In October 2020, Google launched its regional accelerator, a three-month virtual programme targeting startups across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), while also making available grants and investments of $13 million as part of this digital initiative. It recently selected its first cohort and this piece, Salim Abid, Google’s regional lead of developer ecosystem in Mena explains why the company launched an accelerator here and what it hopes to achieve.
Last year accelerated the shift to digital adoption, that is something we can all agree on. Online tools became a lifeline to businesses of all sizes in the Mena region during the lockdown, allowing them to stay open and connect with customers when their premises were shuttered.
As local economies continue to undergo digital transformation and accelerate their recovery, there are opportunities to benefit from tech innovation that will eventually create more jobs in the long-term and maintain a sustainable business environment. According to the International Monetary Fund, the startup and SME sectors combined contribute up to 40 per cent to gross domestic product (GPD) and up to 50 per cent of private sector employment across the region.
Our region is rich in homegrown entrepreneurs that excelled at offering innovative solutions for unexpected societal challenges brought by the pandemic. These solutions ranged from education, health, e-commerce and fintech among others.This is why we're excited to roll-out the first cohort of ‘Google for Startups Accelerator’ in Mena, through which we hope to help connect entrepreneurs to the wider technology industry and support them with additional skills and resources that can help move their ideas forward and scale their solutions using advanced technologies like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI).
We hope to be a key partner for startups at every stage, from founders with a concept to those running a scale-up. By equipping them with Google products, sharing best practices around innovation, and providing opportunities for founders to learn, get mentorship, and raise funding, we can bring more opportunities to the local startup ecosystem. We aim to do that in three ways:
Offering business and technical mentorship
We announced last week the selected tech startups of our first ‘Google for Startups Accelerator’ programme in Mena, that have already raised seed funding. They are Abwaab (Jordan), Carers (Jordan), Chefaa (Egypt), Dabchy (Tunisia), Designhubz (UAE), Lamsa (UAE), Lendo (Saudi Arabia), Nafas Meditation (Oman), ViaVii (Jordan) and 360VUZ (UAE).
Google is running mentorship sessions in digital marketing, product design, user experience (UX), ML, Firebase, cloud, customer acquisition, and leadership development. The programme aims to support startups in solving their technical challenges by using AI/ML technology. Through virtual sessions, business owners will have access to private coaching, designed to gear up the participants to pitch to investors in a few months.
Supporting diversity in the startup ecosystem
Tech innovations that are built by everyone can suit everyone. Although only 14 per cent of Mena startup investments go to women-led enterprises, according to a latest survey by Arabnet and Dubai SME, many Arab countries have started to recognise the sustainable impact that diversity in talent can bring to the local economy.
We also carry a responsibility to contribute to this change. Through our programmes, we aim to support founders that come from various backgrounds and expertise. The ten startups represent six Arab countries from North Africa to the Gulf and Levant, four of them are female-led, and the sectors represented are health, travel, education, fintech and e-commerce. The programme is run by over 100 mentors; 50 per cent are from Google, and the other half includes Google Developer Experts (GDEs) and key industry representatives of the startup community.
Helping startups secure funding
At the end of the accelerator programme, the ten startups will join ‘Google Demo Day’ where they pitch directly and connect with active investors, to grow and accelerate their businesses. Many startups that pitched at previous Google Demo Days around the world raised funding, and others were acquired by global companies.
We’re pleased with the launch of the first cohort of the programme. More than 500 applications were submitted from all countries in the region, and in response to the large interest, we hope to launch our second cohort later this year. We’re committed to continuing our support to the local startup community, the engine of digital transformation, by equipping them with the latest digital skills to tackle big challenges.