Perseverance: The Key To An Entrepreneur's Success In Palestine
Entrepreneurship –and especially digital entrepreneurship– in Palestine comes with many obstacles unique to the area.
The beginning of a new year is a time to sit down and reminisce about what one has achieved over the past 12 months, and where one stands at the moment before dividing into the new day. This is the time to recall both personal and professional achievements. As an entrepreneur, at the beginning of 2020, I naturally find myself evaluating the performance of my startup Mashvisor, a real estate data analytics platform, not only throughout 2019 but since we established it in 2014, as well as my own accomplishments as the company's co-founder and CEO. Despite all the hardships of starting and running a business in the Middle East in general, and, more specifically, Palestine, I can state that today Mashvisor stands where I would not have imagined it back in 2014, even in my wildest dreams. The one lesson that I have learnt from being an entrepreneur in this politically, economically, and socially challenging environment is that perseverance is the key to success.
No doubt, entrepreneurship –and especially digital entrepreneurship– in Palestine comes with many obstacles unique to the area. Though it might sound surprising, one of the main challenges that we have encountered throughout our journey (and which we continue to face today) is finding people with the right skills and talents. Palestinian people pride themselves in the high level of literacy and education that they attain, particularly among youth. However, there is a major mismatch between the skills taught at colleges and universities, and the skills required by startups and small businesses such as Mashvisor. Palestinian education is focused on traditional subjects, programs, and capacities that are of little or no relevance to tech startups. Meanwhile, critical thinking, problemsolving, innovation, and other soft skills sought by entrepreneurs and employers are neglected or completely ignored.
The inability to find the right talents and skills has increased our employee turnover rate immensely. And I know for a fact that this is a challenge that is not unique to Mashvisor, but a problem that the vast majority of Palestinian startups face as per my fellow entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, with perseverance and determination to not only succeed as a company, but to also support local socio-economic development, we have been able to build a small but strong and motivated team that has turned into the backbone of our startup. For my partner Mohammed Jebrini and me, it is important to hire local youth as much as possible, because unemployment among Palestinian youth is at 45%, and is even higher for young women at 70%. In cases when we have been fully unable to find local talent, we have resorted to looking for qualified employees outside Palestine, since we have to move forward as a business. The geographical proximity to, and the fact that we are in the same or a similar time zone as the rest of Asia and Eastern Europe has given us a major advantage in this regard. As all entrepreneurs know, finding funds to start and grow your business is crucially important. Even the most genius business idea is doomed to fail unless one secures proper financing to develop it. That's yet another major challenge that we have encountered when starting a business in Palestine. While the West Bank and Gaza are among the largest recipients of foreign aid per capita, most donor money goes to humanitarian projects, while employment creation and income generation initiatives are not usually a priority. At the same time, local capital is generally invested abroad, where the political and social climate is more stable, and thus more conducive to doing business.
This reality leaves Palestinian entrepreneurs with very limited local opportunities. Nonetheless, once again, we at Mashvisor have been able to overcome this obstacle by not giving up, and continuing to work on our business idea. One of our major investors has been Ibtikar Fund, the only major venture capital fund supporting Palestinian startups in the seed and early stages. This early funding has been crucial for us to grow to a level where we can compete in and win regional and international startup competitions. Most recently, we won first place at MIT Enterprise Forum's 12th Arab Startup Competition in Beirut, Lebanon in March 2019. Such prizes serve as yet another proof that with hard work and persistence, you can overcome any challenges, including those that entrepreneurship faces in Palestine and the rest of the Middle East.
As we welcome 2020, I am confident that there are more exciting developments awaiting Mashvisor in the new decade. And I encourage more and more Palestinian entrepreneurs to look beyond the obvious obstacles and challenges, and instead see the endless opportunities that one can build upon, even in an apparently restrictive business environment.