We Are Just Scratching the Surface of Our Opportunity

by wamda, April 9, 2012

In many ways, the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Middle East is very nascent. When it comes to existing models of what an ecosystem might require, the MENA region has a ways to go in terms of making several avenues of support for entrepreneurs consistent. Many accelerators and incubators have come online in the past year to support entrepreneurs, but many are still quite young. Are they doing enough to support startups? Are investors doing enough? Is the private sector involved enough in supporting entrepreneurs via initiatives, or building out CSR programs? Are larger companies doing their part to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship within their companies and set the right tone in the broader space? Where are the untapped markets that startups have yet to fill (if not most markets in the region)? In which spaces could innovation most disrupt a sector? What are the opportunities that we have yet to strive for?

We at Wamda think about these question constantly, but we'd like to hear your answers. 

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Desiree El-Chebeir , Mon 09.04.2012
You raise some very pertinent questions, Nina. Rather than answering to the effectiveness of existing incubators, funds and CSR programs focused on entrepreneurship, I want to highlight a few practical areas that can directly and greatly affect the entrepeneurship scene in the region.

Cross-country trade: logistical complexities, heavy (sometimes double) taxations, and different import/export regulations directly affect competitiveness of commercial ventures (be it ecommerce based or brick and mortar). Yet, very little information is readily available to help entrepreneurs make easy decisions around costing/pricing, delivery times, return policies, etc. For e.g., i recently learned that some countries charge entrepreneurs taxes both when they sell items and when those items are returned. This puts a heavy and unneeded burden on the company. Ideally, reginal governments or task forces would tackled these issues and iron them out-a complex and lengthy process at best.

Legal Toolkits: similar to the above, information about how to setup a company (legal steps, costs, length of time, etc) is another area that is not well addressed. Neither are the other aspects of the practical day to day (insurance and social security for employees, deadlines to file for taxes, IP registration and protection, bankruptcy laws, contract basis, etc). This may be available in different countries but I haven't seen anything that gives potential entrepreneurs wtih a solid albeit basic set of information to start with.

Hiring and funding: woukd love to see an Angel List, a Venture Loop or even a co-founder matching platform for the region. A sample term-sheet or two would also be useful. I understand crowdfunding is being worked on, and that is a great step forward as the Angel scene has many opportunities yet untapped.

Crowd sourced issues platform: this may be tougher to organize and drive, so here is the thinking behind it: entrepreneurs solve problems and create value that society is happy to pay for. Many of those problems are social by nature such as education, health, empowerment of women, transparency of governments, etc, and require innovative solutions that fit into our societies' unique structure. Providing platforms where people who are interested in certain of these 'problem areas' from a potentis beneficiary perspective, or that of a partner in the solution would be most helpful and would yield companies that may adapt (not clone) foreign solutions to what makes sense here and now.

Yes, entrepreneurs spot opportunities, overcome obstacles and get things done. But it is my belief that by supplying some or all of the above may ease the task a bit, and focus the energies towards what matters (ie solving real problems), rather than replicating efforts. And a more efficient ecosystem will ensue.

Ali Musleh , Wed 11.04.2012
“Many of those problems are social by nature...” That’s a very important point. The more that the general direction of people, their needs, and concerns are revealed and observed and the more social engagement we have between people with different capacities around those needs the better positioned we are to bringing forward amazing innovations.

“Cloning” creates a disconnect. We need to learn about both ourselves and others -and not only about others- to take the region forward. Innovation must be grounded in the people’s experience for them to have value and therefore be desirable.


Innovation and entrepreneurship are two main mechanisms for institutional gardening for the future we want. I don’t see why our future must be the present of industrial societies especially since so much of their foundational assumptions are being challenged. The closer the businesses/ institutions we build are to the direction of our society the closer we are to prosperity and self-realization. “Cloning” will surely add a layer of industrial societies problems to the pre-existing problems we have in the region. The issue of cloning has been brought up by different people covering ArabNet and I really see us going beyond that to actually presenting alternatives for the region and the world for a better future for both people and our biosphere.