Why two Northern tech folk are helping entrepreneurs in Gaza

Avatar, August 15, 2016 3 min read

This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.

This is a guest post by Laura Bennett (heading up Founders’ Network at Tech North) and Elizabeth Shassere (pictured above fourth left, founder and CEO of Textocracy).

In three weeks time, we will be travelling to Gaza. There we will be volunteering as startup mentors and coaches for local tech entrepreneurs as part of a pre-accelerator bootcamp with Gaza Sky Geeks.

Running a startup is challenging for many reasons and that’s especially so in an environment like Gaza. The territory has considerable restrictions on freedom of movement, trade and imports, basic infrastructure and poor internet connectivity.

What is Gaza Sky Geeks?

Gaza Sky Geeks was founded in 2011 (by Google for Entrepreneurs among others) to build a startup movement in a frontier market with strong potential. Gaza has a high density of well-educated, technically-savvy, and eager young professionals. They’re are seeking exposure to global markets for their skills and talent.

The organisation runs a popular co-working space, conducts active outreach, and creates the conditions for a vibrant community to nurture innovation. It is also one of the main organizers of Startup Weekend Gaza.

In 2013, the Gaza Sky Geeks accelerator began connecting top startup teams to global resources to transform Gaza’s most talented graduates into the Middle East’s business leaders. Gaza Sky Geeks has attracted investors from around the world to put much-needed resources into local startups. International investors and experts work with Gaza Sky Geeks to provide them with knowledge, mentorship, and networks.

Why we’re taking part

Our motivation for travelling to a place that is high on the Foreign Office’s ‘avoid’ list is simple. We believe that through knowledge transfer we can have a positive impact on the startup founders and the success of their ventures.

We both passionately believe that tech is an enabler to ‘make good stuff happen.’ Entrepreneurship, especially the lean startup variety, is particularly relevant and impactful in communities that are hampered by limited resources.

What we’ll be doing

While in Gaza, we will be running workshops on topics such as customer development, problem/product/market fit, leadership and management, business models, building teams, and much more.

With just a little support from people with experience of vibrant, active, entrepreneurial tech communities around the world, individuals and teams working hard in Gaza to make their own way can take their enterprises from minimal or local to viable and global. They can create jobs and opportunities for others and pass on their knowledge in turn.

Connecting the North with the world

Only around 20 permits of the type we’re using are issued each year. And only seven mentors from all over the world get to be part of the Gaza Sky Geeks pre-incubator bootcamp. Two of these seven mentors are women from the North of England, from the fantastic and supportive entrepreneurial tech community that we so lucky to be part of.

We are excited to be sharing the learnings and experiences that we’ve picked up from our time working alongside a huge range of startups in the North, not least through Founders’ Network, Dotforge accelerator, and Sheffield Startup Weekend. The tech communities in Sheffield and Manchester, where we are based, are characterised by people being open and collaborative: introductions are made easily and help is freely given.

Northern entrepreneurs are characterised by just ‘getting on’ with the work. It is with this can-do and collaborative attitude that we are travelling to Gaza. We want to bring a bit of the Northern spirit to a corner of the Middle East!

How you can help

We want to have biggest positive impact we can during our week in Gaza, and we’re looking for help from the Northern tech communities to do so. We are funding ourselves to go there and do this work.

Gaza Sky Geeks views international mentors’ time to be a considerable donation. We bring knowledge and expertise to a region with extremely limited resources. Thus we play a small but important part in helping to shape the next generation of business leaders working in the most challenging of circumstances.

We are fundraising to help cover the costs of our trip and take in much-needed equipment and resources. These are essential items that are impossible to get in Gaza. The entrepreneurs there rely on us to be able to bring as much as possible when we come.

Here is how you can help:

  1. Donate to our campaign to support entrepreneurs in Gaza.
  2. Share our posts (here and here) and this blog post, to help drive awareness beyond our own immediate networks.
  3. Share any of our tweets about the trips. Our Twitter accounts are @lauraihbennett and @startupliz).
  4. Donate any of the following items that we can take to Gaza in our suitcases:
    – Battery packs, solar cell phone chargers, USB sticks
    – Hardware (e.g., smartphones/tablets, arduino kits, raspberry pi)
    – Books about tech / startups / business
    – Any company branded items are always very well received! Have you got a stockpile of stickers or notebooks or pens with your logo on it? Any branded tee-shirts? All is very welcome!

If you do have anything to donate, please get in touch with Laura (laura@techcityuk.com) and we will co-ordinate to collect it. If you’re in Manchester, you can also drop items off at the Tech North office (RISE Manchester, 231 Deansgate).

Startup stories, Aspiring, Early Stage