If you are familiar with Gaza’s fast-growing entrepreneurial sector, you will know that Gaza’s tech community holds at least one Startup Weekend event every year. Tonight, however, a special startup weekend event kicks off in the coastal enclave: Startup Weekend Gaza – Kids.
“It is the first startup event exclusively for kids in the Middle East,” Startup Weekend Gaza (SWG) organiser, Ahmed Saqer, tells MEMO.
A 54-hour global event that aims to encourage entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own businesses, the weekend sees developers, designers and business-oriented individuals come together to find out if their business ideas are viable and work in teams to produce business prototypes. The event attracts speakers, coaches, panellists/judges, various sponsors and company representatives.
Powered by Google for Entrepreneurs, all Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: participants begin with 60-second open mic pitches, form teams around the top startup ideas voted on by the participants, then spend the weekend developing and perfecting prototypes for their respective businesses before presenting them in front of local entrepreneurial leaders for critical feedback.
The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector and outsourcing have been a source of much hope for Gaza’s economy in the past few years, particularly since using a borderless zone like the internet allows Gaza’s besieged tech entrepreneurs to bypass closed borders and export their services online. “It is our only window to the outside world,” Saqer says, adding that there has been a growing interest in entrepreneurship as well.
Gaza’s ICT graduates have increasingly been looking into creating their own startup businesses that are much more profitable and give them ownership of their ideas. “Startup Weekend has helped a lot of university graduates from the ICT and business sectors to actually kickstart businesses and succeed,” Saqer says.
Recently Gaza organised a special Startup Weekend event for those interested in education innovation. The event was a huge success and gave birth to several startups, three of which are due to launch in September.
“Four participants in the SWG-Edu were aged 15-16 and they were wonderful,” Saqer adds. “One of them was a member of the team who won first place.”
That is where the idea for a Startup Weekend event exclusively for kids came from, Saqer explains.
Startup Weekend Gaza – Kids
“Between 25-27 August, we will have 50 kidpreneurs aged 10-15 pitch their ideas to experts, form teams, and begin/plan their own business,” Saqer explains.
“The idea was greatly welcomed in Gaza and there was a lot of interest,” he adds. “We didn’t expect to receive more than 350 applications in such a short period of time.”
Organised and led by volunteer community leaders and sponsored by a number of local partners who facilitate and provide services, the event includes 11 mentors who will guide the kids and assist them as they plan and develop their business ideas.
On Thursday evening, 50 children will pitch their ideas to participants and mentors who will vote for the best 10 ideas. The 10 children with the highest votes will then form teams, choosing talents suitable to their business needs from the remaining 40 participants.
Each of the 10 teams will work independently, with the assistance and guidance of the mentors. By the end of the day, each team should ideally have developed their business or produced a prototype to present the following day.
The teams present their business model to the audience and panel of judges who then choose the winners.
“The goals of the event are a little different from the standard Startup Weekend events,” Saqer explains. “Whereas normally the aim is to produce a prototype for the business, GSW-Kids focuses more on the learning process and introducing them to the field of entrepreneurship.”
“Therefore, the event is much more flexible,” he continues. “The kids will have more than the standard 60 seconds to pitch their startup ideas, with room for feedback and Q&A in order to help them make sure their pitch is clear and comprehensive.”
“If kids start to pay attention to this important field from now, it means that once they graduate from university in a few years’ time, they will have the knowledge capital and the practical experience for how to start a business.”
Despite the overwhelming challenges that Gaza’s entrepreneurs face as a result of the Israeli siege, from electricity cuts lasting up to 16 hours a day to travel and trade restrictions, they continue to find an outlet of hope in web-based startups. Their incredible positive energy, talent and eagerness to reach new, larger markets continues to provide a source of hope.
For now, Gaza’s small but vibrant ecosystem is sustained by a growing commitment from investors and donors, as well as the passion and determination of Gaza’s tech community to join the global startup community. Should the siege be lifted, much of Gaza’s tech-savvy community’s untapped potential would be unleashed.