For the first time ever, startups from Gaza have been accepted to receive mentorship and seed investment from regional accelerators. After reviewing 164 applications from Gazan entrepreneurs, accelerator Gaza Sky Geeks conducted several rounds of pitches, bootcamps, and mentorship sessions to narrow down the field to two startups:
- Datrios, a social network for sports fans offering an Arabic-language interface and crowdsourcing capabilities.
- DWBI Solutions, a solution for big data management and improved data-driven decision making for governments or large organizations.
These startups have been offered $14,000 in
seed investment and three months of acceleration by Jordan-based
accelerator and early-stage investor Oasis500.
The opportunity has been made available through a partnership between Google, Mercy Corps and Oasis500. In 2011, Google gave a grant to Mercy Corps for the purpose of developing the tech sector in Gaza, which led Mercy Corps to inaugurate Gaza Sky Geeks (GSG) in 2012 as Gaza’s first accelerator. This year, GSG has partnered with Oasis500 to provide funding and acceleration for the two selectees.
While the startups have yet to accept the offer, the announcement marks a huge milestone in the Gazan and Palestinian ecosystems. Oasis500 is also considering a third Gazan startup for investment.
"We are investing in entrepreneurs and companies from Gaza because they have exhibited great ideas with high regional and global growth potential,” says Salwa Katkhuda, Investment Manager at Oasis500. “The teams we are investing in are highly technical, have clear execution plans, and are hungry to succeed, which is evident by their passion and drive.”
We’ve seen several interesting ideas from Gaza before, but none have made enough headway to really take off. As DWBI Solutions founder Dr. Mohammed Awad says, “The selection criteria of Oasis500 is very strict, so I think that only ideas with a very high potential of success could be selected.”
The creativity is certainly there, but the young ecosystem suffers from some obvious challenges; although Palestinian youth in general are among the highest educated in the region, unemployment remains a huge problem. In Gaza, youth unemployment is twice the regional average at 58%.
But new startups like Datrios and DWBI Solutions are hoping to change this reality alongside new support systems from organizations like Gaza Sky Geeks, incubator PICTI, Mercy Corps, Oasis500 and Google.
We’ll have to wait to see if these startups accept the acceleration offer, but what will be most interesting is to watch subsequent entrepreneurs build on this milestone, hone their ideas, and find support for their startups.