Reflections from my Ramallah High Tech Hub Trip

A few months ago, Feras Nasr, contacted me to come and speak in Ramallah about entrepreneurship to the tech community and in particular students. I was humbled by the request, and also thrilled at the opportunity because I have a passion for speaking to aspiring entrepreneurs.

I have not been to that part of the world in approximately 20 years, so it was truly exciting to go back and see how things have changed. Ramallah is a modern Arab city. It reminded me of Amman’s hilly landscape. It was bustling with healthy activity. Tourist tip: be sure to get Rukab Ice Cream.

The first High Tech Hub meetup was a world class affair. It had great organization, great sponsors, over 500 students attended, and 10 startups presented their companies to the audience. These are signs of a healthy tech community. I came back very optimistic for the prospects of the Palestinian youth. The energy and engagement I saw was typical of a place where people are eager to learn and be impactful.

From my perspective, entrepreneurship in the MENA and in particular Palestine is critical for the economy. The statistics are very clear. The Arab World needs to generate 80 million jobs in the first 20 years of the 21st Century. That is more jobs than have been created in the entire 20th Century. So the youth need to know that the culturally expected journey is just not going to work. Expecting the government to solve unemployment through job creation is going to lead to nothing but frustration for all.

I strongly believe that entrepreneurship is a key ingredient to getting our youth contributing positively to their societies. What I saw during the event was impressive. Many of the startups were thinking big and the quality of their work was on par with what is generated in the West. For example, X-Bugs was one of my favorite Palestinian startups created an impressive mobile game. The quality and complexity of the animations was awesome! It even got featured in the Google Play store. Another impressive startup was YaMsafir, which got 1 million dollars in VC funding after building their service on a shoestring budget. Yes, these stories are Palestinian startup stories!

The Palestinians have what it takes to build great companies. In many cases, they just need to do it. They have the intelligence, stamina, aggressiveness and creativity to do things with little resources. Attributes necessary to be great entrepreneur.

As a tech community, inside and outside the MENA, we need to help these young startups grow. Support does not have to be in the form of money, but can be in the form for advice, exposure, and support. Many just need to be helped to realize they can walk the walk. So startups, wherever you are, reach out to the diaspora. They really want to help.

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