A tech ecosystem is an interconnected, interdependent network of various actors that combine to create innovative products and services in tech. These actors primarily include tech startups; more established tech companies; tech company founders; investors and investment groups; and mentors and organisations that provide business support. Based on this definition, the tech ecosystem in Iraq is still very much in its infancy.
A successful tech ecosystem allows for many smaller companies to bring innovation to market. Operating alone would be difficult, and in many instances, impossible, without the on-going help of a tech ecosystem in a market typically dominated by a select few large cap companies. In our market, any tech startup will find it very hard to grow but as the market matures the network of support will no doubt make things easier.
There are supporting factors that play a crucial role in creating a tech ecosystem. These include the media; the government; a strong human resources talent pool; the education system; a predominant entrepreneurial culture, and a robust local infrastructure to support founders and investors in communicating, solving problems together, and coming up with innovative ideas.
Startups and Founders
Starting a company is incredibly challenging. Innovating is not easy, and it can quickly become more difficult if other areas of business demand a startup’s attention.
A tech ecosystem brings startups and founders together in a network, to overcome problems and share each other’s experiences. Furthermore, it raises spirits to challenge in a sector knowing you have a network of startup founders doing the same thing. And it gives individual companies the power to join forces on certain areas, giving them a stronger voice. We at Bite.Tech will be the voice of the Iraqi startup ecosystem.
Some hugely successful tech startups right now include Uber, TransferWise and Dropbox.
Investors and Investment Groups
Many startups choose to raise funds with external investors. Investors also often provide business advice and direction. Venture capitalists experienced in tech investment typically offer a startup capital in exchange for equity and they take an important consultative role in guiding the startup’s growth. Investors provide many startups with the lifeblood of business success – capital and knowhow.
One of the most important investment groups globally is Andreessen Horowitz.
Over the coming months we hope to identify investors interested in startups coming out of Iraq.
Accelerators and Incubators
Accelerators work to help a company or “accelerate” their growth through providing mentoring, training and promotion, among many other types of support. A tech incubator is a company that helps new tech startups and early stage companies with office space, equipment, funding, networking and legal advice, among many other roles. They are specifically dedicated to startups and early stage tech sector companies. Well known accelerators and incubators include Tech City in London and Y Combinator in California.
We will begin adding any accelerators and incubators in Iraq on our Resources page.
Serial Entrepreneurs, Angel Investors and Mentors
Tech ecosystems typically contain individuals who are involved in numerous tech entrepreneurial ventures (serial entrepreneurs), individuals who invest their own money in various tech startups (angel investors) and individuals who provide startup founders with much needed guidance and advice (mentors). It is also common for one individual to provide all three roles.
Any thriving tech ecosystem is littered with such individuals. A tech ecosystem is largely considered to need them to succeed, and vice-versa.
We have looked at the most important stakeholders in a tech ecosystem – the startup founders, investors and mentors who make up the core. But, centrally important as they are, there are various supporting players that complete a tech ecosystem, and importantly, they are imperative to success.
Countries and cities with thriving tech ecosystems tend to have a strong entrepreneurial culture, which is encouraged both through the education system and in society at large. Taking risks and the fear of failure go with the territory if aiming to innovate, and successful tech ecosystems are supported by a culture that understands this. If we want an example of such a country, we don’t have to look further than our neighbours in Iran who have a very mature tech startup ecosystem.
Government support is crucial. Not only does government assistance ensure that regulation and obstacles to market are easier to navigate, many countries provide start-ups with funding and training programmes, as well as tax breaks. Countries such as the UK and Ireland are prominent in assisting new tech startups in such ways. The former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, launched the aforementioned accelerator, Tech City, for instance. When will the respective governments of Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government begin to offer financial support, remove company formation obstacles, and offer tax breaks to tech entrepreneurs? Something similar to what the Latvia government has outlined.
Access to talented candidates is a cornerstone of any tech ecosystem. A tech startup with the most innovative ideas will not get very far if it does not have the workforce capable of making its ideas a reality. Strong talent pools are fostered through a good education system and immigration policies that allow businesses to attract talent from abroad. Being the CEO of a staffing and recruitment agency (MSELECT), I know first-hand that we have a lot of work to do to improve the knowledge and skills of our tech programmers, designers and engineers. There is certainly talent and interest, but they need a high level of training and specific education.
Over the coming months, we will be adding details of locally established web designers, developers, and other related service businesses such as social media agencies on our Resources page.
The media plays an important part in the success of tech ecosystems, providing coverage to local, regional, national and international audiences. In countries around the world, local media regularly cover tech funding rounds, product launches, milestone achievements, new partnership announcements and so forth.
This is something Bite.Tech hopes to achieve. We are a media channel dedicated to all things related to the tech startup scene in Iraq and Kurdistan. We will be reaching out to local media channels and agencies to raise awareness, whilst at the same time making sure that our news is seen at an international level, hence why our articles will be covered in English only.
All of the aforementioned core and supporting stakeholders combine to create a complex, interweaving tech ecosystem. We are in one of the few remaining frontier markets for such an ecosystem.