Iraqi Kurdistan, or the Kurdistan Region, is the autonomous region in the north of Iraq. Its economy is mainly powered by oil, and to a lesser extent other industries. Its capital city is Erbil, its government is known as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) – and it is set to power Iraq’s tech ecosystem growth.
Why Kurdistan will power Iraqi tech growth:
1. It Is Secure, Developed And Has A Strong Business Culture
The Kurdistan Region has enjoyed relative stability during recent periods of conflict in Iraq and isn’t really at risk of disruption from ISIL. It is this security coupled with developmental funding in the region since before 2003 that has allowed it to advance much quicker than the rest of Iraq.
Helped enormously by continued infrastructural investment and a liberal investment policy, which has attracted a lot of foreign money into the region, Kurdistan has become a real enterprise hub. In recent years Erbil’s skyline has been dotted increasingly with new hotels, luxury apartment buildings and office complexes, with demand making the city increasingly a cosmopolitan centre in the Middle East.
2. Its Oil And Gas Sector Provides A Reliable Revenue Stream
While the growing tech ecosystem will diversify Iraq’s economy away from a reliance on natural resources, oil and gas revenue trickles down into other areas of the country. Iraqi Kurdistan, with its massive oil and gas reserves, relies heavily on this sector. Due to its natural resource riches, Iraqi Kurdistan benefits from a trickle-down economy – oil and gas revenue goes towards investment of all kinds in the region.
3. The KRG Has Invested Heavily In Infrastructure
Erbil, the region’s capital city, counts on high speed internet, a wide range of commercial office space, and significant investment in city development. Erbil and Sulaimaniyah are home to two new international airports, with a third under construction in Duhok. Infrastructure development across the region continues, and although some Kurds would argue that money could be better spent, the KRG continues to invest heavily in improving the region’s infrastructure.
4. The Region Produces A Highly Educated Workforce
Kurdistan has 11 public and ten private universities. Many teach in English. This strength in education is complemented by the arrival of skilled Iraqis from other parts of the country and of Iraqi professionals returning home from working abroad. English is increasingly spoken as a second or third language. Access to talent is of course essential for any company. New tech startups in Kurdistan benefit greatly from an increased pool of highly educated candidates.
5. Kurdistan is already attracting investment as Iraq’s tech business hub
There are a number of reasons why Kurdistan is fast becoming a tech ecosystem hub. They include the trickle-down benefits from natural resource revenue, heavy regional investment, the production of highly educated new graduates, an entrepreneurial spirit and an inspired appetite to “catch up” with impressive Middle Eastern tech development elsewhere.
Another important factor in Kurdistan’s favour is the influx of foreign nationals in the last decade. More skilled professionals from other countries have chosen Kurdistan to live and work than any other region in Iraq.
This expat community mixed with the above reasons has attracted investment from tech businesses from neighbouring countries including Lebanon, Syria and Jordan over the last 18 months. These companies have chosen to set up in Kurdistan, having clearly noted the ripe business opportunity.
The final word
Growth of the Kurdistan tech ecosystem will have a positive impact on the entire country, not just the Kurdistan Region. There is still much work to be done and the government can certainly do more to help the tech sector progress. For now however, Iraq’s Kurdistan region has a very promising near future, and it is this region that is uniquely placed to power the country’s tech ecosystem growth in coming years.