Helping Palestinian start-ups to flourish
Your success requires the aid of others
As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we wanted to create some content to share with you the kind of insight we gather and ponder at 9others. We hope it’ll be useful for entrepreneurs, investors, and anyone else with an interest in the challenges of modern business.
Ignite Palestine is a coaching programme to support ambitious Palestinian start-ups and SMEs, helping them prepare for and raise equity. The 13-week programme provides advice and mentorship in key areas, from value proposition to product development, sales and marketing, legal and financial advice. It culminates in a “demo day”, where the start-ups pitch to investors – some local and some via video.
64% of this year’s start-ups are based in the West Bank, 36% in the Gaza Strip.
72% are owned by young people, 66% run by women. The majority are developing digital products, so their customers can be anywhere in the world. Given the precarious politico-economic situation, it’s also easier not to have physical assets, or goods that need transporting.
9others co-founder Matthew is the programme’s lead mentor for investment. He meets the entrepreneurs via Zoom, they run through their pitch deck and he gives them feedback. After this intro, he’s available for the teams via Slack; then has another few calls over the course of 10 weeks. “It’s all about them getting equity investment, if that’s what’s right for the business,” says Matthew, “so selling shares for cash, as opposed to getting grants or taking on debt.”
JeelCode Academy, a start-up in this year’s programme, teaches computer programming to kids. Their courses are taught by teams of female trainers using adapted Harvard University methodology. JeelCode was set up in 2018 by Hijazi Natsheh, an electrical engineer with a background in entrepreneurship, marketing and digital transformation. He and his team aim to teach one million children future technologies including AI, virtual and augmented reality, robotics and blockchain.
“The start-up challenges I see in Palestine are often similar to those in London in 2009 and 2010,” says Matthew. “Not many angel investors, a poor understanding of equity financing, a reliance on grants. There are many similarities in that regard.” He says that his objective is to treat them like any other start-up. “They're the experts – if they need to be – on the local challenges,” says Matthew. “What I can do is give them feedback and advice, based on having met thousands of founders and invested in some of their businesses.”
Vatrin is a retail-as-a-service (RaaS) platform that enables small businesses in Palestine to sell through a central marketplace. Vatrin’s product range includes clothing, accessories, beauty products, hijab-wear and home furnishings. It was set up in 2018 by Diala Khashan, whose CV includes a marketing degree from Birzeit University in the West Bank, a Stanford Idea-to-Market Entrepreneurship Programme, and digital advertising for Domestika – a community of online courses by creative experts.
Young Explorer Inc. runs Mostakshef, a platform providing specialist advice and therapy for children with learning difficulties or physical disabilities – plus psychological support for parents. Based in Ramallah, it was set up in 2018 by Ayah Dajani. With a background in computer engineering, Ayah specialises in tech health, developing kids’ activities in STEM and interactive exhibit design. Her aim is to give parents the tools to develop and assess their children’s skills, and bring therapists “home” for less-fortunate families.
“The teams have been super impressive,” says Matthew. “One thing they're ahead on is that being a founder is much more acceptable now than it used to be.” He says that he only advises investment if it aligns with the founders’ goals. “My aim is to get the best result for them – which might be investment, or it might not. The frustrating but wonderful thing about working with start-ups is that there's no silver bullet… we're always learning together and pushing forward.”
Part of the Ministry of National Economy’s Innovative Private Sector Development (IPSD) project, Ignite is funded by the World Bank and implemented by DAI. It’s delivered in partnership with innovation consultants Rainmaking, who set up the programme’s framework and find mentors to take part.
The World Bank also runs the Western Balkans Investment Readiness Program, helping start-ups based in Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia and Serbia. It focuses on new businesses who are developing tech products and looking for equity investment of €100k - €1m. The programme offers an eight-week timeline of mentoring and masterclasses, an investment readiness bootcamp and investors’ network.
See updates from Ignite Palestine on Twitter
Article by Sam Edwards, a freelance copywriter based in London.