Gaza Sky Geeks — the London meetup for Gaza’s startup accelerator

Gaza Sky Geeks —
“I’m not self-made, I’m people-made, my family pushed me to study, my friends supported me, people gave me the opportunity.”

These were some of Ahmed Saleh’s words last night about his experience of growing up in Gaza, studying his way into higher education abroad and helping power Gaza Sky Geeks, the first and only tech startup accelerator launching startups from Gaza to help more Palestinians excel in tech entrepreneurship.

Ahmed, Haytham and Iliana at the London meetup

It’s hard to comprehend what Gaza is like, there’s very little opportunity to understand Gaza and Gazans as most of what we associate it with is war and politics and very little about the actual 1.85 million inhabitants. The challenges for Gaza’s entrepreneurs are vast and much of what we take for granted starting up businesses here in London could be considered luxuries there.

For perspective, here’s just a few of the challenges that Iliana Montauk (co-founder of Gaza Sky Geeks) mentioned:

  • Electricity runs for between 4–12hrs a day
  • Travel in and out is barely possible (and when it is, it’s a 12 hr ordeal for Gazans through several checkpoints to travel just a few miles)
  • Even getting books into Gaza is almost impossible due to import restrictions, checkout Iliana’s blog post about getting books like Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup” into Gaza)
  • Purchasing things online can be difficult as only some people have pre paid cards, most people don’t have credit cards
  • No way of accepting payments online

Not the greatest place to start a startup accelerator right? Wrong. As Iliana went on to explain, Gaza has a high density of well-educated, creative, technically-savvy and ambitious youth making it the perfect place for an accelerator.

Startup Weekend in Gaza sponsored by Google

So that’s exactly what she and Mercy Corps did, in 2011 they established Gaza Sky Geeks and in 4 years they’ve made incredible progress against the odds. The focus of their strategy has been to build core skills and education, mentorship through hackathons, bootcamp weekends and helping startups expand their networks and reach whilst also linking them up with investors and clients across the world. To date they’ve successfully helped launch and support around 14 startups including Baskalet a studio that builds games for the Arab world and Sabeel a Foursquare for Muslims abroad looking for halal restaurants and supermarkets.

Gaza Sky Geeks startups of 2015

Mike and Debu of Mercy Corps shared their stories of visiting Gaza Sky Geek’s digs to find a space buzzing with activity, energy and most surprising of all a 50% female representation across the space. Something you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

Gaza Sky Geekettes

Most people would excuse Gazans for losing hope given the challenges they face starting up fresh innovative businesses. Volunteer mentors who’ve made it to Gaza to help the Sky Geeks say that the optimism and ambition to do something great is contagious. A recent winner of a hackathon and seed funding joked that pitching was the easier part of starting up after you’ve been held at the border for 12hrs.

Haytham Mousa told us about his journey to study his Masters and the difficulty of leaving Gaza including how him and Ahmed slept rough at the border crossing with other families for 12 hours because the crossing was closed that day. His last words on the night really hit home:

“It’s all about hope, hope that you can start something, be involved in something great.”

Support Gaza Sky Geeks

A group from Gaza Sky Geeks are travelling across Europe to show the work they’re doing and to build up connections and support. Their goals are to help launch successful, profitable startups from Gaza that can redefine Gaza’s economy and output.

There’s different ways to support them whether it’s helping spread the word of who they are, suggesting and introducing partners, investing into their fund, volunteering to mentor or donating a few dollars to their cause.

They’re a hugely worthwhile organisation to support who are helping to provide opportunities to people that aren’t given much of a chance, so if you’re interested get in touch with them and help support this important accelerator.

Update (14.04.16):

Someone put together this quick flick of the meetup:

Gaza Sky Geeks London meetup