Entrepreneurial Spirit Continues to Grow in Middle East—in Spite of Turmoil

Despite constant conflict and turmoil, the entrepreneurial revolution continues to emerge in the Middle East. More startup ecosystems, conferences and accelerators are popping up every day.

One such event, Startup Weekend, took place last week in Damascus, Syria, where 400 local entrepreneurs, developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts gathered to share ideas, form teams and launch startups. Proving the ongoing civil war that has forced approximately 9 million people to flee the country has not dampened the entrepreneurial spirit, 19 teams developed business plans and presented them to judges.

“The main challenge is to make the right balance between supporting and promoting entrepreneurship – which is of mid-long term [economic] importance – with the urgent [needs] of destruction and relief,” said Al-Amjad Tawfiq Isstaif, cofounder of Wikilogia, a community and hackerspace promoting open-source collaboration and digital technology in entrepreneurship and startups.

Similarly, RISEUP Egypt, the country’s first entrepreneurial summit, showcased and celebrated successful Egyptian entrepreneurs and connected others to resources offered by all ecosystem stakeholders in Egypt. In Lebanon, the Central Bank of Lebanon hosted their Startup Workshop where they launched their first sovereign startup fund of over $400 million, the largest of its kind in the Arab World.

One obstacle all startups must overcome is getting funded, something that’s getting easier do in the Middle East, according to the consensus of a Google Hangout led by the Wall Street Journal. The panel, which included startup founders and directors of accelerators in the Middle East, concluded that the atmosphere is changing and more accelerators, angel investors and venture capital funds from inside and outside the region are interested in buying into the Middle East.

Hind Hobeika, founder of Beirut startup Instabeat, was a panelist at both the BDL Startup Workshop and the WSJ Google Hangout, where she talked about her wearable technology for swimmers and what has helped her as an entrepreneur in the Middle East. For the entrepreneurs listening to the Google Hangout, Hobeika left some advice.

“I think that entrepreneurs should not worry too much about funding,” said Hind Hobeika, founder of Beirut startup Instabeat. “(They) should worry too much about building stuff because when you build something and that something is right, investors will want to fund you.”

Chris Schroeder, the author of Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East, said during the Hangout that the talent in the Middle East is world class and worthy of investment.

“One of the most exciting things that I’ve seen is just how amazing the young entrepreneurs are—not only gifted in and of themselves … but also teaching each other,” Schroeder said.

Something that encourages both entrepreneurs and investors in the Middle East are the startups that have recently received funding. Instabeat’s first waterproof heart rate monitor for swimmers helped secure an undisclosed Series A-round of investment by Wamda Capital and Jabbar Internet Group last month.

Others newly-funded startups include Qordoba, an online localization company that received $1.5 million from Silicon Oasis Investments and MENA Venture Investments, and Souqalmal, a financial comparison site that secured $1.2 million from Hummingbird Ventures.

The startup action won’t end there, however. According to Entrepreneur Middle East, one major event on the horizon that will help further this entrepreneurship revolution is the World Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, which will be the first World Expo to be held in Middle East. The event will showcase the countries’ successes, spur economic growth and potential business opportunities with global players, adding further significance to the country across the globe.

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