Rateb H.Rabi is the CEO of Intersect Innovation Hub, a business incubator serving startups in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and soon in Jerusalem, and Gaza City, powered by Bank of Palestine group
Against a backdrop of obstacles, Palestine's startup ecosystem is defying logic. The challenges that entrepreneurs face would be enough to stifle even the most robust ecosystems, yet many of Palestine's brightest entrepreneurs seem determined to beat the odds.
A steady stream of innovative ideas have grown into powerhouse companies that have managed to make a name for themselves in the global market. However, despite the string of success stories, it is important to recognise that the Palestinian startup ecosystem is still facing a number of fundamental issues that are holding back its entrepreneurs.
One of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs in Palestine is the lack of access to funding. With only a handful of angel investors and one venture capital firm, the Ibtikar Fund, operating in Palestine, most entrepreneurs struggle to secure the capital they need to grow their businesses. This often results in promising startups going under before they have a chance to reach their full potential.
Another issue that plagues Palestinian entrepreneurs is the lack of infrastructure and support systems. Although the number of incubators and accelerators is increasing, many entrepreneurs struggle to obtain comprehensive support. This means that entrepreneurs are left to fend for themselves, without access to the mentorship, networking opportunities, and other resources that are essential for growth.
Even if these obstacles are overcome, entrepreneurs will be faced with a small local market. With a limited potential customer base, startups operating exclusively in Palestine will quickly discover their potential limitations. To unlock new growth opportunities, startups must tap into new markets and expand their reach beyond Palestine. However, accessing new markets poses a particular challenge for Palestinian startups due to restrictions on movement, imports and exports, and regulatory challenges to accessing capital.
That is where regional connections come in to save the day.
Global interest in the Palestinian innovation ecosystem has piqued, as more regional and global players take notice of the massive potential contained within its borders. A growing number of incubators, accelerators, investors, and others have started laying the groundwork for new Palestine-Mena bridges. These bridges to innovation ecosystems across the region are quickly becoming the lifeline for Palestinian startups to tap into new markets, access new sources of funding, and achieve their full potential.
In 2022, the International Conference on Entrepreneurship - Palestine (ICEP) left its mark on the UAE. Held at Dubai’s Museum of the Future and the DIFC Fintech Hive, the event showcased Palestine’s most promising startups to an audience of over 450 angel investors and venture capital firms.
In May 2023, Intersect Innovation Hub and the Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy made history by hosting the first UAE-Palestine Business Matching event. As part of the Dubai Chambers’ ongoing business matching series, this event brought together a delegation of 21 Palestinian startups for one-on-one meetings with industry leaders in the UAE. A record-breaking 237 meetings were held, more than at any other business matching event by Dubai Chambers, showcasing the level of interest in the burgeoning Palestinian startup scene.
Navigating the challenges facing the Palestinian startup ecosystem will require cooperation and collaboration across the region, and the payoff will be immense. To enable Palestine's brightest minds to launch into the global ecosystem, the support organisations that foster their success must strategise accordingly. Strong relationships have been developed in recent years, and more bridges are being built — paving the way for Palestinian innovation to transcend borders and make a lasting impact on the region.