The conflict-torn Gaza Strip produces more than 2,000 young graduates with technical degrees each year. Gaza Sky Geeks helps them launch their own high-tech businesses.
E. Baba for Mercy Corps.
In the isolated Gaza Strip, economic instability is a constant. But a startup accelerator called Gaza Sky Geeks Laboratory plans to help the region capitalize on one of its biggest assets: its technical graduates.
Between Gaza’s five universities, more than 2,000 young people graduate with technical degrees every year. Mercy Corps started the Arab Developer Network Initiative (ADNI) with a grant from Google.org a few years ago, and a number of programs supporting young entrepreneurs have come out of it, including Gaza Sky Geeks.
The laboratory will support standout technology entrepreneurs in Gaza, providing a wide range of free services designed to help them turn their ideas into viable investments. Global Envision connected with Reem Omran, co-founder of Gaza Sky Geeks, to talk about the effort – and whether Gaza could become the next IT hub in the Arab world.
What’s the blueprint for helping start-ups?
Reem Omran: The primary objective of Gaza Sky Geeks is to prepare start-ups for the next stage. We will provide logistical and consulting services, as well as workshops that can help them turn their ideas into concrete business plans capable of securing investment.
What resources does the accelerator offer?
Gaza Sky Geeks is outfitted with high-speed internet, desktop computers, iPads, and Androids[mc1] so that members have a reliable space to work on their projects. Members also have access to meeting spaces and a coffee shop, where they can network and collaborate on ideas.
What about events?
The accelerator hosts three types of events: workshops, hackathons, and mentorship programs and lectures. The workshops are held on a weekly basis and are designed to help with product development and promotion. Hackathons are held so that programmers have a forum to share ideas and explore software development. And the mentors are brought in to give developers feedback on their ideas and critique their business plans.
At the accelerator, are the resources and events free of charge?
Yes, you only need to be a member to use them.
What are the biggest barriers facing members?
Electrical shortages are common, and Gaza’s reputation as a conflict zone makes it difficult to attract investors. However, at the core the issues are the same as those facing start-ups everywhere. Many technology entrepreneurs are passionate about their field and ideas, but transforming a vision into a viable business plan is tricky. Most people in the IT industry in Gaza don’t receive a business education, let alone have experience running one.
How is Gaza Sky Geeks helping to bridge this gap?
This is where the mentors are key. As I mentioned, most programmers in Gaza don’t have experience running a business, and so sometimes their target audience is off or their marketing strategy isn’t practical, and so on. Mentors can provide valuable constructive criticism so that start-ups can strengthen their goals and infrastructure to become a feasible investment.
In the coming months, Gaza Sky Geeks will select the top five startups to participate in a three-month intensive acceleration program. Selected startups that participate in the acceleration program will be linked with five dedicated mentors who have varying backgrounds and experience. The three-month accelerator will also provide targeted business and technical training so each startup has a scalable business plan and validated prototype at the conclusion of the accelerator. Throughout the three-month program, each startup will work on a one- and three-minute pitch that they will give to potential investors at a Gaza demo day and regional road shows in cities such as Doha, Qatar; Amman, Jordan' and Cairo.
• Stay up to date on Gaza Sky Geeks on Facebook and Twitter: @GazaSkyGeeks