Why MENA needs to embrace a start-up culture


Given the current state of the Arab World’s youth unemployment levels, the role that entrepreneurs can play in tackling the issue cannot be overlooked. Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our region, but support for such activity needs to increase, whether this is in the very beginning of the ideas stage for start-ups, or in the assistance of scaling companies to extend their reach across the region.

The Wamda Research Lab, in partnership with Endeavor, conducted a survey of over 900 entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship experts in the MENA region. They cite that all the entrepreneurs in their sample were seeking to scale their companies, or had already begun to do so, demonstrating great potential for job creation through the success of these growing entrepreneurships. However, 60% of the sample said that scaling was the most challenging phase of development, experiencing barriers such as a lack of funding, difficulty securing investment, legal and financial barriers to expanding into different countries, and recruiting and affording talent. Interestingly, the entrepreneurships experts sampled agreed with the challenges that entrepreneurs cited, suggesting that there is great potential for established and successful entrepreneurs to offer valuable advice, mentoring and support for young entrepreneurs who possess talent and passion, but lack experience.

At Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives (ALJCI), we see a huge amount of talent in our region— individuals with great business minds and innovative and creative thinking. This talent should be supported with guidance, finance and training to establish new projects and the corporations of tomorrow. Supporting these endeavours now will have a positive impact on the economy which will, in turn, provide employment opportunities for generations to come.

As well as supporting arts and culture in the region and being dedicated to global poverty alleviation, ALJCI is also passionate about supporting entrepreneurships and start-ups in the region. Bab Rizq Jameel is the job creation arm of ALJCI and, through our programme supporting small enterprises, we provide interest-free loans to young men and women who have existing or new enterprises but are lacking financial support and mentoring.

We also have a programme titled ‘From My Experience’, through which we conduct regular interviews with new entrepreneurs in the KSA with the aim of developing their enterprises and providing them with practical knowledge and the necessary services (such as training and finance) that will enable them to start their entrepreneurships in new and emerging sectors. In 2014, the From My Experience programme hosted more than 250 participants from Jeddah-based entrepreneurs and was streamed live on YouTube to an audience of more than 1000 viewers.

Through our partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), ALJCI jointly runs the MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition, which provides a great platform for entrepreneurs, attracting more than 5000 applications a year from 21 countries. Winners receive prize money and so far the competition has trained 1,500 entrepreneurs and has created over 250 knowledge-based jobs.

Corporations can gain a lot if they tap into the potential that lies in dealing with entrepreneurships and start-ups as they just begin to get off the ground or seek to expand. Corporations should be seeking out the new ideas and fresh thinking that entrepreneurs and start-ups have to offer. Dealing with fresh, young, innovative entrepreneurs can really inject life into a large corporation, and these established businesses should get involved by investing in or partnering with new startups. Today, there is a lot of investment from huge global corporations particularly in fresh tech startups, where young creative minds are making great contributions to developing new tech that makes big names in the industry stand out from the rest. Corporations in the MENA region should be looking out for home-grown talent and reaching out with investments—whether financial or through mentorships and training—to benefit from the innovation of the next generation of leading names in business and help new entrepreneurships to grow.


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