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Youth-led startups find tech solutions to unemployment

By Camille Dupire - Jul 30,2018 - Last updated at Jul 31,2018

Mrayti helps connect local hairdressers with customers across the Kingdom, ensuring the provision of a safe and secure service (Photo courtesy of Mrayti Facebook page)

AMMAN — Being a startup in Jordan is like climbing a very steep hill, full of pitfalls, said Khaleel Najjar, programme manager at Mercy Corps, which recently launched a three-year initiative aimed at supporting innovative technologies to address barriers to youth and migrant employment. 

Established in 2017 with the support of Google.org, the Youth Impact Labs (YIL) programme seeks to identify and stimulate creative, technology-oriented solutions to Jordan’s unemployment challenge, according to a joint statement.

"When examining the current environment and business ecosystem, we found a multitude of startups and young entrepreneurs motivated to develop solutions to the issue of unemployment," Najjar told The Jordan Times at the Mercy Corps offices in Amman, adding that "what the impact lab seeks to do is provide support to these tech ideas, so they can be turned into self-sufficient and sustainable solutions in the future".

Focusing on youth aged between 18 and 35 years, the initiative aims to strengthen the local, dynamic ecosystems by fostering demand-driven skills, innovation and ideation.

"One of the main challenges facing young entrepreneurs is the gap between investors and early-stage startups, which hinders the access to seed funding," Najjar remarked, stressing that the YIL facilitate the partnership between incubators, major stakeholders and relevant entities, so as to help entrepreneurs overcome the barriers of networking, security and funding, among others.

"We focus on the sector of the shared economy, replicating the booming model of Uber or Careem. These companies successfully managed to build on a technology-based concept to deliver a service needed by customers," the programme manager noted, adding that the lab looked at initiatives in other sectors using that idea of shared economy.

Mohammad Batikhi was one of the first beneficiaries of the programme, with his tech startup Bilforon, which focuses on developing tools and applications for managing and analysing online food orders.  

"I came up with the idea in 2016, after realising that many women have business potential but lack the right tools and resources to develop and grow their business and skill," Batikhi recounted, noting that Bilforon provides a delivery service for home cooked meals in Jordan.

"The grant from Mercy Corps-YIL had a great impact on my initiative, as it highly enhanced our existing technology and improved most of our operations," he told The Jordan Times, stressing that "by doing so, we managed to drastically increase the number of beneficiaries and users of Bilforon".

The grant also helped the Bilforon team develop crucial skills that they were not aware of, such as legal agreements, according to Batikhi, who said that the startup gained the ability to provide professional training to their management staff so as to enhance their skills and knowledge in cooking business and quality management. 

“Through Bilforon, we are improving people’s lives as we are able to support women and girls in improving their livelihood. They are now able to make life changing decisions thanks to the income they receive from working with us,” the Bilforon founder and CEO rejoiced.

Najjar said that Mercy Corps partnered with six startups to date, which they provide with "strategic investment and technical support to address their main challenges and best adapt to the market system", adding "ultimately, the programme aims to unlock the growth of these startups to enable them to collectively create work opportunities for youth in Jordan".

Among the startups currently supported by YIL are Instatoot, a platform that connects young tutors to school students; Carers, an early stage start-up that links nurses and babysitters with households; and Lina Gas, a mobile app that enables the delivery process of oil and gas products.

Meanwhile, the innovative Mrayti platform gives independent hairdressers access to clients across the country, based on the idea that "beauty should be accessible, affordable, and non-time consuming", according to the startup founder Romouz Sadeq.

 "We started with five hair stylists and we now have around 20 hair stylists, aiming to reach 50 by the end of this year. They all get a minimum of JD700 per month for the services they provide," Sadeq told The Jordan Times, noting that the grant from Mercy Corps greatly increased their access to the national market and helped expand their operations.

"Mrayti and Bilforon are both helping to boost entrepreneurship among women and young people in Jordan by drawing on the country’s growing tech industry and the vitality of the refugee population," Najjar stressed, citing a number of success stories from beneficiaries involved in these startups.

The programme currently operates in two regional hubs in Jordan and Kenya, and is expected to expand to the Middle Eastern and North African regions, according to the programme manager.

"The support to startups is one of three main initiatives developed through the Mercy Corps-Google.org partnership, which will also include a job matching for blue collar workers and an ideation for talent management solutions," he concluded. 

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