Where does entrepreneurship stand in Iraq? [opinion]

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Many small things are currently shaping the future of the startups ecosystem in Iraq. Even if the digital shift took some time to occur, in comparison with the neighboring countries, the size of the population, the fast growing numbers of internet subscribers and smartphone owners, and the existing good Iraqi purchasing power, are all important factors that would boost things up before anyone could notice. Here is a wrap up of the status of the startups scenery in Iraq.

Growing food delivery apps

Over 1,000 daily delivery meals are being ordered through food delivery apps in Iraq. Although, that’s a far cry from the total orders made offline everyday in Baghdad alone, with around 400 daily offline deliveries through Saj Al-Reef Group for instance, food delivery apps are no longer an easy number. Gone are the days where founders almost begged restaurants to accept dealing with their delivery solutions. Currently, we are witnessing an increasing customers demand due to the recent marketing campaigns that main players, including Foodo, Talabatey, and Wajbety, are continuously pushing forth. Access to finance is also more dynamic. Mishwar (co-owned by Marwan Ahmed, author of the piece), the sole grocery delivery startup in Baghdad, already managed to get angel investors on board.The future seems to be more promising.

Food delivery apps are growing stronger, as players, including Talabatey, are boosting their marketing campaigns. (Image via Marwan Ahmed)

More fuel for taxi apps

Taxi companies are on the rise as well. A non-existing concept three years ago, two startups have been launched in the past couple of months, including Karwa and Ujra.  Two additional ones will see the light soon. On the other hand, Careem, the regional taxi-hailing giant, is about to enter Erbil’s market in a move that will definitely make some head turns into the untapped market.

More smart shopping on the horizon

The retail sector has been boosted with the introduction of Shoppini, an ecommerce platform backed to a large marketing campaign and intensive daily doses of sponsored social media ads. Its main competitor is still Miswag.net, a platform that is smartly and effectively using influencers, and is managing to achieve great retention rates and a healthy growth. Although E-Labelz (the famous regional ecommerce platform) ads are displayed on Baghdad’s large digital screens in the city center, it is still not able to affect the shoppers and influence their buying decisions.

A dash of female entrepreneurship

Female startup founders are still not numerous. Few, however, are gaining the hearts and minds of their customers, making a great impact on the market. Hilli, by female entrepreneur Nour Hashim, which offers quality handmade items brand, is developing into a more professional business, catering to unique customers. While Ishtar handmade soap products, by Zina Saleh, are continuing to grow in both popularity and diversity. The brand’s products were the bestsellers on FekaStore.com, a platform that once wanted to position itself as the Etsy of Iraq. (Disclosure: FekaStore is Marwan Ahmed’s [the author of this feature] first venture in the e-commerce space and was recently re-launched on a smaller scale for several reasons to be disclosed later on a separate occasion.)

Techies and communities

Fikra Space continues to be Iraq’s largest techies and founders’ community. Despite its members’ efforts to attract funding in order to turn it into a coworking space, Fikra Space is still so far digital. The largest attempt was Fikra Fair, which celebrated Fikra Space’s fourth anniversary showcasing several local startups and engaging the government, the private sector, and the youth in panels and discussions under the same roof. On another level, the Iraqi traditional higher education system is way behind the entrepreneurial culture and disengaged from the modern jobs market requirements. Thus, Fikra Space’s leading members played an elemental role to develop the labor market and close the skills gap. A couple of bootcamps took place addressing urgent needs. These include the ‘Code Lab’ bootcamp launched last year, which shared knowledge and expertise about Android apps development. The ‘Week Bootcamp’ witnessed the graduation of the members of its third round in March 2017. The bootcamp offered young participants the support of some Facebook developers. The third cohort had a product management aspect, which wasn’t included in the past two versions. The first two versions were more into ‘lean startup methodology’ and what it takes to kickstart a startup. (Disclosure: The author is a Fikra Space’ member and one of the two founders of The Week Bootcamp, along with Ali Ismail who currently chairs Fikra Space board.)

Large companies on the block

Big enterprises are slowly entering the digital space arena, where the action happening. This is better showcased by Zain Telecom. In a rundown of events and bootcamps that happened since 2013’s Startup Weekend, which represented a turning point in the entrepreneurial scene in Iraq, it is clear that Zain has backed most youth events throughout the country and especially the ones that are linked to innovation and startups. Zain has even announced that they are in the process of pursuing some sort of an incubator/coworking space in Baghdad, inspired By ZINC Amman.

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