It might be surprising to know that the region of the Middle East has become a blossoming entrepreneurial, tech startup hub. From Jordan to Lebanon and Iran to Egypt, the region has made significant progress with innovation driving tech startup growth. Israel has more startups per capita than anywhere else in the world.
Iraq has been the notable absentee from this tech ecosystem growth. Over the last 18 months I’ve dedicated my time researching the Iraqi tech ecosystem, along with a group of committed, talented writers and entrepreneurs. We believe that we are on the verge of imminent breakthroughs and of establishing our own strong tech ecosystem here in Iraq.
When most people think of our country, they think of the wars and the ensuing conflict that crippled the country. But this is only very recent history in the country that gave birth to one of the greatest commerce and trade regions the world has ever known. It is a country steeped in the history of human civilisation.
Now, Iraqis are hopeful of leaving the recent issues that have plagued the country in the past and to harness its considerable resources to drive economic recovery.
One key area for this to happen is the fostering of a tech entrepreneurial community. In the last few years, a large group of tech entrepreneurs has emerged, who have created the beginnings of an Iraqi tech ecosystem from scratch. And it is now beginning to show signs of advancing beyond its primary stage.
The Blossoming Iraqi Tech Startup Space
The impact of the conflict witnessed in the country since 2003 has led to a dearth of foreign investment. It has also badly affected the education system. This has led to a lack of capital and of talent, respectively. Up to now, the tech startup community has had to be innovative and adaptable to deal with problems in financing, infrastructure and human resources.
The two main Iraqi tech startup cities are the capital, Baghdad, and the capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil.
Entrepreneur events include Startup Weekend in both cities. These 54-hour events take place periodically, and bring together the tech startup community to network, share ideas and solve problems.
My Entrepreneurial Dream (or “MyeDream” as it is commonly known) is a startup incubator, whose aim is to promote and build tech ecosystems across the Middle East.
FikraSpace is the country’s largest support community for entrepreneurs and creative types all over Iraq. This group is at the forefront of tech networking and for providing support to tech startups through events, workshops and training sessions.
Bite.Tech is our very own online newsletter that recently launched for news on Iraq’s tech ecosystem and digital economic growth. We will raise awareness of all important developments and connect the Iraqi tech ecosystem to the outside world.
Moreover, increasing numbers of young Iraqis are showing an interest in entrepreneurship and how to get into tech business.
Future prospects and challenges
Like many up-and-coming tech ecosystems, in Iraq we are seeking to attract investors, to gain support from the government and to help create a talent pool that will meet the human resources needs for a tech ecosystem to grow and thrive.
These are our main challenges. It is thanks to the hard work by a large group of dedicated entrepreneurs that our ecosystem has grown this far. To grow further, what we really need is a support network and funding.
A first major step to achieve this would be some significant action on the government’s part. This would help to turn foreign investors to our country and the investment massive opportunities here.
Government support in terms of events, networking and acquiring the skills needed would be a boon to our prospects. There is a deficit of programmers, coders, designers and engineers, whereas other Middle Eastern countries are able to count on government funding that goes towards specialised tech education.
It would also lead to more widespread media coverage, at local, national and international level, which is critical for a tech ecosystem’s success.
In terms of the wider economy, it is now clear that a focus on entrepreneurship in countries that have been dependent on commodities for economic prosperity is the way forward. Along with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, Iraq has suffered from the global drop of 60% in oil prices in recent years.
In order to protect itself from a similar development in future and to move away from a dependence on oil, Saudi Arabia has begun to channel focus and investment into encouraging entrepreneurship.
This is something that the Iraqi government could do too in order to effect positive change in the wider economy.
While we face a number of important challenges now and in coming years, the Iraqi tech ecosystem has developed a strong foundation of which, with continued dedication and hard work, we are optimistic for the next stage in our tech ecosystem’s development.