looked bleak at best. And for those with users/clients/customers in other countries, lack of significant capital and connections continue to peril their ventures. Which is why MC has been at the forefront of this effort in its aim to facilitate startups expansion into new markets. Through its international demo events, MC has taken its startups to the likes of Chile, UAE, Jordan, London, and Silicon Valley. Tapping into the diaspora community of entrepreneurs, mentors, and business enablers all the while. Boasting a diaspora community of over 100 successful Palestinians from around the world, MENACatalyst is calling on them to be the leading light for Palestinian-led startups. Their networks, exposure, education and experiences, make them the ideal supporters of the startup movement in Palestine. And (it goes without mentioning) their accessibility to international markets is just what startups in Palestine need to thrive and survive.
Further, while it is integral that we bridge the diaspora community around the world with startups, it is equally as important to bridge regional startup communities as a whole. For one, countries like KSA,UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain are injecting heaps of money in efforts to advance their local startup ecosystems. In the first half of 2019 alone, a record $471 million (resulting in 238 deals) was invested into MENA startups (almost double the previous year). The UAE continues to take the lead as the MENA region’s most mature startup ecosystem with KSA, Egypt, Bahrain and Jordan treading close behind.
It’s no wonder these countries are havens to some of MENA’s top startups which are reaping in the benefits. And in their efforts to drive in more economic activity to their countries through startups, these hubs are increasingly offering attractive perks for foreign startups looking to do business outside of home. Thus, with all the investment, startup perks and ease of setting up shop, these startup scenes are generally more attractive and advanced, drawing in some of the region’s top talent and ultimately giving way to more fertile startup environments – giving these hubs a little something to boast about.
So how do we encourage other startups in the region to follow suit and explore other MENA hubs as a potential base or new market? One word – Exposure. Exposure to new markets opens the doors to consideration and forward-thinking. Offering startups access to new markets, whether by way of curated events, meetings with potential partners, investors, or other critical stakeholders, all of which can offer startups an enhanced understanding of their startup’s potential within these respective markets. Further, exposure to other startups doing business in those markets allows exploring startups to gain first-hand feedback from seasoned entrepreneurs. It can also set the stage for future collaborations among regional startups. Not to mention capital raising (a.k.a. the bane of a startup’s existence) which can prove quite a difficult task across borders.
What does exposure look like for Palestinian startups?
Joining forces with organizations like MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab and the Next Society, MENACatalyst is building partnerships with leading players in the ecosystem to improve the local conditions for ventures operating in Palestine and increase the number of business opportunities available at the same time. In its recent endeavor, MC partnered up with one of the MENA region’s leading startup support organizations – MIT Pan Enterprise Pan Arab – to bring 4 Palestinian startups to Silicon Valley – the tech Mecca of the world.
Palestinian startups were among a group of 21 startups from the region, which brought in startups from Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain for a host of curated workshops, meetings, and a chance to attend Tech Crunch Disrupt – TC’s annual 3-day conference which boasts all the new tech and innovation of today.
These experiences are eye-opening for remote startups. Especially for young Palestinian startups that are continuously blocked off from the world. But with the help of dedicated organizations, startups in Palestine and across MENA can finally join the tech crazed startup communities of the world and be a part of the global startup movement.