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Google executive impressed by level of technology, global thinking in Amman

By Emily Packer - Oct 18,2015 - Last updated at Oct 18,2015

AMMAN — “Things are changing in the blink of an eye” for tech start-ups in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with the sector achieving “crazy momentum”, Sharif El Badawi, partner lead to venture capital and start-ups at Google, said Sunday.

He highlighted improvements in funding for start-ups, with 12 new MENA-focused venture capital funds with over $50 million established in 2015 alone, and in the number of well-publicised investments in regional companies by global players.

“What’s going to drive investment are innovations and technology that are born here but have a global audience,” he added.

Badawi made his remarks at a two-day TechWadi conference in Amman, which began on Sunday. The first day consisted of talks by representatives of tech giants such as Google and Facebook, while the second offers mentoring sessions to 60 Jordanian entrepreneurs. 

TechWadi, a nonprofit organisation linking MENA entrepreneurs with Arab-Americans in the US tech industry, selected Amman as one of four host cities for its first Middle East roadshow, which is supported by Google for Entrepreneurs. The other events are in Beirut, Cairo and Dubai.

Badawi told The Jordan Times that he supported Amman’s selection after being impressed by “the level of technology and knowledge and global thinking” in the capital during a visit earlier this year, as well as by the tenacity and efficiency he found in Jordanian entrepreneurs.

“It’s something that we actually struggle with in Silicon Valley — to get entrepreneurs to go back to scrappy roots,” he added.

Jordan has “a great, closely knit start-up ecosystem… like a big village,” agreed Emile Cubeisy, managing partner at Silicon Badia, which runs venture capital funds investing in the Middle East and the US.

However, he pointed out that the fragmentation of the MENA market is a difficulty for tech companies in the region, asserting that it is easier for employees to get a visa to the US than to Saudi Arabia.

Ahmad Al Hanandeh, CEO of Zain Jordan, whose Innovation Campus hosted the event, saw Singapore as a model for the Kingdom, going from a minor economic player 40 years ago to achieving the No. 1 place in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 ICT ranking.

Jordan ranked 52nd, behind all Gulf Arab countries except Kuwait, but ahead of the rest of the MENA region.

Badawi also voiced hope that technology would be a broader force for change in the region.

“I’m from an Egyptian background and I see a lot of despair in the region about the Arab Spring, but entrepreneurs just go on building their products,” he said. “When governments don’t feel like they can change their own countries, they rely on founders and entrepreneurs to do it.”


TechWadi is encouraging start-ups to apply to its 2016 accelerator programme, which brings MENA companies with global business plans to California to pitch to US partners and investors.

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