Gaza’s only startup accelerator fights for survival

Gaza Sky Geeks launched in 2011 with a $900,000 grant from Google to aid Gaza's entrepreneurs

Gaza’s first and only startup accelerator is seeking to raise up to $1.5m through a crowdfunding pitch in a bid to secure its future and that of the young entrepreneurs it supports.

Gaza Sky Geeks, which launched in 2011 with a $900,000 grant from Google, is appealing to GCC residents to join the Gaza Starts campaign, and offer a lifeline to local startups.

Early backers have raised $159,611 since November, surpassing an initial goal of $70,000 to keep the accelerator’s co-working space open to startups for another year. With 13 days left to run, should the campaign hit its $1.5m target, the funds will be used to underpin the accelerator, its events and outreach activities for a further three years.

“We’ve already built the start of a vibrant startup movement in Gaza,” director of Gaza Sky Geeks Iliana Montauk told Philanthropy Age. “This is something that Gaza has never seen before, and young people are hungry for it. Gaza has so much more to offer – we are getting close to a tipping point, and people can be a part of that.”

Gaza’s economy has been battered by nearly half a century of Israeli occupation, which effectively blocks trade and exports from the territory. Average income in Palestine stood at $1,653 in 2012, and almost 1 in 4 adults in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are unemployed.

The latest 50-day conflict between Israeli Forces and militants in Gaza led to the death of at least 2,191 Palestinians, mostly civilian, and 71 Israelis, mostly soldiers. Whole neighbours and key infrastructure were flattened during the offensive; damage that the World Bank said in October had helped reverse seven years of growth in the Gazan economy.

Gaza Sky Geeks, which is operated by the global aid agency Mercy Corps, has reached more than 1,500 people since its launch in 2011 through an annual startup weekend and regular training events. Four of its startups have secured outside investment, and several more use its co-working hub to work towards bringing their ideas to market. Ideas range from sports-based social network Datrio, which seeks to tap the Arab world’s vast football fan base, to Wasselni, a carpooling app that turns taxis in urban areas into public transportation.

Women lead half of the startups in Gaza Sky Geeks’ pipeline, a ratio significantly higher than that seen in developed economies such as the US and Europe.

“Although humanitarian assistance is critical in Gaza, most youth are craving opportunity, not food,” said Montauk. “Youth in Gaza are among the Arab world’s most educated men and women, and they are hungry for the chance to prove themselves in the global marketplace.”

To donate to the Gaza Sky Geeks crowdfunding campaign, click here or visit the website at http://www.gazaskygeeks.com/en/

Photo credit: Magic Lens/Mercy Corps