4 Things We Learned From Taking Palestinian Startups To GITEX

by Zahra Shah

The Nexus program is our most recent market access program, in partnership with Innovative Private Sector Development (IPSD) and The World Bank. We’re working with 10 Palestinian companies to support their growth across the MENA region. Read more about them and the program here.

From 18th to 21st October 2021, we took the cohort to GITEX in Dubai. Our goal was to leverage GITEX to showcase the Palestinian ecosystem to international and regional stakeholders, and provide the startups with the opportunity to do business and raise capital.

GITEX Highlights:

Fanera reached the finals of the Supernova Challenge under the Sports Tech category.

IRIS Solutions reached the semi-finals of the Supernova Challenge under the EdTech category.

⭐Naviatx signed an MOU with WeDeliver where they'll be working together to track the driving behaviour of captains to ensure road safety for all.

Over the course of four days, the startups had the opportunity to network with companies from across the globe, meet investors, and focus on business development. In doing so, we realised the following challenges that are faced by Palestinian businesses and what we need to do to overcome them:

Challenges Faced By Scaling Palestinian Startups:

  1. Palestinian startups struggle to gain exposure and traction: Those unfamiliar with Palestine beyond the headlines, struggle to look past the politics and see the opportunities available in the growing startup and tech sector. Palestinian entrepreneurs are solving local challenges similar to those faced by other early stage ecosystems within MENA. These include innovative businesses within education, smart cities, commerce, health and much more.
  2. The MENA ecosystem is rapidly advancing and Palestine hasn’t caught up: The wider MENA ecosystem has been growing at an exponential rate over the past five years. Entrepreneurs in Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel are not short of support and access to capital. Accelerators are in abundance, along with government-led initiatives and international exposure.

However, this is not the case in Palestine where entrepreneurs have to be creative in how they access support, which is oftentimes not locally available. There is a lack of international, quality programs (such as accelerators, incubators, and mentorship) for founders to access and launch.

  1. The MENA ecosystem doesn’t engage with the Palestinian ecosystem: This is arguably one of the biggest challenges. The Palestinian ecosystem isn’t connected to the wider region, so we need to facilitate more co-investment, collaboration, and market initiatives. Regional investors and stakeholders should be looking at ways to engage with Palestinian entrepreneurs and regional scale-ups should be looking at the pool of technical talent available in Palestine.
  2. Palestinian entrepreneurs need to take a global approach: Many startups in Palestine are born from solving local problems. These are not always scalable and the focus is on filling the gap in local infrastructure instead of thinking beyond the Palestinian market. In order to create more interest in Palestine, its entrepreneurs need to think global so that they are actively seeking partnerships, customers, and investors outside of the country.

Our experience at GITEX will inform the way we engage future cohorts of the market linkages program. Taking the startups out of Palestine and bringing them to Dubai helped them build connections with customers, close deals, learn about the UAE market, and meet serious investors. It also contributed to tackling dominant narratives about Palestine as a place of politics. By further showcasing Palestinian talent in future events, we can support the growth of the ecosystem one program at a time.

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