Feature: Palestinian youth keen on start-ups in E-zone
- December 28, 2014
- Posted by: ziad ziadeh
- Category: Blog
Sitting down and facing their computers, members of nine companies in the mini technology park in Palestine are working in their own start-ups, trying to overcome borders and secure a place in the Arab market.
The tech park, known as E-zone, is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and is home for these developing start-ups. Companies pay a symbolic rent for the hosting organization and the leaders, which offer working place and consulting services.
The 1,200 square meter space is a core for an emerging community of entrepreneurs. In Palestine, the majority of new ideas are related to Internet technology, such as developing web and mobile-based apps and services.
As the Israeli occupation poses strict restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, entrepreneurs find a chance through the internet reaching out to a wider audience abroad.
Fadfid is a new Arabic website launched by two young Palestinian university students. They found a problem in the Arab perception which they turned into a business opportunity.
The co-founders noted that the Arab culture stands as a barrier in front of people’s willingness to seek physiological therapy, as patients can face the stigma of being labeled as mentally ill when they are seen going to therapy.
“We have qualified psychologists but their clinics are shut down for that reason,” Mohammed Abu Qura, a co-founder of Fadfid told Xinhua.
Abu Qura and his business partner Mays Atari established a website where people can pay for online therapy sessions with experts while keeping their identity anonymous.
So far, they are receiving many requests from the Arab world and hope to generate more success.
Starting a business in Palestine can have difficulties entrepreneurs don’t face elsewhere. Until today, Israel bans Palestinians from having 3G mobile services. Other political barriers include the lack of governmental support or updated laws.
The Palestinians laws date back to 1967 which means they don’t have any investment protection laws for internet-based services.
The Fadfid project, started in October 2013, was able to be located in the E-zone after it went through a four-month business “acceleration” process by the Leaders organization through its business accelerator known as “Fast Forward.”
The project was among 10 other projects that won 50,000 U.S. dollars worth of seed investment, 20,000 of which was in cash while the rest was in the form of consultancy, training, mentorship and space. In exchange, the Leaders organization would own eight percent of the company’s shares.
As the Palestinian non-governmental organization, the Leaders received funding from Palestinian and American donors to establish a revolving fund for Palestinian entrepreneurs.
Any profits made from the shares would be put in a fund that will be used in the future to support other entrepreneurs, Shadi Al-Atshan, Executive Director of the Leaders organization explained to Xinhua.
He says that there are 300 million Arab speakers in the Middle East region, and 100 million of them are internet users. This gives a chance for Palestinians to be leaders in the hi-tech Arab market.
“The Western markets are exporting services, but the Arab consumers have different needs and show different consumer behavior. Therefore, the Arab developers and programmers have opportunities to show their skills and creativity to come up with ideas to help their society and the problems they face,” Al-Atshan added.
Interacting among other start-ups in the E-zone, Fadfid’s co-founder Atari is happy to see the forming of the Palestinian entrepreneur community.
“It is very important to learn from success and failure stories. This problem is on its way of being solved because we are shaping a tech community where we participate in events, where we can exchange experience and learn. We have people who are ready to provide free consultancy, all we have to do is ask for help,” she said.
The International Labor Organization estimated that unemployment rates among Palestinian youth stood at around 40 percent in 2013.
Business leaders and Palestinian-Americans are trying to help the economic grow in Palestine. Volunteer-based Start Me Up brings young entrepreneurs together in learning sessions to help them develop their ideas. Participants pay a symbolic fee to take part in the program that is taught by volunteers.
“We have 16 sessions throughout the year, and they are taught by local entrepreneurs, business leaders in the community that have their own businesses or start-ups, professors from local universities, all of which are coming together to help the entrepreneurship grow in Palestine,” said Tina Ganim, a volunteer at Start Me Up.
The sessions are hosted free-of-charge at the Work Factory, a new project that offers working space for start-ups. Entrepreneurs can pay a daily or monthly small fee to rent internet-provided office space at the Work Factory.
The project owner hopes the place would help people be relaxed and productive at the same time. “We also want to connect entrepreneurs in the Work Factory to build the community of the emerging young business leaders.
They exchange ideas and grow together,” Mohammed Khatib, the project owner told Xinhua. Endit