Iraq’s entrepreneurship scene has a number of players helping startups, such as Fikra Space which was launched in 2014, but they are all working as separate islands.
In order to accelerate entrepreneurship we need to create an ecosystem that integrates all efforts, and to focus all our activities on a single objective: that of creating new job opportunities.
My company RITS (Ramin Information Technology Solutions), which spent most of 2016 establishing Iraq’s first business incubator for the graduates of Al Mansour University College, proposes taking Iraqi entrepreneurship to the next level.
Our proposition is to establish a Centre for Iraqi Entrepreneurship; this is the beginning of our pitch to the government and other organizations in Iraq to help us make it happen - but we are prepared to go it alone.
This centre is to be in Baghdad, possibly with regional offices around Iraq, and will act as a multi-functional organization supporting entrepreneurs and startups, helping with generating ideas dedicated to solving actual Iraqi problems.
The centre, effectively a large scale incubator, should provide facilities for Iraqi inventors and for new generations of entrepreneurs. We strongly feel this centre should be left to entrepreneurs to run and should have no relationship with any government department, in order to protect it from the paralysis that the entire Iraqi government suffers from.
We envisage the centre to act as a magnet that educates youth in entrepreneurship.
The center will incorporate a permanent science exhibition, a music corner as a way to balance the large influence of technology at the center, an alternative energy division, and a scientific think tank made up of experts to recommend solutions to government. The key elements that will directly support entrepreneurship will be:
1) Crowdsourcing hub: RITS has already launched Iraq’s first ‘ideas crowdsourcing group’. It’s currently hosted on Linkedin but soon will go on the air as an independent, self-contained resource and physical space that brings together Iraqi entrepreneurs and professionals from around the world to support new startups in Iraq. The online version will shortly go live under the name Noah's Ark. We hope the symbolism is obvious.
2) A fablab: This will be equipped in accordance with MIT fablab standards and be member of the fablab worldwide community. It will be organized as a club for both young inventors and adult engineers, and we hope ex-military engineers will join as well (after 2003 we had thousands of talented engineers who weren’t wanted by the new government - when we wanted to make a 3D printed prosthetic hand and couldn't find anyone selling 3D printers in Iraq, we had our first printer made locally from kits by an ex-military engineer who is now a university lecturer). The fablab should be open for sponsorship by large companies operating in Iraq who can either finance the purchase of the lab equipment or finance individual projects. We expect the Basra Science Camp makerspace will oversee this.
3) Startup incubator: The overall objective of the incubator is to ensure Iraqi startups are professional, modern, innovative, collaborative, and efficient. Any entrepreneur will have the opportunity to join the incubator as long as the business operates fully or partially in Iraq.
4) Social entrepreneurship: This part of the centre is dedicated to a special type of entrepreneurship - voluntary work. Many groups are mushrooming around Iraq started mainly by young people, including the Good Imprint Team, which works in refugee camps, and Iraq Builders which builds and repairs houses for vulnerable people. We believe the entrepreneurship centre should offer an umbrella facility for these groups so they can be better organized in their campaigns, and use facilities such as the crowdsourcing to connect with people from similar organizations worldwide.
5) Iraqi marshes: As the marshes are now listed as world heritage protected environment, there needs to be many new entrepreneurial projects flowing here in agriculture, homemade crafts and tourism. RITS, Science Camp, Nature Iraq, and Iraqi inventor Mahmoud Hussein are already working on a joint project to rejuvenate the marshes economy.
6) Crowdfunding, sponsorship and competitions: Funding represents the biggest problem for Iraqi entrepreneurs. RITS is already working on a mechanism for crowdfunding through the Noah’s Ark website. This facility will become available during 2017. Opportunities to obtain funding will be available to any entrepreneurial project known to the centre and to be implemented in Iraq. The centre may also run other kinds of awards, such as prizes for startups, inventions or voluntary teams, or musical achievements, as well as the opportunity for direct sponsorship or investment.
7) Intellectual property: In the absence of enforceable intellectual property laws in Iraq, we propose the centre to operate an IP registration facility such that people can refer to these records in any court cases where the IP of a particular idea is disputed.
8) Media and communications: We want to give Iraqi entrepreneurship a voice through multiple media channels. It will distribute information on the latest inventions, discoveries and technology in Iraq and from the region.
Feature image via Mega Construcciones.