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London Tech Week: ‘Palestine is open for business’

Palestinian entrepreneurs gather at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce for Palestine Entrepreneurship Day to promote Palestinian startups and help young entrepreneurs meet and network with the UK business community

Nine Palestinian entrepreneurs gathered at the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce on Friday for Palestine Entrepreneurship Day, which kicked off as part of London Tech Week.

MENACatalyst, in partnership with the Palestinian Mission to the UK and the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, organised the event to promote Palestinian startups and help young entrepreneurs meet and network with the UK business community.

“Today we are here in London along with nine Palestinian startups from the West Bank, from ’48 areas and from the diaspora to build business connections [and] explore new investment opportunities,” Ghassan Amayra, CEO of MENACatalyst told MEMO.

His organisation, he says, is on a mission to promote entrepreneurship in Palestine and help young Palestinian entrepreneurs explore new market opportunities. “We travelled with a bunch of startups to Chile and Dubai before, and we look forward to building partnerships here in London,” he added.

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“Palestinians are very well known [for] build[ing] businesses,” Majdi Khalil, Palestine’s Commercial Trade Representative to the UK, said in his opening remarks. “So they decided to build these businesses in the cloud,” he continued.

Majdi Khalil, Palestine’s Commercial Trade Representative to the UK, at Palestine Entrepreneurship Day, London, UK

Majdi Khalil, Palestine’s Commercial Trade Representative to the UK,  at Palestine Entrepreneurship Day in London, UK on 14 June 2019 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

“You know why? Because they don’t want the Israelis to destroy them,” he quipped, “they don’t want to go through road blocks and closures, so they thought, you know, in the cloud nobody can touch them.”

Khalil also noted that seven per cent of the GDP in Palestine comes from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector, with 23 per cent of tech startups founded by women; compared to 19 per cent in Lebanon, 12 per cent in New York and around ten per cent in Egypt.

From a charity-based gaming platform to an online medical database for the Arab world, a wide range of startup ideas were presented by the entrepreneurs to a room full of businessmen and journalists. Representatives from the UK Foreign Office, as well as the UK Consul-General to Jerusalem Philip Hall, were in attendance.

UK Consul-General to Jerusalem Philip Hall at Palestine Entrepreneurship Day in London, UK on 14 June 2019 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

UK Consul-General to Jerusalem Philip Hall at Palestine Entrepreneurship Day in London, UK on 14 June 2019 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

Some of the startups presented by the entrepreneurs – who come from across the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and the diaspora – are still in the prototype phase, while others have already launched their businesses and are looking for further investment to expand.

Amjad Shoughry – a behaviour analyst based in Jerusalem – has founded Autipoti, the first toilet (potty) training application in Arabic designed for children with autism. Based on a parent-mediated early intervention model, the application aims to help parents who live in remote areas with no access to rehabilitation frameworks acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to help them become their young children’s own therapists and successfully assist them with toilet training.

US-based Maher Janajri presented CoinBits, a Bitcoin investment application which he co-founded with his brother Yousef. By exchanging spare change left from credit card purchases into Bitcoin, the application aims to help people who wish to invest in the cryptocurrency but do not necessarily know how, or do not want to risk investing large sums of money.

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“Our mission is to make it incredibly easy for anyone around the world to invest in new frontier digital currencies,” Janajri told MEMO.

Launched only four months ago, CoinBits is making big strides and has been featured in the likes of Forbes magazine, TechCrunch and Market Watch. “Right now we have about 2,000 users investing in the app, which amounts to about over $15,000 investing in Bitcoin every single week”.

Perhaps the oldest of the startups presented at the event was Ola Baker’s startup Sebana Medical, a biopharmaceutical company established in 2015 which focuses on the development of a proprietary patented technology for preventing fat cell reabsorption following fat transplantation in aesthetic procedures.

Ola Baker presents Sebana Medical at Palestine Entrepreneurship Day in London, UK on 14 June 2019 [Jehan Alfarra/Middle East Monitor]

“We already have a proof of concept in small animals and [are] now raising funds for the clinical trials, which we hope to start by the beginning of next year,” Baker told MEMO.

“For that we need to raise $8 million,” she said. “We have raised $3.5 million so far to conduct the pre-clinical trials.”

Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, concluded with a message to onlookers: “When I hear the son-in-law of [US] President [Donald] Trump, Jared Kushner, only a few days ago saying that Palestinians are not ready to govern themselves, I want him to come and see these leaders,” referring to the Palestinian entrepreneurs.

“If he [knew] what the Palestinian people are about, he wouldn’t have said that condescending statement,” he continued.

“So when they want to replace our political rights and substitute these rights with some financial promises, what do we tell them? Palestine is open for business, because Palestine is full of innovation and creativity, but Palestine is not up for sale.”

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