Venture magazine spoke to ten industry gurus about the most pressing issues facing start-ups, and their recommendations for an entrepreneur-friendly Jordan
By Oula Farawati. This article first appeared in Venture magazine.
Zeid F Koudsi
Co founder, Talasim
I believe that entrepreneurship initiatives in Jordan are 100 miles ahead, we don’t need any new initiatives! What is needed is an ‘entrepreneurship focal point agency,’ a semi governmental/private-sector body in order to combine all these scattered efforts and guide risk takers from ground zero.
On the funding level, I would recommend that money for startups should be an investment not a giveaway, so that all stakeholders have a long-term vested interest in the success of the companies and the sector.
Mahmoud Ali Khasawneh
The last 5 years have catapulted Jordan from a place talking about entrepreneurs to a country that is making international headlines with its successful young companies. Any such rapid growth and acceleration has its growing pains. One side effect I feel needs addressing is that of the overly-competitive “ambience” between entrepreneurs themselves. Entrepreneurs feel they need to protect their ideas and operations, and end up more secluded than competitive. Building a collaborative cluster-like environment among entrepreneurs only serves to enhance their competitiveness, re-enforce their ideas and solidify their chances of success.
Relevant government and private sector agencies need to inject fresh new ideas into young Jordanian entrepreneurs’ minds that will encourage them to effectively communicate their ideas with their fellow entrepreneurs. It’s not always about the “unique” idea as much as it is about the creative and successful execution of it.
CTO, Al-Bawaba, Co-founder, Indemaj Technology
My three top items are:
1. Education: Our education system doesn’t encourage entrepreneurship. There should be programs for students from early ages to start small business, even as small as JD50 capital to teach them responsibility and innovation. Build on local success stories, the story of Maktoob and others should be taught in schools.
2. Eco-system: We need a supportive eco-system. Universities are the place where all the magic should happen. We need to involve the private sector in education. The more incubators, the better.
3. Mentality: Most investors in our region don’t like investing small, and in start ups. They are afraid of failure. I can give you over 100 examples of huge businesses whose founders had a failure in their career.
We need to shift the mentality of investing in skyscrapers to investing in innovation. What is the effect of a successful skyscraper compared to one person creating something as big as Google, Yahoo or Microsoft? The funny part is that it is possible to bootstrap 100 small businesses for the amount of money needed to build a skyscraper! My humble vision would be to turn this country into a “startup nation!”
Co-founder of ThinkArabia/Kharabeesh
I believe education will play a major role in making Jordan more entrepreneurship-friendly. Education can give the entrepreneur the best tools to face his challenges as well as educating Jordanian businessmen about the importance of investing in bright ideas. As an entrepreneur I felt that many of the challenges I faced could have been solved easily if I had the proper tools and skills. I believe that our education system is only designed for government jobs. It is completely disconnected from what is happing around us. I believe 70 percent of our problems can be solved by good education. It might not be an immediate solution, but it’s a long-term solution that we need to start working on.
Founder & General Manager, National Express Delivery Company LLC
Developing a culture would be my definite answer. That culture essentially will stem from the community and will go beyond the obvious limitations hindering innovation, fostering problem solving and the establishment of sustainable business models.
The characteristics of such a culture would be based on initiative-taking, knowledge-sharing, identifying opportunities rather than obstacles and not waiting for official support or “foreign” endorsement. A culture that takes into consideration the surrounding circumstances and empowers individuals through collaboration as the only tangible & proactive course of action that will eventually lead to the formation of a “scene” aspiring to and exceeding Silicon Valley’s level; with authenticity and a distinctive flavor!
We need to spread the entrepreneurship culture outside Amman, to the have-nots and those who haven’t received proper education and funding, and the only way to do that is by adopting an aggressive entrepreneurship policy that includes several measures such as lowering company registration costs to JD1, allowing businesses to operate from home, and modifying tax codes to support internet businesses. Our tax code does not support entrepreneurs, and this is detrimental for developing an entrepreneurship culture in Jordan.
Chairman, Arabian Business Consultants for Development
Jordan has transformed in profound ways over the past two decades with regards to entrepreneurship. There are now several incubators as well as several national mentoring programs directed at entrepreneurs and NGOs which serve the educational and developmental needs of entrepreneurs. The government recently reduced the size of capital required to start up a limited liability company from JD30,000 to JD1,000.
Despite these achievements, access to sufficient amounts of seed capital is what I believe to be the single most important thing needed to make Jordan more entrepreneur-friendly. Availability of and access to sufficient amounts of seed capital will enable more Jordanians to establish their own businesses. Most Jordanians do not possess sufficient capital to start and finance a new company.
For companies with global or regional customers that provide high-end services, hiring non-Jordanians is sometimes important. I understand the need to create jobs for Jordanians and that is exactly what we do. But often we don’t find the skills we need in the local market. Getting a work permit for a non-Jordanian is very difficult.
You have to prove to someone (or a committee) that this non-Jordanian has skills that no Jordanian has! The solution is to either fully liberalize the labor market or allow companies a foreign labor quota, without asking questions about specializations. Companies are happy to hire Jordanians when the necessary skills are there. But they need to be allowed to have the option of quickly hiring foreigners.
Managing Director, Endeavor Jordan
I think educating the masses about entrepreneurship is very important because we have to start young. We need more university-focused education about entrepreneurship and its merits. It is very important that we tackle the fear of failure that is still a stigma in our culture. Here failure is a bad thing, whereas in Silicon Valley, they applaud failure because you learn from it and move on and do something better. To that end, we are partnering with the Queen Rania Center for Entrepreneurship in co-hosting the Global Entrepreneurship Week in Jordan in November, to launch a week-long campaign to educate and inspire the youth population.
CEO at Watwet, co-founder at TootCorp
I think small businesses should be given more benefits and incentives. Tax breaks and incentives, incubation, stronger appetite by banks and investors to fund small businesses, training for entrepreneurs, stronger intellectual property rights enforcement and less government red tape are all things small businesses can benefit from.
Most entrepreneurs, at some point, will suffer from the lack of talented and competent people to employ when they grow their projects. Improving the educational system in schools, universities, and vocational training centers to become more demanding, rigorous and up-to-date is key to the improvement of human resources in Jordan. Broadband access should be higher up as a national priority and should be made available to wider segments of the population. Internet connectivity can play a serious role in democratization and the spread of knowledge, and in creating a geek culture in different fields.
Entrepreneurs should be encouraged to think globally whenever possible. Local and regional markets do not push hard enough for innovation, creativity, research and competitiveness, needless to say, opportunities remain bigger in the global markets.