Emerging from the rubble: entrepreneurs in Gaza seek to rebuild
Rafat Abushaban is an author, speaker and advocate for startups in fragile environments. He is the founder of Laughing– an online platform to help educate entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, director of Startup Grind Gaza and member of the advisory board of SXSW Accelerator Pitch.
Following one of the toughest and most devastating military operations against the Gaza Strip earlier this month, the Gazans are now counting their losses. Two million inhabitants of the coastal strip, which has been under blockade for more than a decade, have experienced their most difficult period of the 11 days of adversity. About 240 people were killed, including women and children, in addition to the massive damage that affected all aspects of the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip. Electricity, water and sewage lines were continually targeted, while the Internet and other essential services were sometimes cut.
The region is no stranger to such atrocities, after three equally devastating wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014. What is different this time is the size and amount of destruction to civilian utilities, buildings. , homes and businesses.
It is often said that Gaza is home to the most difficult business environment on the planet. But that was an understatement of what has been seen over the past few weeks. As the dust from the bombs slowly fades, contractors assess the damage to their businesses.
the Business and technology incubator in Gaza led a initial investigation to count the number of startups and business owners affected by this adversity and their call has received over 1,100 responses from entrepreneurs, business owners and others. Their initial investigation shows that at least 25 startups were directly damaged, housing 243 employees, 6 of whom saw their offices totally destroyed.
The impact on startups has been enormous
One of the startups involved was Tashkeel 3D, the first company to produce 3D printed materials for medical and academic purposes. The company started as an idea to enable 3D part printing for hobbyists in Gaza, and has grown to work with several local and regional organizations operating in the strip, including Doctors Without Borders and Glia Foundation. Before the bombing, the startup had developed a flagship medical mask for burns and a tourniquet to help lift injured limbs.
Upon hearing the news of the destruction of his office building, Tashkeel co-founder Mohammed Abu Matar said: “I was devastated by the news. I didn’t expect the damage and destruction to be so much. Now I feel like I’m back to zero, but I will continue this work not for myself, but for the patients waiting for our products.
Mohammed and the team have invested and received over $ 100,000 in equipment and equity over the past four years which they hope to replace with help from the startup community in neighboring countries. Discover their fundraising campaign here.
Mohammed Abu Matar presenting their new product (right) and the rubble of their office after the destruction (left). Credit: Tashkeel 3D team.
Another entrepreneur who has suffered is Motasem Mortaja, who founded about a year ago Record media to film and produce documentaries and animations. During the bombing, the company’s new office as well as $ 15,000 worth of equipment vanished into thin air.
While the attack has been targeting educational institutions for years now, AbdelRahman Awad, founder of Smart toys, was devastated this time. His startup has lost its five employees following the destruction of their offices.
Clever Toys has focused on creating interactive educational material games to help children better understand and learn the basics, electricity and machines. He had a large following among various primary schools in the Gaza Strip.
“It’s hard to imagine investing all of your energy and time on your startup over the past few years and making it all disappear in a single second, until you experience it,” AbdelRahman said. “We are working to revive our business by rebuilding our equipment and offices with the help of friends and the community.”
Clever Toys has also launched an online fundraising campaign which you can check here.
Children using the games of Clever Toys (right) and AbdulRahman Awad standing in the rubble of his startup after the destruction (left). Credit: Clever Toys team.
Collaboration and peer support was evident
Through all of this destruction, calls for grassroots youth activity to clear rubble and help those affected were evident throughout Gaza.
The business and technology incubator has provided a safe haven for all startups that have lost their desks and equipment until they are able to recover. Director Basel Qandeel said the incubator itself had been damaged to some extent, but some offices and utilities were still operational to support struggling entrepreneurs.
The long-term impact of this adversity remains to be seen, the challenges facing the startup ecosystem in Gaza and its supporters are increasing, as is the support and attention it receives. Only time will tell if these entrepreneurs can rise again from their ashes.