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Entrepreneurship Op-Ed

Building Bridges
How can a small country like Jordan position itself in Global markets? By Mohamad Khawaja

The conclusion of the Presidential and Jordan. However, everyone is diaspora communities in developing their
Summit on Entrepreneurship last April expecting the Arab diaspora to play a local economies in different ways. Japan
ignited a handful of new initiatives in greater role in the region, but only a few transformed itself by sending gifted Japa-
the region aiming to support local entre- have launched initiatives to fulfill such nese abroad to bring back ideas that were
preneurs and develop a comprehensive a challenging goal. adapted to Japan’s culture
innovation eco-system. Unfortunately, Speaking about the role of diaspora and needs.
very few of these initiatives were fo- in other parts of the world, I
cusing on reconnecting with the Arab can take Taiwan, which
diaspora in the US. Such a move has positioned itself as a hub
been challenging, despite the fact that of semiconductor manu-
it could provide a valuable support facturing, as an example.
mechanism for this region’s budding It did so by leveraging
entrepreneurs. its competitive ad-
Last year, during the Global Entre- vantage: The Tai-
preneurship Week in Jordan, I got the wanese diaspora
chance to talk to Sami Shalabi (a Bos- working in
ton-based entrepreneur who founded Silicon Val-
Zingku; which was acquired by Google ley. Examples
in 2007). He asked how the diaspora do not stop
could support Arab entrepreneurs. To there; Japan
be honest, I didn’t have an answer. A and India are a
few months later, Shalabi co-founded few leading ex-
(with Habib Haddad and Elie Khoury) amples of coun-
a special portal called “YallaStartup” tries that have
aiming at fostering innovation and ear- involved
ly-stage entrepreneurship in the MENA their
region. The three of them realized that
a lot of entrepreneurs in the region face
the same problems and thus decided
to build a community-based Q&A
platform to enable knowledge
sharing. The effort was ur-
gently needed and constituted
a generous contribution from
Arab entrepreneurs who found
success abroad.
In June 2010, the US del-
egation of entrepreneurs invited a
group of top-notch Silicon Valley
venture capitalists and entrepreneurs
originally from the region to tour the
area. I was delighted to see the positive
spirit among the audience in Lebanon

V E NT UR E MAG A Z I N E | 71

On the other hand, India – diaspora entrepreneurs could offer   Supporting R&D in cooperation
with the world’s second largest their support to young startups with universities
diaspora next to China – has in the region. They include: R&D and innovation are required if
doubled its income through we are not aiming for more copy-cat
remittances. Meanwhile   Mentorship, mentor- types of companies. It is not surprising
the Indian diaspora has ship, mentorship that some of the best high tech compa-
mediated the massive TechWadi, the leading nies are in Silicon Valley and the San
entrepreneurial energy networking association for Francisco Bay area, the site of some of
that led to the rise of Arab and Arab-American America’s best universities.
India’s Information professionals in the tech-
Technology (IT) and nology industry recently   Sharing success stories
IT Enabled Services launched TechWadi 100, Sharing success stories will help inspire
(ITES) sectors. a network of highly accom- young people and change the culture in
Based on plished entre- the region.
statistics preneurs,
from executives,   Lobbying for new government
and inves- polices
tors dedi- The voices of successful Arab entre-
cated to preneurs are being heard by decision-
mentoring makers more than before. It is
promising time for entrepreneurs to lobby
entrepreneurs in for better infrastructure, policies
the MENA region. and business regulations.
TechWadi 100 charter
members pledged time,   Co-investing with regional VCs
energy, and finances, with Venture capital (VC) is not mature
the goal of giving back to enough in the Arab world. Bringing the
their community in the VC experience from Silicon Valley will
most effective manner. educate VCs in the region, and prepare
Endeavor – a global regional startups for smooth exits in the
network of High-impact US and Europe.
entrepreneurs – recently
organized the Mentor   Engage in Silicon Valley tours
Capital program to create For an entrepreneur, a Silicon Valley
a unique opportunity for tour could add a lot of value and ma-
leading investors and promis- turity for his/her startup. To that end,
ing entrepreneurs from Turkey, regional VCs have been organizing
the Middle East, the U.S. and Silicon Valley tours to entrepreneurs
Europe, to discuss their chal- in which they invest, aiming to prepare
lenges and opportunities. Both them for world-class exits and success-
initiatives have been successful. ful future rounds of investment.

  Angel investing The Arab diaspora is a strategic as-

the labor ministries of the GCC, more than Jordan is in short supply of early stage risk set for our emerging economies. Many
half a million white collar Jordanian work- capital. Offering angel investment can fill have contributed to this region through
ers worked in the Gulf region during the in this funding gap and add smart money remittances, however, there is a miss-
past 40 years. Their efforts should be con- to knowledge-based startups in Jordan. ing role for them in attracting foreign
sidered a great contribution to the welfare direct investment (FDI) and – most
of other communities and it makes sense   Establishing new incubators and importantly – transfer of knowledge
to tap into their brains. From my point accelerators and entrepreneurial networks. I hope
of view, the best model for Jordan could In Jordan we have a network of 8 incu- governments, NGOs and entrepreneurs
evolve by encouraging the Arab diaspora bators branded as “Jordan Innovation themselves will utilize the diaspora’s
to set up their offshore research facilities in Center,” in addition to the newly passion towards supporting economies
Jordan. That cooperation could also offer launched Meydan Ideas Space and in their countries of origin in creating
local entrepreneurs a bridge to the networks Oasis 500. But these are not enough as a future of success stories similar to
of Arab diaspora business leaders abroad. there are more brilliant ideas out there those happening in the West.
There are many areas in which Arab looking for incubation.

72 | VE N T U R E M A GA ZINE | OCTOBER 2010