As the subheader implies, the blog’s immediate mission is to introduce a wider audience to inspiring stories of entrepreneurship from the Middle East. If that can gain enough traction, then the long-term dream is to develop into an organization that can actually support those stories in a way that goes beyond just blog posts.
After my undergraduate studies, I spent a year working in Palestine. While there, I had the privilege of connecting with a blossoming Ramallah-based ecosystem of entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, and startup junkies. Those folks and their stories of resilience and hope sparked my own passion for entrepreneurship, a passion that has guided my career moves to date.
The two basic hypotheses behind StartMENAUp are 1) that others will find those same stories as interesting and inspiring as I have, and 2) that similar stories exist across the Middle East and diaspora.
To start out, I’ll share the stories mainly in the form of interviews with key characters, profile pieces of various organizations (startups, VCs, etc), and conference reviews. I’d also love to get some guest contributors involved to write about their own stories or publish advice for aspiring entrepreneurs themselves.
If you have recommendations of people or organizations for me to cover, or would like to contribute something yourself, please get in touch!
When it comes to understanding the MENA region’s Seed stage venture capital and startup ecosystem, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with a wider breadth of experience than Hasan Haider. Formerly the Managing Partner of 500 Startups’ MENA Fund, Hasan and his partner Sharif Elbadawi launched Plus.VC in the fall of 2020 to continue the work they started at 500 Startups in 2017, backing the region and its diaspora’s most exciting Seed stage founders.
Like any good entrepreneur, Hasan’s foray into this world started with a pain point he experienced as a consumer. Namely, he couldn’t get access to the DVDs he wanted to watch in Bahrain. To solve this, he founded his first startup. As I heard the rest of his journey, I realized that this “see something, do something” attitude has really guided Hasan’s career all the way up until the founding of Plus.VC. He identified the missing components in his own experience as founder, which led him to set up Bahrain’s first angel investing network. That exposed him to the region’s funding gap for Seed stage startups, which propelled him to 500 Startups. While there, he was involved in nearly ¼ of the regions’ Seed deals, a track record that sets Plus.VC up nicely to invest “early and often in the non-obvious emerging market entrepreneurs, taking an early leadership role with founders to set them up for success.”
Read on to learn more about why Hasan’s so fired up about the region’s potential, what it’s like raising for a VC fund in MENA, what Hasan looks for in a founder, and so much more.
I had the great fortune of touring Egypt’s startup ecosystem with Germine Bouchnack, an Associate at Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP) and their Egypt Operations Manager. Talk about a rising star! Germine’s journey into entrepreneurship started during university and has traversed such notable local, regional and global institutions as Hult Prize, the Commercial International Bank (CIB), and Flat6Labs, before joining MEVP at the end of 2020. I’d suggest you follow her closely, because in a few years, this will be just one of the early articles or interviews profiling her work. I’m confident that her passion for entrepreneurship and venture capital, combined with her desire to make an impact at both a grassroots and national level will continue to lead her career into new and exciting places.
Algeria and its potential has fascinated me for a while. It’s a huge country, with the largest population in the Maghreb (many of whom happen to speak at least two languages), a widespread diaspora, and an enormous youth bubble. The country seems ripe for disruptive startups, and yet, it’s lagged behind its neighbors in developing a startup ecosystem. The powerful central government has historically revolved around traditional industries, namely exporting petroleum. The country’s insular nature also makes it a bit harder to find “on-the-ground” information about entrepreneurship in Algeria, so I was really lucky to connect with Aouf Abdellah, the Algerian founder of GO Platform.
Abdellah is part of a growing movement of Algerians turning to entrepreneurship as the government loosens regulations and the economy looks beyond oil. Not only is he extremely optimistic about his country’s future and the economic opportunities therein, but he’s dedicated his career and startup to ensuring that Algerians across the country benefit from those opportunities. GO Platform’s mission is to provide young people with the opportunities and mindset to realize their dreams.