Rateb H.Rabi is the managing director of Intersect Innovation Hub, a business incubator serving startups in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Gaza City Powered by Bank of Palestine group.
The Palestinian entrepreneurial ecosystem is a tremendously exciting one. It features a wealth of talent and is driven by a new generation's passion for innovation and entrepreneurship. Although still in its infancy, the Palestinian tech scene has been growing steadily for years, and the indicators are promising. Since 2012, the number of startups in the market has tripled, and their success rate is at an all-time high. Palestinian startups are growing fast.
The ecosystem's growth has been the key driver for the birth of the International Conference on Entrepreneurship - Palestine (ICEP). Founded in 2019, ICEP is a global conference that brings together the best Palestinian talent alongside industry leaders, investors, regulators, and everybody else working towards the growth of Palestinian entrepreneurship. The results have been phenomenal: each year, budding entrepreneurs walk out of ICEP with brand-new connections that shape the next phase of their business. From a bird’s eye view, one can't help but get excited about the future en route, clearly visible when Palestinian ingenuity is on showcase.
The current generation of tech innovators has been working tirelessly, and they are ready to create tailored tech solutions for Palestine, the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, and the globe. But, we must reconcile with the unique problems faced by the Palestinian ecosystem.
The Palestinian economy is small and limited. Meanwhile, the population is highly educated, possessing some of the most sought-after STEM graduates in the Middle East. Far too many startups stop in their tracks because market conditions are not optimistic; unfortunately, setting aside tech solutions that will never see the light of day.
To ensure the sustainable growth of entrepreneurship in Palestine, startups often need to look outward to the global economy. Yet the obstacles along this route have been insurmountable for many. At the systemic level, few Palestinian enablers have the global network needed to export talent. And the difficulties trail down to the seemingly inconsequential, such as the logistical inconvenience of international meetings for a population without an airport.
Yet the entrepreneurial boom in Palestine is a testament to a reality we have all been anticipating for years: borders are increasingly losing relevance in the context of innovation. While the entire Palestinian economy is held back by restricted borders, the tech industry seems to be on its own, slightly divergent track. When the circumstances align well, Palestinian techies can pair an ambitious idea with a strong internet connection to tackle the global market.
But alas, it is a rarity for circumstances to align well. Knowledge transfer, team-building, and network opportunities are heavily stifled in Palestine — burying a few too many innovative ideas.
The Palestinian entrepreneurial ecosystem can be described with any number of affirmative adjectives: it is robust, exciting, promising, burgeoning, and more. The same can be said of our innovative, creative, ambitious people. But much of the potential goes untapped due to a lack of resources and support. The impediments that hold Palestine back from the global market threaten the sustainability of the ecosystem as a whole.
The export of Palestinian ingenuity has thus become a priority for many key actors in the industry. The Bank of Palestine Group is one of the drivers of this movement, spearheaded by Intersect Innovation Hub. In the face of obstacles, a solution orientation is crucial if the Palestinian startup ecosystem is to move forward.
And thus, the overview of Palestinian entrepreneurship in 2022 presents a contradictory image. A highly-educated and highly-skilled population is creating successful startups against the odds — then facing off against systemic barriers that halt their growth.
Against this backdrop, ICEP 4.0 will depart from its usual mode of operation. The ecosystem is more robust than ever, and the bounds of the Palestinian market can no longer contain our most ambitious startups. Culminating two years of planning — and a host of logistical miracles — the fourth edition of ICEP is coming to Dubai. This November, Palestine’s brightest will mingle with their contemporaries from across the Mena region, along with investors, enablers, and regulators.
Bringing Palestine’s brightest minds to Dubai is our way of launching a generation of innovators into the global economy. Dubai is the connector that has bolstered connectivity in the Middle East for years. And now, it is time for the Mena region to meet a new generation of Palestinian innovators.
ICEP 4.0 is an exciting milestone for Palestine. It is a celebratory moment for the progress made by Palestinian entrepreneurs and a harbinger of the exciting new phase of an ecosystem growing beyond its infancy. The brightest minds in Palestine are coming to Dubai on 1st and 2nd November, but their ingenuity is here to make a mark on the Mena-wide ecosystem for good.