The Middle East and North Africa are home to a vibrant and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem and are increasingly drawing attention from international investors
Recently, the Middle East and North Africa’s startup scene has been drawing increasing attention from international investors. Only three years after the multi-billion acquisition of the region’s first unicorn, the ride-hailing app Careem, total investments in startups reached the $2bn mark in the month of October, during what has already been a record year for venture investments. From Match Group’s acquisition of Egypt’s Harmonica to South Korea’s IMM $64.5 mln investment in UAE’s Pure Harvest to Swvl’s acquisition of Latin American Viapool, startups across the Middle East and North Africa frequently make international business headlines.
In this vibrant and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem, Palestinian startups are no exception. With 23% of people under 30 and a high literacy rate of 97%, young entrepreneurs are well-equipped to explore innovative avenues and to support the Palestinian post-pandemic recovery. As much of the international attention is often focused on the regional geopolitical uncertainty and fragility, Palestinians’ startup potential is one of the region’s most underreported stories.
Generating employment opportunities and developing tailored solutions to meet the needs of local communities, Palestinian entrepreneurs are taking the driver seat in shaping their own future and the one of their society.
Broadening access to medical care
Many stories of entrepreneurial success could be brought back to founders’ direct or indirect experiences. Access to medical services for Palestinians could be expensive and at times logistically challenging. To overcome those hurdles and to ensure wider access to health providers, Palestinian startups are developing creative strategies that have the potential to reshape the Palestinian medical landscape.
From Hakini’s efforts to widen access to mental health professionals for those inhabiting rural areas to Shadana Yoga’s endeavour to foster holistic wellbeing through virtual yoga and meditation classes, young Palestinians are increasingly breaking taboos and playing an active role in shaping the future of healthcare.
At the same time, TebFact and HomelyCare - launched respectively by a group of Gazan medical students and Gazan nursing graduates – have leveraged the Palestinian high rate internet adoption to provide a wide range of virtual medical services from medical consultations, to post op care and physiotherapy, to arranging of affordable in person appointments.
Reshaping the education system
Most of the Palestinian traditional learning system is focused on rote learning. This can be in contrast with the dynamism and innovative thinking required by the changing needs of industries. With an unemployment rate of 23.4%, there is an urgent need for critical training to help young graduates successfully applying their academic learnings into a real-world context.
From Edunation‘s highly customized set of virtual modules to Jusoor’s practical labs for STEM graduates to Cerati’s courses on creative thinking and CV writing, many entrepreneurs have actively tried to bridge this gap and have offered a wide spectrum of services to support graduates in their integration in the labour market.
Powering a sustainable economy
Palestinians are mostly reliant on their neighbouring countries for most of the electricity needed for their internal demand.
Due to the lack of broad availability of affordable and secure sources of energy, Palestinians are often facing challenges in powering their essential household appliances. As climate change exacerbates warm temperatures in hot seasons and decreases water reserves in an already water-distressed region, inventive entrepreneurs have been exploring alternative avenues and sustainable solutions to meet Palestinians’ energy and water needs.
Some examples of those pioneering efforts are: Sunbox, a Gaza social startup offering affordable solar energy that provides with an affordable one-off expense (350$ per solar kit) can generate the amount of electricity shareable between 2 families covering their households’ basic needs, or Flowless which deploys IoT devices to improve water management and timely detect leaks and incidents through data analysis, or Receet, which aims to move online all B2B and commercial receipts.
Innovating traditional sectors
Most of the Palestinian economy relies mainly on traditional sectors: from agriculture to real estate to logistics. Hence, one of the important tasks that young entrepreneurs are undertaking is to revamp business models through more agile and tech-oriented lens. Among some of those innovative efforts, we could list LogesTechs, whose objective is to enable customers to be connected easily with different carriers, or Mashvisor, which relies on a great amount of data and provides quick analysis on properties’ return on investments.
Exploring new solutions through technology
Empowered by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Palestinian entrepreneurs have been exploring uncharted areas with original solutions. Some examples are: SMSM Technologies’ efforts to provide real time data for municipal administration to improve efficiency on security, traffic and waste management, or Deelzat’s objective to provide local stores and entrepreneurs access to an integrated e-commerce platform, or Gamiphy’s innovative way to engage customers and employees through playful solutions, or finally Iris Solutions’ to provide services and experiences through interactive sensory technology.
How could you learn more about the Palestinian entrepreneurial ecosystem?
The Palestinian startup landscape is still in its infancy compared to the rest of the region, though it’s maturing fast. This is why international events, such as the International Conference on Entrepreneurship in Palestine on 14 December 2022, play a crucial role in engaging with key stakeholders in this space. Supported by the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community of Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus and East Jerusalem the conference is crucial to showcase the Palestinian talent to an international audience and to build the enabling ecosystem for Palestinian startups to thrive.
Entrepreneurship has the potential to become a crucial engine of growth for the Palestinian post-pandemic recovery and has been gathering attention from international governments and agencies. Through some local initiatives, such as Ibtikar Fund - whose initial capital was fuelled by 20% by the Dutch Good Growth fund – or Intersect Hub, the fintech incubator newly established by Bank of Palestine Group, or the accelerator Gaza Sky Geeks – a joint venture by Mercy Corps and Google for Startup – the Palestinian startups are developing the supporting ecosystem that they need to fully realize their potential.
We share this fantastic article by Teresa Belardo first published by the World Economic Forum and our interview with Ahmad Maharma, CEO of SMSM at Smart City Expo World Congress 2021.