Oceans of sand, pyramids, camels and shiny super-cars. Is that what you imagine when you think about the Middle East and North Africa? Did you know that besides having a fascinating culture, the whole region is observing a very fast-growing interest for its potential in technology and entrepreneurship?
In 2017, Seedstars MENA team traveled to 9 countries in the region to meet with entrepreneurs, investors and tech communities. Finally, we organised local chapters of the global Seedstars World entrepreneurship competitions to find the best early-stage startup of each and every country. This 8-month-long journey was a true eye-opener, as we learned a lot from it. On this post, we want to talk about these learnings.
Gulf Cooperation Council (United Arabic Emirates, Bahraïn, Kuwait) - Governments that were associated only with energy exports, are moving their focus towards technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.
We were truly fascinated by the government support to entrepreneurship we observed in the GCC sub-region. Local governments are actually launching big budget funds and organisations to support SMEs not only to boost entrepreneurship among their population but also to train people and educate them on new technologies.
This way, they provide a variety of support, starting from grants and investments to operational help in a startup’s daily activities. For example, Bahrain labour fund Tamkeen actively helps entrepreneurs in the kingdom launch their start-up and incorporate their business ideas. The fund also tries to provide them with grants to support them until they are financially sustainable. What really surprised us though, was the fact that Tamkeen goes even further and offers to pay up to 70% of the salary when the companies hire fresh Bahraini graduates.
Right next to the Bahrain, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia drew our attention with its innovative reforms and huge interest in entrepreneurship support. Saudi Arabia, aligned with its Saudi Vision 2030, aims at reducing the country’s dependency on oil by boosting other sectors such as tourism and technology entrepreneurship. Recently the kingdom launched a Public Investment Fund with $1Bn budget to support SMEs!
Another great initiative comes from Kuwait with a National Fund of $7Bn allocated to support SMEs and entrepreneurs.
We were not only amazed by the outstanding support provided by the governments to the entrepreneurs, but also by their vision regarding the future of technology. In 2017, United Arab Emirates appointed a Minister for Artificial Intelligence (hooooly teeech, right?)!
North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt) - Early-stage ecosystems with incredible potential
Our extensive travels to North African countries and the many interactions we had with entrepreneurs revealed to us an underestimated potential in these countries. Local governments and international organisations are working hand-in-hand with North African entrepreneurs to create a positive impact. For example, this summer the Egyptian government, along with Egypt Ventures and an Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund allocated USD 1M to support startups in Egypt.
The specificity of this region might be the high interest shown by Europeans in those countries, due to history bonds and geographic proximity reasons. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has allocated around 120 million euros for Egypt and 20 million euros for Morocco to boost green and renewable energy companies.
Levant (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) - Diverse, dynamic and full of surprises for startups
Looking at the startups from the Levant region, you can clearly notice the drive in their attitude and unique yet ambitious business models. We believe being located at the crossroads of Europe and Eastern World gave these countries its uniqueness. Indeed, Levant is a great place to get access to investments, and is a great gate to access very complementary markets: Europe and Middle East.
In either case, Levant is experiencing lots of interest and attention from all across the globe. As an example, we can mention an upcoming entrepreneurship support project by World Bank where the organisation injects USD 100,000 into Jordanian entrepreneurship ecosystem, to support accelerators, business incubators and investors. They are also considering training angel investors and providing incentives to make them active in Jordanian Market.
One startup was selected from each of the 9 countries we visited, to participate in Seedstars Summit 2018. Discover which startups were selected from these countries to participate in the big finals and what happened during the MENA Summit here!
Want to know more about entrepreneurship and technology in this ecosystem?
Join us at Seedstars Summit 2018!