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THE LATEST FROM THE TECH STARTUP ECOSYSTEM OF IRAQ

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Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship Summit in Erbil

On the 2nd of December, Re:Coded and Five One Labs hosted the Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship Summit sponsored by UNHCR and Zain Iraq. The event was part of their commemoration of 16 Days of Activism, which is an international campaign starting from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The campaign originated from the first Women's Global Leadership Institute coordinated by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in 1991.

The Women in Tech and Entrepreneurship summit brought together inspiring female leaders and innovators to explore opportunities for women in technology and entrepreneurship in Iraq.

Through inspirational keynotes, panel discussions on technology and entrepreneurship, and skills and career development workshops, this event provided all the content and networking opportunities for females to flourish in the tech and startup sectors in Iraq.

The panel discussion hosted key speakers and experts in the tech industry and Entrepreneurship and was moderated by Zahra Shah, Program Manager at Iraq Re:Coded.  Key topics the panel discussed include the digital gender gap, opportunities and challenges in the tech and startup sectors in Iraq and the importance of role models to inspire more women to enter the world of technology and entrepreneurship.

The Panelists were:

Safa Salwan, Founder of Women Techmakers Baghdad

Ravan Al-Taie, Founder of The Book Cafe Erbil

Ava Nadir, Head of Zain Kurdistan Marketing Communication and PR Department

Vian Taher, Head of HR for Zain Iraq

"If women believe in themselves and have enough faith and confidence, they can not only be good at what they do but excel".

- Safa Salwan

"I thought to myself, what if I have a place where I can drink coffee and read books for free So I founded the Book Cafe!"

- Ravan altaie

"We cry, we're sensitive, that's why we are successful, because we bring harmony to a working place".

- Ava Nadir

Along with the panel discussion, the summit provided two skills and career development workshops for the participants which were:

1. Intro to Coding: Create an Android App

During our introductory workshop, the participants explored the basics of the Java programming language and XML by writing their own lines of code and covering key coding terms and principles. At the end, the participants developed a simple Android application.

2. Launching your Startup

During this introductory entrepreneurship workshop, the participants interviewed customers, brainstormed innovative solutions, and developed a prototype of a potential business idea, all during the two hours. They were also introduced to the Business Model Canvas and learned how to develop a testable business model.

The event took place at Tech hub, a community working space for tech startups in Iraq, based in Erbil, to give budding Iraqi techstars the springboard they need to build, grow and scale their startup in a fully supportive tech environment.

To learn more about TechHub, visit http://www.bite.tech/news/techhub-launches-iraqs-first-tech-startup-coworking-space.

Below are some photos of the event.

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Interner Censorship In Iraq by Bite.Tech

Internet Censorship In Iraq

It is not common knowledge to the outside world that Iraq has very little Internet censorship in comparison to its neighboring countries. The rise of smart phones in the market and the popularity of Facebook were some of the main influences of Internet growth in the country. In fact, some of the older generation were calling the Internet phenomenon Facebook. Social media played an important role in developing the Internet in many parts of the world; this was no different in Iraq as there is no censorship on social media. Iraq shares borders with Iran and Syria, two countries that are listed as Enemies of the Internet, a publication by Reporters Without Borders. Surprisingly, Iraq is not listed as Countries under Surveillance by the same report, however Turkey and the UAE are included.  

However, due to security situations, Iraq does experience social media cut outs for short periods; such as in 2014 when ISIS first entered the country. Iraq banned some social media websites like Facebook for safety reasons. There have also been on occasions when the country has even gone as far as shutting down the Internet for several hours during the day, for example on the mornings of the Iraqi Bachelorette exams in order to prevent the students from cheating. Aside from these precautionary measures, under normal circumstances, the government does not censor people from expressing their opinions on matters related to the government, religion, and other cultural issues. This is unique to our region.

Iraq has no blocking of video and voice applications such as Viber, Whatsapp, FaceTime, and Skype. Most of these apps are blocked around us in the Middle East.

In Iran, the government has blocked Facebook, and flittering content in other websites such as Instagram. There are reports that Iran will launch its own national Internet for Iranians only.

Turkey has also recently banned the use of Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and GitHub in order to stop email leaks from the government.

Internet censorship does not only take place in the Middle East. Russia for instance recently banned the use of Linkedin. In 2014, new legislation made it mandatory for companies to save Russian users data on online servers. When it was discovered that Linkedin did not follow the rules, the government did not hesitate in banning the website in the country.

The relaxed Internet censorship rules of Iraq may partly be due to the absences of laws; the idea of storing data online is still not widely recognized.

It is clear that Iraqi’s enjoy much greater online freedom than many of their neighboring countries. The questions that come to mind are; how will Iraqis make use of this freedom? And more importantly, how long will this online freedom last?

 

Sources:

  1. The Atlantic. Iran’s Own Internet.
  2.  WhatIs my IPAddress. Who (and what) are the “Enemies of the Internet?”
  3. Business Insider UK. Russia has banned Linkedin.
  4.  The Next Web. Turkey blocks Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, and GitHub to stop email leaks.
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taxi iraq erbil Baghdad transportation

Taxi Service Apps in Iraq

In 2009, UBER launched an application to allow customers to request a taxi on demand from an app. The application quickly achieved international success, and now operates in many countries around the world, making UBER one of the most successful apps in history.

In the Middle East region, Uber currently operates in Abu Dhabi, Almaty, Amman, Astana, Baku, Beirut, Doha, Jeddah, Manama, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv.

Like any new successful idea, clones soon after appear, and this has been the case for Uber all around the world. In some countries, the reason behind UBER’s limitations is local competition. In Dubai for example, Smart Taxi is also widely used.

UBER is yet to fully crack the Middle East like some other of its more successful regions, however clones of this idea are popping up everywhere. In Iran, the local version Snapp, recently secured a EUR20 million funding from a South African telecoms provider. Uber may not have Iraq on its radar for quite some time, however many local entrepreneurs have created their own versions of taxi service apps. In this report we discuss the current options.

In our research we found around 8 applications online that claimed to provide on-demand taxi services in Iraq. Out of the 8, we were only able to test 3 as the other 5 were not available to download. We couldn’t find out why. The applications we reviewed were:

Smart Taxi, Baghdad

Taxi Hawler, Erbil,

Passenger (Sayaq), Kurdistan

The first thing we noticed about all 3 apps was that they were all similar. We found out all of them were off-the-shelf packages from the same provider, TaxiStartup. TaxiStartup is a provider of taxi app clones at fairly reasonable fees.

We also discovered none of the applications fully work as they should. Smart Taxi and Passenger begin to buffer after the customer chooses the destination, the applications then provide no information on the request. Taxi Hawler is also facing technical difficulties; the application constantly displays ‘service is not available in that area’. 

 

It’s fair to say the market is wide open for a well-managed and supported taxi service app in Iraq and Kurdistan.

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Mesaha comics Iraq

Iraqi Comic World

Hussien Adil helped create a new community for graphic designers in Iraq when he started Mesaha in December of 2015. Mesaha (Space) provides a space for graphic designers in Iraq to develop skills and show case their work.

In his team, Hussien was joined by Mohammed Aouda, Raed Modar, and Sarah Hussien. The four individuals initially met to publish a comic series for adults in Iraq. They felt such graphic novels were limited to only children in the country, with nothing for adults.

Aside from publishing their magazine, the Mesaha team provides workshops for people who are interested in their field. In order to join the workshops, participants must show basic knowledge of the design tools used, tools include Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Paint tool Sai, Sketchbook as well as others used for graphic tablet techniques.

mesaha workshop
Workshop held by Mesaha 

Mesaha holds private and public workshops. The private workshops are announced in a private group on Facebook, other events are announced on their public Facebook page.

As a new startup, Mesaha hasn’t yet established a fixed working location, so one of the main problems they face when organizing workshops is finding a workspace. Sometimes they have been offered to rent halls, and they have also broadcasted some of events online. Whether it is online or in person, the team makes sure to provide the best possible training in the workshops.

The Mesaha team has designed their magazine to be divided into two parts. The first part features comics that illustrate the social issues that Iraq is facing today. These comics are the works of the Mesaha team members themselves. The second part of their magazine is dedicated to showcasing artists that have contributed in the workshops held by Mesaha. So far, they have showcased the works of about 30+ artists in their community.

The first issue of the magazine is published both online and in print, and they are currently working on publishing their second issue. A lack of funding also limits the number the copies they can print.

Mesaha Magazine
The cover of the first issue

For the time being, the magazine is only available in Arabic, but they do have plans of publish in different languages.

The team has also taken part in some international comic book conventions; their last trip was to Egypt to attend the Cairo Comic Book Conference. “Mesaha was the first Iraqi team that took part in an event of this kind. “We were very well received from other Arab artists” said Mohammed.

We wish to provide a safe space for all digital and comic artists in Iraq, and we hope to see more Iraqi comic magazines or visual arts projects in the future.” Said Mohammed when he was talking about his hopes for the growth of the comic arts community in Iraq.

 

 

 

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Internet in Iraq

Internet Penetration Rates in Iraq

It was the early 2000’s when Iraq was first introduced to the sounds of the dial up modem; the sound soon spread as a well-known soundtrack. If it took too long that meant only one thing NO INTERNET CONNECTION!

There is no denying that Iraq has gone through tremendous improvements since the early 2000’s. During the early years of Internet availability in the country, Iraq made up a small percent of worldwide Internet users, today however, things have changed. The data provided by the World Bank states that in 2001 Iraq had an Internet penetration of only 0.1%, this percentage increased to 17.2% in 2015.

According to Live Internet Stats, a site that analyzes Internet consumption per country, Iraq’s Internet penetration rate is rapidly increasing. In 2003 only 0.6% of the population of Iraq were using the Internet, meaning only 153,783 people in Iraq were online.

The percentage of Internet penetration rate in the country remained low between the years of 2003 to 2009. The highest percent of Internet penetration in those 5 years was 1.1%.

In 2010 things began escalating, the Internet penetration rate increased from 1.1% to 2.5% in one year, with the total number of users reaching 771,704.

From the years of 2011 and 2016 the increase in the Internet penetration rate has not been less than 5%. The largest Internet penetration rate increase was in 2016 with a rate of 13%, meaning that the total numbers of Internet users in the country are 4,892,463.

The significant increase began taking place after 2010; Iraq does not stand alone in this phenomenon. Many other countries around the world witnessed high growth in Internet penetration rates in 2010. United Kingdom for example, broke its record and reached 85% of their total penetration rate. Another example is the UAE; in 2010 they too broke their record and reached 68% of total their Internet penetration rate.

Even though our Internet penetration rates are not as near as most other countries, the increase and capacity of Internet use in Iraq cannot be denied.

 

 

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Startup Ecosystem

What is a Tech Ecosystem?

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.

 

Supporting Players

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.

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A photo if the event

Entrepreneurship in Kurdistan Region & Iraq Panel at AUIS

The Institute of Regional and International Studies hosted a panel on Entrepreneurship in Kurdistan Region and Iraq during the Global Entrepreneurship Week on November 16th.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of innovators and job creators. Therefore, a group of the brightest Entrepreneurs in Kurdistan and Iraq were invited to share their experience with students at the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani.

The participating panelists included:

Alice Bosley, Co-Founder at Five One Labs

Hallo Sagrma, Director at Indigo Canvas

Talar Noore, Founder and CEO at Worldwide Business Management

Rawaz Rauf from Hiwa Rauf for Investment and Development

Fatin Al-Weili, Co-Founder at Escape the Room Iraq

Bayad Jamal, CEO at Bayad Inc.

Hemin Askary, Lavazza Franchise

Hevi Manmy, CEO at Brsima and Bazary Online

The panel opening was attended by the president of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, Bruce Ferguson; An educator, entrepreneur, and investor with a lifelong interest in technology-based innovation.

Then, the panelists continued the discussion by introducing themselves and their business emphasizing on the obstacles in Iraq for startups and how they have managed to overcome them.

One of the obstacles they all shared was the legal barriers in front of startups. Hemin Askary, Manager at Lavazza Franchise, Sulaimani branch, said that he was dealing with laws and regulations from the 70s. Hevi Manmy, founder of Bazary Online and Brsima, with a bit of a laugh commented “I was dealing with nothing” as there are not any laws to register online businesses in Iraq and Kurdistan Region.

The panel was followed by a Q&A session and it was a great opportunity for a social interaction and networking among participants and the panelists.

Below are some photos of the event.


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IRIS entrepreneurship roundtable.jpg

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Cloud Implementation Symposium In Kurdistan

Cloud Implementation Symposium In Kurdistan

On October 27, 2016 the Lebanese French University (LFU) in Erbil, in association with Avesta held the first regional seminar on the subject of Cloud services, titled Cloud Implementation in Kurdistan. The event, open to all, was held at the LFU conference hall in Erbil.

The President of LFU, Mohammed Sadik, opened the event with a welcome speech followed by a brief description on the importance of implementing the latest technologies in Kurdistan, and its impact on business. He then introduced the panel, including myself, Yad Rashid, CEO of Avesta, Snur Hamid, Sales Specialist at Avesta, and Rebin Mukerji, CEO of Al-Sard Fiber.  

Cloud Implementation Symposium

I was the first person to take stage, starting off with an introduction on the general concept of the Cloud. My speech included the benefits of using Cloud services, and a comparison between on premises solutions verses Cloud solutions. I also outlined the advantages of Microsoft Cloud Services, particularly in Microsoft Azure. 

Yad Rashid CEO at Avesta Company
Yad Rashid, CEO at Avesta Company 

 

Microsoft Azure is an infrastructure built by Microsoft; its purpose is to manage applications and services through a global network of Microsoft managed data centers. Microsoft Azure’s infrastructure allows businesses to use the service in a number of different ways. It could be used as infrastructure, a platform or a software service. By using Microsoft Azure, businesses will not need to purchase any hardware, operating system, or learn any advanced configurations or instillations. 

Since most people worry about trusting an online service to mange their files, I felt it was necessary to remind them that we all use Microsoft systems one way or another. If we can trust them to mange our files on premises, we should also trust them with managing our files online.

Next to take the stage was our Sales Specialist, Snur Hamid. Her speech was an in depth introduction to Office 365, which is considered to be one of Microsoft’s most important software services amongst Cloud services. She emphasized on the benefits of having a “portable” office that you can access anywhere, instead of being attached to physical location through local hardware.

Sales Specialist Snur Hamid
Sales Specialist, Snur Hamid

 

Finally, Rebin Mukerji, the CEO of Al-Sard Fiber took the stage to discuss his experience with using Cloud and Office 365. When talking about his company’s switch to the platform, Rebin explained that Office 365 has actually helped them in terms of security. He stated that Office 365 has given them the advantage of storing all their data on the Cloud, where it is secure and far from any physical damage.

Following the individual presentations, there was a Q&A session where attendees asked questions about how Office 365 works incase of no Internet availability, or in case of poor Internet connection.

While it may take a while for files to load if you have a poor Internet connection, we at Avesta believe that the advantages of Office 365 far outweigh any disadvantages. You can still work on your files without Internet connection; your files will be uploaded to the Cloud once you are connected to the Internet.

Images Provided by Avesta Company 

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Fikra fair

Fikra Space Celebrates Its Fourth Anniversary

Four years ago, Fikra Space was founded by the efforts of a tech-savvy group of young Iraqi guys influenced by the Makerspace movement popping up around world. Since it was founded, Fikra Space’s impact and products have been likened to those of Makerspace, which is why it was very important for Fikra to celebrate its fourth anniversary in a different setting.

To celebrate their fourth anniversary, Fikra hosted a fair for Startup businesses in Baghdad. The event was a networking opportunity aiming to bridge the gap between the Iraqi entrepreneurship enthusiasts and the community of supporters, both potential investors and the solution providers.

The fair featured keynote speakers who presented in Ted style talks, and it also included panels debating questions relating to our ecosystem; questions concerning e-commerce and the state of e-payments in Iraq. There was an insightful Q&A session regarding the efficiency of private Iraqi banks when handling online payments.

fikra fair

The startup showcase fair proved to be a hit with the audience, inspired attendees had the chance to interact with entreprenuers who have launched startup businesses and were telling their stories. The showcase fair featured regional businesses such as Nadrus.com (the Arabic MOOCs website, which was co-founded by the Iraqi entrepreneur Ahmed Al-Shagra) and local startups such as Kushuk, Najih.com, Bil Weekend and others. Also amongst the featured exhibitors were exciting startups such as Earvlab (virtual reality) and Wild Games (videogames studio), both impressing the crowd.

The event’s organizers stated that aside from celebrating and focusing on the projects, the event was meant to send a message that investing in youth is very critical, because it is the youth who will build future businesses.

 

Some of the participating startups businesses were:

Mishwar: grocery delivery service in Baghdad. (Writer has personal interests)

Botlab: A software program that optimizes Facebook’s messenger platform and the bots technology for e-commerce.

Baghdad Projects: A platform that focuses on the promising projects in Baghdad

Anime Neywz: A mobile app that targets the anime fans.

Fekastore: A market place for Iraqi artisans and handmade gifts. (Writer has personal interests)

Madresty: A sophisticated schools-Parents communication tool.

Najeh.com: The website for Iraqi students final exams results.

Bil Weekend: A progressive tourism campaign.

Forward Travel: Travel agencies management system.

 

 

 

 

 

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