To think that a singular effort would create Jordan’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship makes for an unreliable model. Real change will only come from the seamless integration of all the stakeholders working for entrepreneurs.
By Bilal Hijjawi. This article first appeared in Venture magazine.
“The few existing efforts focused on building an ecosystem for entrepreneurship in Jordan are great, but each of them will create what I’ve started to call a ‘mini-ecosystem’,” said Farhan Kalaldeh, who took the reins as Executive Director of Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship (QRCE) last month.
“Entrepreneurship starts with education; continues with reforming legislation and policies; then government support and R&D grants are needed; then it’s incubators, venture capital and angel investing and finally it requires mature stock markets that appreciate technology,” added Kalaldeh, whose organization is part of a larger cluster engaging technology and entrepreneurship.
The QRCE is keenly focused on technology commercialization and empowering entrepreneurship in Jordan and the region. Established in 2004, QRCE operates under the El Hassan Business Park banner, which was launched by the El Hassan Science City. The Business Park also includes under its umbrella the business incubator iPARK, QRCE and Intellectual Property Commercialization Office (IPCO).
In 1991, Princess Sumaya University for Technology (PSUT) was established as the academic arm of El Hassan Science City. Over the years the university grew into an academic powerhouse that many today dub the Stanford of Jordan in recognition of its no-nonsense approach to technology and entrepreneurship.
This impressive technology cluster also includes the Higher Council for Science and Technology, and the Royal Scientific Society. El Hassan Science City (EHSC) has all these organizations on its board to set strategies and policies with the sole purpose of integrating services that support entrepreneurs, creating the closest thing to an ecosystem that Jordan has ever had.
Ironically, the two players within this cluster, namely the iPark incubator and the QRCE, which had the most proven impact on entrepreneurs, have produced the least media buzz. But the evidence of their hard work has been astonishing.
“Our resources had come from government so we needed no publicity to raise funds. Whatever publicity we did was to target our stakeholders to the deal-flow for our incubator,” said Omar Hamarneh, Former Director of the iPARK Business Incubator and current CEO of El Hassan Business Park.
Most of Jordan’s notable names in tech ventures graduated from iPark. NetAdvantage (NetAd), one of the Middle East’s largest online media networks and Jeeran.com, the world’s largest host for Arabic blogs were incubated at the iPark. Even Catalyst Private Equity and Riyada Ventures, two regional companies managing venture funds in hundreds of millions today had their first offices at the iPark.
Quirkat, the first to develop an original Arabic language massive multiplayer strategy game (ArabianLords) was also incubated at the iPark. Mixed Dimensions is another success story that is set to graduate soon from iPark. International companies, including KindiSoft, were also incubated at iPark.
“We’ve produced more than 40 successful ventures that now operate across Jordan and the Arab region,” Hamarneh told Venture. “Collectively, these companies hire today over a thousand highly skilled Jordanians and Arabs in the region.”
The success of iPark has brought Jordanian venture capital firms a healthy deal flow of early stage ventures and SMEs. However, added Hamarneh, “Our efforts as a cluster are not only gauged by success stories. It’s about exposing thousands of university students and young people to the concept of entrepreneurship, which allows them to make choices, experience the market and learn from obstacles.”
Kalaldeh, himself a former student of PSUT and cofounder of a former iPark startup, said QRCE will now be moving to the 2nd phase of its strategic plan. “Our focus now is on launching a new initiative that includes four programs and a dozen fully integrated components that will help create a technology ecosystem to support innovation in Jordan. El Hassan Science City will be the centre of this empowered ecosystem.”