Work Factory builds Ramallah startup community

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Work Factory hosted the West Bank's most recent Startup Grind. (Images via Work Factory)

You can read Wamda's definitive guide to coworking spaces in MENA here.

Ramallah’s coworking space Work Factory wants to address the unemployment problem in Palestine, but it’s also creating a sense of self-reliance and self-belief.

Founder Mohammed Khateeb said when he launched in July 2014 his goal was to create a place where job-creating entrepreneurs could “congregate and produce successful businesses”.

Funded by Bridge Development Group, the space is in a five-story building in the industrial zone of Ramallah. Users pay a monthly fee to use the community space or rent one of the office spaces throughout the building.

Khateeb is coming closer to his goal: startups working out of Work Factory have created about 15 jobs so far.

The idea to bring coworking to Palestine originally came about in 2011 with Bazinga Ramallah. The shared space for up-and-coming startups fizzled out by the end of that very year because as it came at an early stage of Palestine's ecosystem development, its founders were inexperienced and had a weak business model. Ezone was then launched in 2013 by Leaders Organization, calling itself a mini tech park to provide rented space for eight startups and hold community events.  

Other working spaces in the West Bank include the Bethlehem Business Incubator, although it’s more of an open hub to incubate and mentor startups, and Vecbox, a new hackerspace to promote civic tech and digital rights in Palestine.

Building reliance

Work Factory program coordinator Derrar Ghanem said the vision many members shared was to become less reliant on Israel, by building businesses that can support Palestinian ideas and youth within the Occupied Territories.

Work Factory
Work Factory's current digs in Ramallah.

“The idea of expanding to other cities is inspiring for me, which is why I’m with this mission,” he said. “It’s our goal to support these innovative ideas that will come out of Work Factory, solve local problems, and ultimately make us less dependent on Israel.”

“Through Work Factory we will create our own jobs, we will find innovative solutions that don’t need to be exported from abroad. I believe many success stories will come out of Work Factory.”

Ghada Abu Taha, accelerator associate for a business accelerator called Smart-X which is on the second floor, said she loved “the young entrepreneurial spirit”.

“You can exchange expertise with everyone at Work Factory… You don't have limits here; you feel it’s a young space where you can grow.”

Budget-friendly for budget conscious entrepreneurs

Work Factory is also a venue for prominent startup community events including Startup Grind, Toastmasters, and most recently Tech Wadi, which recently held its first webinar with Zafer Younis from 500 Startups.

“The shared coworking space is one aspect of it. It’s a cheap way to work somewhere, but what we’re doing is building a community that is supportive of others in an environment of like-minded people. You're more likely to succeed [here] compared to working in a cafe or your house,” said Ghanem. “People are on the same level of ambition, and that’s how you build an ecosystem.”

Amjad El Maliki, who has helped start an intellectual property rights organization and hosts weekly events at the space, said he chose Work Factory because other options in Ramallah were too expensive for a small business.

“If we were to get a separate office it would be very difficult and expensive for our events. The environment is very comfortable and, as we are a new organization, we don't have a big budget so this has helped us out a lot," he said.

But Noora Husseini from Taita Leila, a social enterprise reinterpreting traditional Palestinian clothing, mentioned a few less practical aspects of the coworking space that kept them there.

“It’s a community of inspirational people and entrepreneurs, has a friendly atmosphere, and central to our business in that we work with a lot of people around the West Bank. And let’s not forget the bean bags, Derrar [Ghanem’s] music, and his cooking,” she said.

Khateeb wants to open a Work Factory in other cities in the West Bank and to expand to Gaza. The team is opening a second space in the center of Ramallah in May 2016 and are currently scouting for locations in Bethlehem. 

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