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10 StepTo building A strong Startup Ecosystem In MENA

Filled with anticipation, entrepreneurs look into the Middle East and North African regions as an emerging hub of opportunities and possibilities. Who doesn’t want a billion-dollar business in their name? However, no matter how many strive for it, few of them actually get a successful startup going- and even fewer towards the billion-dollar goal. But what is it actually that sets the successful apart from the failures? Is it their business acumen, surrounding factors, or simply their fate?

While holding all the extraneous factors in due importance, your attitude towards the startup ecosystem has to be precisely calculated to go up the hill of success. Here is a complete guideline you neck to check-mark to make sure your startup ecosystem doesn’t go down the dumps- instead, it rises up the stars.

  1. Stop waiting for the right to be right- make it right

Investors and entrepreneurs show their consent on one point: while the region has seen remarkable advancement over the last decade, the region’s red tape and out-dated policies can make it needlessly thorny for young and ambitious entrepreneurs to fruitfully startup a business.

Fadi Ghandour, the name behind Wamda Captital- a platform of programs and networks that aim to accelerate entrepreneurship ecosystems across MENA- had the following to express:

“When I started Aramex many years ago, I had to push the boundaries. Because there wasn’t such a concept before, regulators had to follow me. No one is going to wait around for an enabling environment. We will carry on regardless. If you think the region is risky now, you haven’t lived here for the past 50 or 100 years!”

John Westernberg, an aspiring entrepreneur had this to say about waiting for the right time:

“When you delay once, you’ll delay again. What you put off today, you are probably going to put off tomorrow. What you don’t start up now, you’re probably going to regret missing out on tomorrow.”

So, if you continue to crawl around the hedge waiting for the circumstances to be in complete alignment with your plans, chances are you'll always stay there while others dive into the risk and enjoy the fruit that it has to offer.

2. Expressing your problems

Whatever type of industry you may operate in: be it healthcare, finance or agriculture- it’s bound to be faced with an array of problems: minor disturbances in the production process or perhaps the safety checkup is too time-consuming. But if the problems are big enough to catch attention several times during the course of a period, chances are those problems are already signaling ambitious entrepreneurs to come up with an idea that would solve them. But, for entrepreneurs to be aware of such problems, it is essential for the firm to highlight the problems. Otherwise, how are they to ever find out? The already established companies should make efforts to frequently meet up with academics, advocates and policymakers to tell them about these problems so that they may come up with an efficient startup to cater to these.

3. Inspire innovators

Large corporations have the power with them to make or break new startups. Openly publicizing the opportunities for innovation within their company would attract individuals from an array of diverse backgrounds to try and come up with a solution for it. This may even go in favor of the corporation, as many of those interested in providing a solution may wish to become a part of the already established company.

For example, in the health-tech ecosystem- the business generator ‘10.10.10.Health’ frequently puts entrepreneurs against wicked problems such as Alzheimer’s to signal a creative startup to innovate to provide a solution to such problems.

4. Synchronize your ecosystem to work in harmony

The health of the ecosystem is crucial to maintain favorable working conditions. Quoting Peter Kropotkin, a Russian philosopher:

“… the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development... and the most open to further progress. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay”.

This brings us to the crucial importance of making sure all the elements of the business work together in complete cooperation. Once your city has attained a significant number of innovators, you need to make sure that they work together for achieving a common goal. A segregated workforce that simply works to earn a bonus for itself will never go too far down along the road to success. Without their being a mutual sense of responsibility you'll never be able to achieve a true innovation ecosystem.

5. Engaging with already established organizations

Once you have achieved the basic workings of your startup, your innovation ecosystem should begin to engage with other major stakeholders of your industry. While innovation ecosystems are great at coining new ideas, technologies and solutions to existing problems- they often lack the financial grounds that other established companies have, such as a strong supply chain, distribution channel and a pool of loyal customers.

6. Reaching out to other ecosystems

Once you’ve successfully mastered in identifying your industry’s problems, making sure of a constant stream of innovators into your ecosystem, encouraging its different members to work together and engaging with other already established organizations- you're all set to collaborate with other ecosystems in your field. This will have great benefits for your startup: your members would be exposed to a new style of thinking and ideas, processes that they're unfamiliar with, and technologies that differ from the ones they're currently using- thereby perhaps altering their approach to different kinds of technologies. A healthy competition is always a good idea to remain aware of the challenges in the industry that you operate in.

7. Change the culture of how corporate and startups look at each other

Despite the negative ideas that stir up about the relationship between a corporate and startup being bitter and harsh, it is an inevitable truth that the two in fact need each other to strive. A corporate is unlikely to succeed without the regular inflow of new ideas and technologies that would be introduced by startups; whereas the financial support provided by the corporate is essential for the smooth running of a startup. By engaging in a two-way dialog of mutual benefit, both the parties involved can return with benefits that were otherwise unavailable to them.

8. Changing the culture of how startups scale their operations globally

When talking about MENA, it is important to keep in mind that it consists of 22 countries with widely differing cultures, especially regarding consumer behavior. So when an entrepreneur is thinking about expanding into another area, sometimes even a city in the same country- they must already be well aware of the likely difficulties they're to face as they expand. A new approach to their product’s marketing and public perception are two of the strategies that may need to be changed quiet frequently as the startup continues to expand. As Mai Medhat, co-founder and CEO of Eventtus shares:

“While the scaling process might look different for every startup, it is vital for an entrepreneur to spend the first few months (or even years) learning about their industry, and improving their service or product before expanding to new cities and countries.”

9. Changing education and training in the youth

During the Agility Forum, Hala Alturki, CEO of Kwn Education, said “that though reports suggest that only a fraction of the Arab world’s digital potential has been tapped, youth in the MENA region aren’t embracing these opportunities as much as they should, because they are still chasing jobs that won’t, well, exist in a couple of years.”

Across numerous Arab countries, the education system still relies heavily upon rote learning without any true understanding. To reap future entrepreneurs in the upcoming generation, it is vital that a free-thinking youth is built today that learns to think outside the box- thus innovating and succeeding in businesses.

10. Investing in entrepreneurship

Perhaps the most important factor comes down to the level of trust and faith that investors exhibit in blooming entrepreneurs. While it’s quite possible to attain the very best qualities to ensure a successful startup, it’s quite literally nothing unless investors take a step to finance it. Several brilliant ideas are lost every day just because investors are reluctant to invest their money into something that’s new and untested. To build a community of successful startups, the government and investors must both be willing to finance the ideas of revolutionize current ways of businesses.

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