New fund to offer support for creative coworking spaces in the MENA

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After working for several years on a global scale, international development organization Hivos is launching its first program to support creative industries in the Middle East, Mideast Creatives.

The goal of the program is to support creative entrepreneurs through coworking spaces, viewed as an essential element of the region’s startup economies. Mideast Creatives will provide coworking spaces with financial support and organize business trainings for entrepreneurs in the creative industries.

The creative industries include traditional yet innovative sections of the performing and visual arts, literature, fashion, architecture, print media, and design, mixed with the new media disciplines of gaming, broadcast media advertising, and all forms of digital media.

“When I moved from Amsterdam to Egypt to study Arabic I was struck by the talented young [entrepreneurs]; I met so many people who wanted to start their own enterprise, without complaining but spreading positive vibes to rebuild Egypt,” says serial Dutch entrepreneur Arthur Steiner, who is managing the program.

Why coworking spaces?

Before approaching Hivos, Steiner was a founding partner at The District, one of Egypt’s first coworking spaces, after which he decided to start Mideast Creatives to help encourage more initiatives in the region. “In order to help developing countries it is very important to stimulate meeting places and innovative centers where entrepreneurs can work together,” says Steiner. The sheer number of coworking spaces and other meeting places now in the region has proved the model’s viability many times over.

According to Steiner, while entrepreneurs are able to work from any space, the creative sector especially thrives on collaboration and inspiration. “Coworking spaces are the ideal driving force of the creative economy,” he says; they’re places where the creative community can jointly find work, exchange ideas, access services and support, and use technology that can aid their growth individually and as a collective.

“The community makes you… If you are part in a community you are stronger than if you’re sitting alone,” says the Dutch entrepreneur.

Mideast Creatives provides business training to entrepreneurs in the creative sector. "Together with accelerators, cultural support organizations, venture capital firms, and other ICT training providers we shall develop a special training track for the creative industries with topics such as intellectual property, marketing, international team building, and access to international markets etc", he says.

Current partnerships

The Mideast Creatives program received initial funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), on which it will operate for a minimum of three years.

To facilitate access to finance, the program is currently partnering with Lebanese crowdfunding platform Zoomaal. Zoomaal supports creative entrepreneurs in fundraising within their own communities so as to become more independent from traditional financial systems

The program also has set up a partnership with Innoventures, a VC and accelerator in Egypt, to organize Disrupt Design, a three day hackathon to provide training for entrepreneurs in the design industry. “We give specific training for the creative industries on IP and design, advice on how to set up, and put entrepreneurs in touch with coworking spaces in Europe,” says Steiner. 

At the moment another Disrupt in Tunisia is being prepared and is expected to take place from October 16-19. More news will be announced shortly.

Other upcoming events include a Coworking Know-How Camp will be organized from October 10-16 in Cairo, bringing together coworking space founders from the MENA region to learn from each other and work on their challenges with the support of experts in the field of coworking, community building, and branding.

“From Libya to Iraq, if someone is running or wants to build a coworking space they can apply for funding through,” says Steiner.

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