High-tech behind walls
- February 11, 2015
- Posted by: ziad ziadeh
- Category: Blog
How the high-tech scene in Ramallah cannot be stopped despite Israel’s occupation and the borders, and how it wants to serve the Arab market first and foremost.
The smell of coffee with cardamom is drifting through the city center on this autumnal morning. Street vendors offer the Arabian beverage on Manara Square. The merchants are calling: Welcome, welcome! Grapes and pomegranates are piled on their carts. Women wearing colorful veils and holding shopping bags in their hands saunter between honking cars across the roundabout. This is Ramallah, the secret capital of the West Bank. But there is another Ramallah, a modern one, which is hiding in the office buildings in other districts, Al-Masyoun or Beitunia. It is Ramallah of the high-tech geeks and start-up founders, the young generation of Palestinians, who defy the high rates of unemployment and who want to realize their creative ideas and dreams of success.
Two young start-up entrepreneurs are thirty-year-old Shaheer Hussein and thirty-one-year-old Ahmad Abu Omar. Together, they launched the start-up BareedEE (Arabic for “MY mail”): Their goal is to make it simpler to check the status of sent letters and packages. They work with local 24/7-businesses, which receive the mailed parcels for the addressees. They share a large office space with other start-up founders. Most of them are men who sit with headphones in front of their laptops, programming, writing e-mails and communicating via Skype with people from around the world. “We focus on the MENA-region,” explains the manager of BareedEE, Shaheer. MENA stands for Middle East and North Africa. Above all in a region, where street names and house numbers are not omnipresent, BareedEE can be useful. “It would be ideal if addressees could pick up their packages from a taxi stand, a hotel, a pharmacy or a shop, which are closer to their homes,” says Shaheer. In addition, the two young men work on a kind of comparing portal for various post services. Their idea sounded so promising that they succeeded in securing funding for their start-up from the accelerator program Fast Forward of the organization Leaders. They have access to a work station in the Maysoun district for a duration of four months and they will receive a total of 20.000 USD in stages. Experts advise them on issues concerning management and searching for possible investors.
Besides BareedEE, there are two other start-ups in the Leaders accelerator program. Ten other young entrepreneurs are renting affordable workspaces in the rooms of the organization. “Fast Forward is the first accelerator program in Palestine,” explains the founder and manager Shadi Atshan. “In the beginning, we had 25 applicants. For the last round, 179 have applied so far.”
The high-tech scene in Ramallah is still in its infancy. Nonetheless, according to Forbes’ estimations, there are already 300 Palestinian technology firms employing about 4,500 people. Gradually, young Palestinians discover the potential of high-tech, which cannot be stopped by strict borders, and does not need large production halls. Hence, it is ideal for the West Bank, where, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate among 22- to 29-year-olds is about 22% (Labour force survey, June 2014).
One of the main challenges for the high-tech scene is currently to overcome social barriers and create an understanding for entrepreneurship. “Accepting failure is not part of the culture here. We find it very difficult to accept it, when someone leaves his well-paid full-time job, in order to launch his own enterprise. Our society must learn this first,” explains Atshan.
Shaheer knows this all too well: “Recently, we were searching for people to help and join our team. One of the applicants told us his parents would give him a difficult time, because they think, he should rather find a proper job.” Shaheer hopes that the mentality will change, as start-ups become more successful in Palestine. Many college graduates should also begin believing in the possibility, that they may launch a start-up company of their own. For this specific purpose, some experts from the Palestinian high-tech scene established the program “Start Me Up.” “Our target audience is students and graduates. Through these evening courses, we want to communicate knowledge, which they need for founding their own start-ups,” explains Taylor Valore, an American, who works in the venture capital company Sadara in Ramallah, and who volunteered in co-organizing “Start Me Up.” The participants learn, for example, how to build business and financial plans, and to develop successful marketing strategies.
“In order to succeed in launching a start-up, you must be able to measure yourself against international start-up scenes. You must know the strategies and norms of this field, the way it runs in China or Europe” says Taylor Valore.
“Universities here do not teach this knowledge, which is useful for establishing one’s own enterprise. In order to succeed in launching a start-up, you must be able to measure yourself against international start-up scenes. You must know the strategies and norms of this field, the way it runs in China or Europe,” says Valore. According to him, knowledge about the main features of becoming an entrepreneur lacks here. “Therefore, the bulk of our task is to strengthen the foundations of entrepreneurship.”
By Lissy Kaufmann