Last fall, we took on a tour across the Middle East in search for the most passionate, promising, and creative Syrian startups in the Middle East. Embarking on the first Startup Roadshow, organized with SPARK and in collaboration with Startups Without Borders, we took on a thrilling journey through the cities that host the largest number of Syrian youth in the region; The cities that host their dreams, their ambition, and their eagerness to craft businesses with vision.
Touring across Beirut, Amman, Erbil, Gaziantep, and Istanbul, our team held a series of 5-day bootcamps, where industry leaders and pioneers mentored them to take their businesses to the next level.
Just as we launch the Startup Roadshow 2019, we take a look at the 10 championing startups that headed to the finals last year, held in Amsterdam and Beirut.
Their businesses crystallize their creativity, their eagerness for impact, and their talent to support a vision with a business plan. Some of the startups tackle mental health, while others address the difficulty to register new births when living abroad.
The most ambitious aim to revolutionize the massive travel industry, while the impact-driven focus on employing refugee craftsmen through technology. But there is one thing all the entrepreneurs had in common: the grit and the passion to build ground-shaking products. Here’s the 3 stories behind the winners of the Startup Roadshow 2018.
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- Shiffer, from Erbil
Shiffer’s founder Azhar Al-Madani on stage at Ignite 2018. Photo credit: Tom Nicholson.
“In April 2016 I welcomed my baby girl, and after a long and exhausting journey to issue her birth certificate, Shiffer was born,” says Azhar Al Madani. His problem is familiar to many Syrians living abroad: while children born in exile inherit Syrian nationality automatically if their father is a Syrian citizen, children born in exile are at risk of statelessness due to the difficulties documenting their connection to Syria and right to nationality, a report by the Norwegian Refugee Council says. In fact, in Turkey, over 311,000 babies of Syrian origin have been born under the stateless status, according to the Turkish Parliament’s Refugee Subcommittee.
Aiming to tackle this problem, Azhar created Shiffer, a peer-to-peer logistics platform that connects travellers willing to carry shipments for a cash reward, with people in need to ship documents or items.
The startup, based in Erbil, won the first prize in the SPARK Ignite conference in Amsterdam, worth $8.000 on November 28th. “Taking on this journey was very intense, but it has negative and positive facets. I was alone, I felt lost and unguided. But the positive side is that I learned a lot about myself and the world,” he says. The entrepreneur continued to reap awards, as he recently won the MIT Enterprise Forum Pan Arab’s Innovate for Refugees competition, in Amman.
- Fadfed, from Amman
Ibrahem Ahmad during his pitch at Ignite 2018. Photo credit: Tom Nicholson.
Ibrahem Ahmed is one of the most passionate entrepreneurs you’ll meet. Driven by the relentless will to solve a problem, this young entrepreneur aims to provide access to mental health to youth across the Arab world.
His startup Fadfed, based in Jordan, is a bot-powered platform, for people to start a conversation with a mental health professional, in a manner that not only ensures their accessibility, but also confidentiality and privacy, hence tackling the taboo surrounding mental health in the MENA region.
Ibrahem is driven by the will to improve the lives of thousands of young Syrians, who are affected by displacement and do not find mental health support. The chatbot also includes a feature for life coaching.
The startup, based in Amman, won the second place in the SPARK Ignite conference in Amsterdam. “We really believe in the great benefit to the individual’s personal and practical life and its impact on the lives of refugees, and we will do everything we can to push this forward,” said Ahmed.
- Sharqi Shop, from Amman
Saleem Najjar at the Spark Ignite conference in Amsterdam. Photo credit: Tom Nicholson
Saleem Najjar is the mindmaster behind Sharqi Shop, an e-commerce platform that connects Syrian and Jordanian artisans based in Jordan with the global market, helping them market and sell their products online.
The entrepreneur was inspired by the artisans he met within the Syrian community in Jordan. Having realized their main concern was reaching potential new customers or selling their products in Jordan, as they didn’t have sales or distribution channels, he teamed up with two co-founders and created Sharqi Shop.
“We pitched the idea of a marketplace for art crafts to Oasis500; we knew the technical part of starting online stores, but we didn’t have a lot of experience in trading and operations; we wanted to learn. This was my first time pitching, but luckily we got accepted in the program immediately.” he says, recalling the early days of the startup.
Saleem was awarded the YAG Audience Prize at the Ignite Conference, provided by the Young Advisory Group, a student-led advising firm in the Netherlands, and also won the European Youth Award in Austria.