Jun 28,2010

The visible signs of exemplary diligence and governance are so plainly evident to the eyes of the visitor. From the moment you land in Amman, Jordan captures your mind.

Jordan’s story deserves to be better known. On the human resources side, the country boasts the most educated workforce in the Middle East, the highest “brain gain” rate of returnees and Diasporas, and the most convincing display of genuine, healthy private-public partnership. Venture capitalists, CEOs, NGOs, ministers and educators share a common vision. Their body language complements the narrative, and speaks of hope and commitment to build a better future.

On the economic development side, the accomplishments of the last few years speak volumes: robust GDP growth approaching 8 percent per year in the last five years; 144 percent jump in FDI; 41 percent decrease in national debt; and a healthy, modern ICT sector ballooning to account for 10% of the GDP – all while building an infrastructure that earned Jordan the accolade of the most connected country in the region. And to complete the mosaic, it is worth noting that Jordan ranks first in the Arab World on many counts, including globalization, quality of life, scientific research, and medical tourism.

Jordan economic opportunity graphJordan economic growth graph

We spent four productive days in Jordan. TechWadi100 Charter Members Fadi Ghandour, Usama Fayyad, Saeed Amidi, and Magid Abraham, together with State Department leaders Steven Koltai and Greg Behrman, were accompanied by five US VCs and CEOs to explore areas of cooperation between Jordan and Silicon Valley. We were hosted by the dynamic and inexhaustible Marwan Juma, Minister of ICT, who helped us feel the pulse of the country through many pertinent touch points:

Photo - Ossama Hassanein & Usama Fayyad
  • Int@j*: CEO Abdelmajeed Shamlawi highlighted the activities of the association’s 107 members, whose combined revenue growth of 30 percent per year and 15,000 employees are quickly propelling the ICT sector to a leadership position in MENA, while actively pursuing export markets (US, Saudi Arabia, etc), and engaging in high value-add sectors such as Web Arabization, interactive media, graphics design, animation, and mobile applications development.
  • Oasis 500: Seed Venture Development Company focused on enabling early stage companies in IT and online media to transform new business ideas into viable business. OASIS 500, led by our able Usama Fayyad, will operate boot camps and incubators to house up to 500 startups in the next five years, and provide mentorship and financing through its seed fund and Angel network.
  • IrisGuard: led by the passionate Imad Malhas, IrisGuard created its technology and deployed it through collaborative efforts with Bath and Cambridge Universities in the UK and EPFL in Lausanne. Today, the company is considered a pioneer of iris recognition for authentication and identification in border crossing, homeland security, and financial transactions. Its systems are deployed across the GCC and most recently in the US through the National Sheriff’s Association.
  • ProgressSoft, Aspire, ITG and Rubicon presented their success stories of building in Jordan international IT and media companies engaged in diverse businesses such as electronic check clearing, content management, IT outsourcing, and animation. In each case, inspiring CEOs (Michael Wakileh, Kaushal Shah, Walid Tahabsem, and Randa Ayoubi) seem to share common characteristics: ability to create a sustainable differential advantage, magnetic personalities that attract and retain world class talent, prudent yet aggressive international expansion, and dedication to long term value creation.
Photo - Minister Marwan Jumaa

 

Jordan’s population is young, 70% are under 30, and young entrepreneurs abound. We met many:

  • At Injaz, an NGO that “seeks to educate and inspire young people to succeed in a global economy by bridging the gap between the outcomes of the educational system and the needs of the job market”. Starting from 7th grade through university, more than 100,000 students each year benefit from complementary soft and hard skills courses, job training, shadowing, job placement and internship programs. CEO Deema Bibi lacks not in energy, passion and inspiration, neither do the dozen very young entrepreneurs who demonstrated their wares in a mini fair format.
  • At Endeavor and IV Holdings, where approximately 30 entrepreneurs engaged in web design, Arabization, media, gaming and mobile apps met with us in round table format to discuss their businesses and explore resolutions to key challenges such as monetization, lead generation and conversion, web measurement metrics, and the cost/benefits of implantation in Silicon Valley.
  • At Hassan Science City where dozens of business plans were in process and hundreds of eager entrepreneurs directly engaged with our visiting team on TechTuesday to explore wide ranging subjects from role models to export markets, business planning and venture capital financing.
PhotoPhoto

The direct engagement with entrepreneurs, young and mature, proved mesmerizing. Equally impressive were the meetings with King Abdullah the Reformer, who warmly complimented our initiative; with Queen Rania – who inspires with her radiance, intelligence and focus on education; and with the Ministers of ICT, Planning, Industry & Trade, Energy & Mineral Resources, and the CEO of Jordan Investment Board. With the Ministers, we engaged in in-depth discussions related to setting up a fund and an incubator that will complement private and public sectors and help accelerate the financing of promising entrepreneurs.

TechWadi Delegation & King Abdullah of Jordan

In the last supper, hosted by Fadi Ghandour at home, Usama Fayyad summarized our feelings as follows: we are very impressed with the degree to which entrepreneurship fever is spreading in Lebanon and Jordan. We feel that a new, positive, unifying force is taking hold in the region at the grass roots levels, and that this energy should be nourished and amplified not just through our words and moral support, but through real programs and action on the ground to take advantage of a unique window of opportunity in this historically troubled region.

Of particular note was that the entrepreneurial spirit has taken hold not just in the big cities where the population is expected to have strong exposure to technology; but that it was extremely strong even in more remote and economically disadvantaged (or even devastated) portions of Lebanon and Jordan—cf. Tripoli in Northern Lebanon and Irbid/Koora and remote villages in Northern Jordan.  Despite serious issues of communications and transportation, we have uncovered real gems at the grass roots with very impressive local programs that are helping these efforts take root.  While their budgets are microscopic, the attention and energy they stimulate are overwhelming.

The transformation is no longer limited to the privileged and intelligentsia. It’s a groundswell. Jordan and Lebanon are indeed ready to produce many success stories with the appropriate levels of support in investment funds, in mentorship, in training and in know-how transfer.

Kind Regards,

Ossama Hassanein
Chairman of the Board

TechWadi
www.techwadi.org


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